Tai Chi Centre owner Sergio Arione (rear) leads a group through Tai Chi sets at the centre in Roxboro Friday night. Arione said Tai Chi is increasing in popularity as the population ages, due to its low-impact nature and emphasis on balance and harmony.
In the first week of 2013, gyms across the region have been teeming with West Islanders determined to get in shape to fulfill their still-viable New Year's resolutions – but there's yet another way to get in shape -- gaining in popularity -- that will let practitioners keep their mind and body in harmony well into their 90s: Tai Chi.
"There's no age limit to Tai Chi," said Sergio Arione, who owns the Tai Chi Centre in Roxboro and has been a practitioner for more than three decades. "One of my classes has an average age of 92 or 93," he said.
Arione said in today's stressful world, Tai Chi is more important than ever in helping people shut out external stresses and focus on their body's movements, which in turn helps the practitioner improve their co-ordination, balance and the steadiness of their mind, Arione said.
"Gyms and jogging are great for some age groups – and that doesn't mean it's not good," he said, "but when you get past 25 or 30 and you get to 45, things are different. Balance and harmony and fitness have to work together," he said.
Tai Chi's 'sets,' performed in slow motion with clear transitions between them, help to quiet busy minds and allow practitioners greater clarity and produces serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps control stress.
"Exercising calms your mind. Imagine your mind is a crystal clear lake. If you can see better across the lake, you can make better choices," Arione said, adding West Islanders in general could use more mind-body-spirit balance in their lives.
"All you need is nine square feet, and you have enough room to conduct a Tai Chi session – which will stretch your ligaments, tendons and muscles, which will improve your mood and your circulation," Arione said.
With a rapidly-aging population, it's no surprise that the art form is catching among West Islanders looking to get in shape – especially those looking to get back into shape after years of inactivity.
At Volunteer West Island, activities co-ordinator Terri Aitken said the beginner and intermediate Tai Chi classes have small – but growing – followings.
"Put it this way," Aitken said. "Some of the seniors that are in the class have been taking it since I started working here in 2009 – and they had already been doing it for a while at that point," she said, adding that VWI participants enjoy the low-impact nature of the art.
Roughly 10 to 15 seniors are active participants in the beginner class, and another 18 take the intermediate class regularly, Aitken said, adding the benefits are wide and varied for seniors.
"It keeps them mobile, flexible and on the ball mentally. You've got to keep yourself in shape, and there's a real benefit to it for them. They keep on coming back," she said. The number of seniors signing up for the courses keeps on rising – which is good, considering there's still room in the classes for January.
"There's always room. We start them off in the beginner class and no matter when they come in, they get going. It's a good number considering we’re out here at the end of the world in Ste. Anne and people have really got to come and find us if they want to participate," she said.
The Volunteer West Island Tai Chi classes will begin again the week of Jan. 20. To register, call 514-457-5445, ext. 228.