Sometimes, exercise can have unexpected benefits.
“The very first time I did tai chi, I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to deal with my mother-in-law,” Dot Shikenjanski said of her experience four years ago when she was dealing with the stress of being caregiver for her husband’s mother. “It’s very calming.
“I was looking for a way to get out of the house for free. I had a broken wrist and yoga wasn’t an option. No ‘down dog’ for me with a broken wrist,” Shikenjanski said with a laugh, waving her healed wrist.
Four years ago when Shikenjanski began attending Senior Center tai chi classes, Brack Llewellyn was teaching the class.
“But Brack had other things he was doing, and when he left, I didn’t want to stop so I said I would lead the class. I was offered the opportunity to be certified as a teacher, and I was certified in April 2017,” said Shikenjanski.
“Tai chi is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” she added. “It helps with balance. It helps with mental focus.”
“I’m still waiting on that one,” chimed in Janet Head, who has been coming to the classes for about a month.
Shikenjanski teaches a form of tai chi popularized by Dr. Paul Lam, an instructor based in Sydney, Australia. It’s called Tai Chi for Arthritis. Shikenjanski said it’s easy to learn because it only uses 12 of tai chi’s 72 forms.
“It’s short, so we go through it two or three times,” she said, “focusing on different things each time. Sometimes we focus on the resistance of air that your body feels as you move. We work on going with the flow, and we work on weight shifts which really helps with balance. You can even do tai chi seated in a chair, just moving your arms. It can be as easy or as difficult as you like.”
“I want to move parts of my body I don’t move any other time,” she added. “You can stay out of a nursing home if you move your body, and it certainly helps with balance. We’re all concerned with that.”
Shikenjanski said the class is moving on to add Tai Chi for Arthritis II to its practice, and they’ve gotten about halfway through it.
“It has some really complicated moves, and we’re learning some more.”
Lloyd and Anne Bell have been coming to tai chi for three or four weeks, or maybe less. They couldn’t decide among themselves exactly how long, but Lloyd Bell solved the question by saying, “We’re still getting broken in.”
“We have a good time,” said Anne Bell.
Lloyd Bell agreed. “We get out. We meet new people.”
Shikenjanski cut the Bells’ conversation short, calling the class to the floor to begin class. They warmed up a bit and she got to the heart of the practice, warning the four men and two women who are taking the class on Wednesday to never take it to the point of pain.
“Imagine your neck will go a little further than it can,” she advised the class as they are turning their heads from side to side. “Try to go a little further with each rotation of the neck.”
“No leaning,” is a frequent admonition to the class, as they are frequently told to keep their shoulders over their hips. “Where the head goes, the body follows, and we don’t want to fall.”
Shikenjanski takes her class into a series of kicking and punching moves, telling them in the low, soothing tones with which she instructs them, “Studies have shown the brain learns best through slow, repeated movements” as they continue making slow, repeated movements.
The Surry Senior Center offers tai chi classes to seniors age 50 and up at the Jones Family Resource Center, 215 Jones School Road, on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and at the Mount Airy Public Library, 145 Rockford St., on Fridays at 10 a.m. Both classes are free of charge. Call Jane Suratt at 336-786-6155, ext. 225, if you’d like more information, but it’s not necessary to pre-register. Just show up ready to move and learn.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.