Slow but purposeful movements are what define tai chi as a martial art and a way of life.
Its practitioners can spend hours calmly flowing from one pose to the next, maintaining and enhancing their balance, strength and flexibility. Fung Loy Kok Taoist tai chi instructor Karen Broughton of 100 Mile House said it’s the perfect activity for the community’s senior population.
“We’re not looking for perfection when we’re practising, it’s about learning how to do things well for ourselves,” Broughton said. “If we can take care of ourselves and do things strong then we can look after our grandkids, our siblings and our spouses.”
Tai chi first got started in 100 Mile House over a decade ago when Broughton moved to the community from Chilliwack. Wanting to introduce the activity to her new community, she became an instructor and soon started bi-weekly classes at the Creekside Seniors’ Centre.
One of her most recent students is Ann Marie Brown, who joined the class in February. As a retired nurse and paramedic Brown said she developed a “pretty bad back” while she was working, and over the years she’s had a lot of pain because of it. Near the beginning of the year the pain was getting worse, and she finally caved to her friend’s suggestion to try tai chi.
“I’ve had a lot of pain and it restricts a lot of things I want to do,” Brown explained. “I’m pretty active. I bike and kayak, and I was finding I couldn’t do a lot of things that I love to do.”
Initially, Brown found all the poses and moves to be pretty overwhelming and thought it would be a lot to learn. Thanks to the encouragement of the rest of the class and Broughton she stuck with it, and soon began to improve.
“Watching somebody who knows what she’s doing helped. I’ve always got my eyes on the corners and follow somebody and that works really well,” Brown remarked. “I also watch tai chi on YouTube and I’ve been learning some things there.
“You just have to relax and don’t worry about making mistakes. You just do the best you can and I’m finding that’s working well.”
As she’s gotten better, Brown said she’s noticed an improvement in her back and a decrease in her blood pressure. While tai chi hasn’t been an overnight fix for her ailments, she said it has helped her reconsider how she moves around. She has often found herself incorporating what she has learned into her everyday activities, using the posture and movements to twist and turn in a way that doesn’t harm her body.
Much like Brown, Broughton’s original motivation to join tai chi was health-related as well. She used to have low strength in her legs and was looking for an activity to help her rebuild her strength. Activities like aerobics and yoga were discounted due to her sore back and frozen shoulders, so she chose tai chi as an alternative.
“Since I started, my legs improved almost right away. I started practising at home and then I got hooked learning the rest of the moves,” Broughton said. “It was a whole new way of learning for me. I was a book learner and it trained me well to be more observant in many different ways.”
As time went on Broughton said her bad back cleared up, with the spasms that used to plague her a thing of the past. Her frozen shoulders also went away, and whenever something comes up she now has a way to mitigate it.
Even if you don’t have health issues, long-time practitioner Eleanor Hoglund said it’s a great exercise and social experience. The gentle motions of tai chi may not look like exercise, Hoglund observed, but after a session she feels like she got a real workout. If anything, she said the slow pace means you work out more.
“I find it very peaceful. I think that was my greatest takeaway from it, it just makes me feel so peaceful,” Hoglund said. “As I get older — and I am over 80 — it’s helping with my balance as well.”
Broughton said she is always looking for new members to join the group. To that end they’ll often do live demonstrations out in the community, including this year at Lone Butte Rocks and the South Cariboo Farmers’ Market.
“We like showing people what it does for us. We’re everyday people with everyday issues and it doesn’t matter what we look like when we do it, what matters is how it’s making us feel and how it’s making us better.”
They meet Tuesdays in the mornings and Thursdays in the afternoons at the Creekside Seniors’ Centre. Broughton said new practitioners are welcome to come whenever they feel the urge to start
“We’re good people. We have good times together and we get some laughs in. It’s not just serious stuff all the time, it’s fun,” Broughton said.