The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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March 19, 2007

The gentle exercise of yoga, tai chi

There are some who cringe at the mere mention of exercise. They see images of sweaty runners finishing a long distance race or bouncing bodies on stair stepping machines in a health club and think: “I can’t do that.”

Exercise — the kind recommended by virtually every medical group — is possible at any age and doesn’t require any special athletic talent. But there are some individuals who for various reasons, cannot exercise at a high or even a moderate level of intensity. For these persons, less strenuous such as yoga and tai chi have many advocates.

Practiced widely in Asian countries for centuries, tai chi and yoga have demonstrated health benefits and are practiced by many Americans as an adjunct to their traditional exercise program.

Tai chi, like yoga, should be learned from an experienced teacher rather than a book or video, and traditional teachers are likely to emphasize the martial art tradition. Most tai chi advocates today are interested in the health benefits, and those are not incompatible.

The goal is to learn a state of calmness that is believed necessary to combat the physical effects of stress on both the body and mind. Whether an attacking force is physical or mental, it should be met with “softness,” remaining in contact with it and following its motion until the force is exhausted or re-directed.

Several studies of arthritis patients found that those performing tai chi exercises reported less pain, better range of motion and fewer limitations on daily activities. Tai chi movements are gentle but constant, helping lubricate joints and strengthening muscles gradually.

Yoga involves the movement of energy through the body and is holistic in its approach, promoting physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. The physical movements of yoga are no more nor less important than the breathing, the concentration and mental attitude. The ultimate goal is to establish contact with true nature of things.

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