On a trip to San Francisco more than 30 years ago, Ed Putnam first witnessed the Chinese exercise routine known as tai chi.
“Folks early in the morning were doing these slow, very graceful movements,” says Putnam, a resident of Beacon Hill, a Lifespace community in Lombard, Illinois. “I wondered about that. When you are from the Midwest, you don’t see a whole lot of tai chi.”
He began to study the exercise and its health benefits and has been practicing it ever since.
Earlier this year, Putnam, a retired chemist, conducted his own tai chi class for Beacon Hill residents as a part of the community’s Masterpiece Living initiative. The class was so popular he decided to continue his instruction by offering it weekly, sharing the knowledge he has gained over the years.
Tai chi was developed for self defense but is now a physical and mental exercise technique in which participants synchronize their movements, Putnam says.
“The path to mastering tai chi is harmony, not only physically but psychologically,” Putnam says. “One of the basic principles is to go with the flow.”
Tai chi can reduce stress and improve balance, he says. It can also help sharpen memory because participants must memorize a series of moves. Unlike some other forms of exercise, movements are smooth and flowing.
“You practice the move one step at a time,” Putnam says. “One of the very important things about tai chi is patience. It focuses on living in the moment, and the next step happens at the right instant. You are waiting patiently for the next step to occur.”
Beacon Hill resident and class participant Jane Nasti says tai chi doesn’t leave her exhausted as other exercise routines do.
“It’s very relaxing,” she says.
Another one of Putnam’s students, Dick White, signed up for the class out of curiosity.
“The more I heard about tai chi, the more I was interested in it,” White says.
So far, learning the moves has been challenging and a good workout for his memory, says White, one of 10 Beacon Hill residents who take the half-hour class each week.
White says his balance has improved, which will help prevent falls.
“It’s more than just exercise,” he says. “It’s actually a philosophy of life. It’s calmness and meditation. I plan to stick with this.”
About 90 percent of the classes at Beacon Hill are taught by residents, says Marc Raben, director of life enrichment and engagement.
From history to art, residents have a wealth of knowledge that they enjoy sharing with other members of the community, Raben says. It encourages successful, active aging and lifelong learning, he adds.
“The residents here want to learn,” Raben says. “These classes can open up a world of endless possibilities.”
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