Stretching Myself

Kenyon Sayler

THE HEADLINES SCREAM that retirees should learn a new skill to stave off dementia. Start playing a musical instrument. Learn a new language.

The reality: Gender in languages baffles me. I can’t carry a tune. I have no rhythm. Which is why you’ll find me on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons in a repurposed warehouse learning tai chi. I was drawn to tai chi since it’s a form of meditation, and I’m aware of meditation’s medical and mental health benefits. Tai chi seems to offer similar benefits.

A decade ago, I practiced traditional meditation for about a year. While I enjoyed it and found it beneficial, I had trouble finding a specific time each day to meditate. On top of that, I already sit a lot, and I thought the movement of tai chi would provide a bit more movement in my life. 

When I told one of my sons that I’d enrolled in a tai chi class, he said, “That sounds like something old people would do.” I do admit that, in any given class, just a quarter of the people appear to be in their 40s or younger. That leaves 75% of us age 50 and older. Sometimes much older. 

As we chat before class, I’m amazed at how many were directed to the class by their primary care physician. The most common reason seems to be to improve balance, but some have been referred due to back ailments and other skeletal issues.

We spend the first half hour of class warming up with a series of stretching exercises called qigong. Qigong focuses on stretching, breathing and meditation. Qigong has certainly improved my flexibility. The cost of the classes is probably worth it just for the stretching.

We then spend 45 minutes learning new postures. There are 150 postures that we’ll be studying, and I’ve “learned” the first 18.  I put learned in quotation marks because, while I generally know what my feet and hands are supposed to be doing, I’m neither graceful nor proficient. 

I’d originally thought that, once I learned the full routine, I’d quit taking the classes, and just practice the routine a couple of times a week at home. But between the need to refine the postures that I know, the benefits of qigong and the camaraderie of my fellow students, I suspect I’ll continue taking classes for a long time to come.

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