Niles seniors improving health with Eastern exercise

Published 9:46 pm Thursday, November 20, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- For roughly a year, Josef Martinu has been holding Tai Chi classes for seniors at the Senior Citizens Center on Bell Road.
Martinu, who has been doing Tai Chi for many years and has a solid background in martial arts, said there are at least five different kinds of Tai Chi.
He teaches the Yang, or the Peking form of Tai Chi, to Niles area seniors.
Tai Chi, as it is practiced in the west today, can perhaps best be thought of as a moving form of yoga and meditation combined.
Its roots are from ancient China.
Martinu said there are a number of so-called forms which consist of a sequence of movements,
Many of these movements are originally derived from the martial arts, he said.
For many practitioners of Tai Chi, however, the focus in doing the movements is not martial, but as a meditative exercise for the body.
Martinu said he uses music to create a calm atmosphere when teaching Tai Chi.
Each class begins with a warm up consisting of light stretching, followed by two sets of exercises that prepare the body mentally and physically for the Tai Chi exercises.
Faye Walker has been taking Martinu's classes for several months.
The 74-year-old said after only three to four weeks of doing Tai Chi, she could feel her balance had improved.
In addition, Walker said, her memory is also getting a workout because of the many different Tai Chi movements she must remember.
Naomi Chilson, 79, has also noticed a difference in her physical condition since beginning to do Tai Chi.
Studies show low-impact Tai Chi exercises can help older people regain some of the physical functioning that they may have lost due to inactivity.
Tai Chi, however, is performed by people of all ages.
Isabel Kenny, 87, was the oldest participant in Martinu's Wednesday class. He also has a Friday class at the center.
Kenny said she began doing Tai Chi with Martinu in the spring and the classes has helped her "bad case of osteoporosis."
Osteoporosis is the silent disease that makes bones prone to fracture and is a major public health threat for millions of Americans.
Although Tai Chi has proven to be beneficial to regain movement, improve balance and coordination, one of the students in Martinu's class said it is also working to address more serious health problems.
Phyllis Panozzo, 55, suffered pesticide poisoning in 1994.
Panozzo said she used to be active before the poisoning; swimming, running, cycling and riding horses regularly.
Since 1994, Panozzo said she has been through many different kinds of treatments on her way back to regaining her health.
She has found Tai Chi to be one of the best.
But Tai Chi is not easy, at least not if it's to be done correctly.
To be able to perform Tai Chi properly it takes a least a year doing two sessions a week, Martinu said.
But that shouldn't discourage anyone from giving Tai Chi a go, as moving and staying active is a way to remain healthy.