Martial art helps seniors get healthier

Grace Garon took a deep breath as she began the maneuvers in the first of 121 position in T’ai Chi Ch’uan, a Chinese martial art taught for both defense and health benefits.

“I’m going to need more classes,” Garon laughed as she watched instructor Patricia Landry complete Level 1 or the first 19 movements of the program.

Landry, of Baton Rouge, led eight women and one man last week in the fifth of a six-week class on T’ai Chi at the Gonzales Senior Center.

Garon, a retired executive director of the Ascension Council on Aging, takes several other classes at the center, but said the T’ai Chi class has been a fun challenge she was excited about.

“It’s fun and it’s effective,” said Garon. She said the class has improved her flexibility and balance.

Eleven years ago Landry’s cardiologist suggested that she take T’ai Chi after surgery to repair a valve blockage.

Her passion for T’ai Chi has grown over the years and she’s become an advocate for its health benefits.

“It’s so calming and really helps with balance and stress,” Landry said.

During a recent class, Landry encouraged the students, all over 60, to bend their knees, breath slowing and concentrate on the movements.

She led them through a series of warm-up exercises designed to prepare the students for the T’ai Chi moves.

Each of the T’ai Chi movements requires slow, deliberate motion, she said.

First, the students learned “commencement of T’ai Chi Ch’uan” and then they moved on to the next move.

“It takes time, but even if you learn just a few it’s beneficial for your health,” Landry said.

Landry, 69, who studies with Michael Chow in Baton Rouge, said she recuperated from knee surgery quicker thanks to her T’ai Chi training and the martial art helps her cope with arthritis and asthma.

Retired physical education teacher Hilda Taylor is taking her third T’ai Chi class and plans to continue to study the ancient Chinese martial art.

Taylor, who took two T’ai Chi classes in Baton Rouge, said she pestered Ascension Council on Aging Executive Director Darlene Schexnayder “over and over again until she decided to offer it here.”

Taylor, who has a “bad heart and bad back,” said T’ai Chi has helped her in ways she never imagined.

On a recent trip to the dentist, Taylor said the breathing techniques she learned in T’ai Chi helped her relax “and I never even felt the shot they gave me.”

“I was surprised because I hate shots and usually tense up,” Taylor said.

The class has also helped lower her blood pressure, she said.

Garon, of Donaldsonville, and classmate Jeanette Beck, said they both have been practicing their T’ai Chi movements at home.

“I look forward to doing this all week,” Beck, of Donaldsonville said. “It’s very relaxing.”

Garon, who has rheumatoid arthritis, said she couldn’t do yoga or pilates, but T’ai Chi has been “so good in relaxing all my joints.”

Schexnayder said she’s planning to schedule another session of T’ai Chi classes in a few weeks.

“It’s really gone over well and they want another round,” she said.

While Garon and Beck said they have only learned about five of the 121 movements, they plan to continue with the training.

“I hate exercise, but I love T’ai Chi,” Beck said.

For information about the next T’ai Chi class or other exercise classes at the center, call (225) 621-5750 or (225) 473-3789.