ENFIELD: Slow fluid movements, gradual rotations, and gentle gestures. This is what you might see a group of dedicated individuals practicing in Enfield on any given Wednesday night.For the past two years, Phil Blois has been teaching Taoist Tai Chi (TTC) at the Enfield Legion Hall in Enfield, but his own practice began when he was 25. Now, he, along with more than 40,000 people who practice this form of the gentle martial art, tout the health, social, and rehabilitative benefits of the practice—increased flexibility, balance, agility, relaxation and coordination are a few.
“As I get older, instead of losing mobility, strength, and flexibility, I’ve actually found mine have been improving” said Blois. “These are things things people usually associate with aging, but I tend to surprise students in my class with what I can do, as far as strength and flexibility.”
Taiost Tai Chi society was founded in 1970 by Moy Lin-shin, a monk who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong. The practice now spans 25 countries across the globe practicing ‘the internal art of taijiquan’, a sequence of 108 movements that flow together, and is said to improve health from the inside, from a holistic perspective.
The movements incorporate balance, weight bearing from lifting limbs, rotating, hopping, reaching, and stretching, and while the practice tends to associated with an older crowd, Blois said it benefits all ages. Blois said the age range of people who practice tends to follow the demographic, so in Nova Scotia, the average age of students is higher, although he’s had members attend his class who are as young as 18.
“The benefits of Tai Chi for someone younger come much quicker because there’s less to overcome,” said Blois. “It’s unfortunate that most of us have to be around 40 before we realize we have to change the way we treat our bodies.”
Dr. Mary Lynch, director of the Pain Management Unit at Capital Health Nova Scotia (CDHA) and Dalhousie professor, said the practice can aid in pain management. She referred to a recent study that followed people suffering with fibromyalgia and began to incorporate Tai Chi and the similar practice of Chi Gong. Participants reported improved sleep, energy levels, and decreased pain.
“I think it’s very promising,” said Lynch, “It’s a self practice technique that patients and people living with pain can learn, and then have it with them for the rest of their lives. It’s also less invasive than any other treatments out there. Every drug has side effects. Every treatment has potential adverse consequences. (Tai Chi) does not appear to have any adverse effects.”
The TTC society’s medical advisor claims the practice provides benefits for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.
“It’s easy to get started,” said Blois. “It’s not terribly demanding in the beginning and can learn at your own pace as your strength improves, and your balance and coordination improves.”
And those who work desk jobs take note. According to a recent study completed by York University in Toronto, in the journal, WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, Tai Chi can help to alleviate musculoskeletal disorders from the effects of sitting in front of a computer for extended periods.
The study followed 50 female computer users who followed a twice weekly, four month mid-day Tai Chi program. It found that participants achieved improved spinal and back health, reduced the effects of tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, lower resting heart rate and a reduced waist circumference. They also experienced a psychological boost.
Blois said he began practicing because he was looking for something to maintain his health, along with running and cycling, and was more attracted to this non-competitive martial art.
“I really liked doing it,” he said. “I liked the atmosphere of the club, and my overall health improved. I really appreciate the art and what it’s capable of doing and how people improve their health.”
He said he notices similar effects in the students in his class. He recalled a few former students, one, who was able to stand on her own unassisted to cook a meal on her stovetop. Another student had ankylosing spondylitis, a condition that causes fusing of vertebrae in the spine and he experienced increased mobility and a straighter spine. Still another student who was wheel chair bound was walking within a few months of beginning practice.
But for results like this, Blois said the practice takes major commitment, time, determination and dedication.
“It’s not a cure all for disease,” he said, “but a lot of times symptoms are reduced as the body gets healthier, symptoms of diseases are lessened, some people find that they need to take less medication if they’re practicing Tai Chi.”
Blois is a veteran instructor—he’s been at it for 21 years, and he does it all for free. Another thing about the society, they are a no-for-profit organization and registered charity. Registration fees—also paid by instructors—go towards administrative costs, and extending the reach of the practice to places like Enfield. Instructors are also required to attend workshops, paid for out of pocket, to improve their practice and teaching skills.
“This really is putting your money where your mouth is,” said Blois. “It’s not just face value. It’s showing you believe in what you’re doing. The organization has done a lot for me, health wise social activity wise, I learned a lot about the Chinese culture and people from all different walks of life. That’s something I value.”
It’s advised to consult your family physician before starting any exercise program. For more information, visit www.taoist.org.