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Tai Chi and Yoga

Body and Mind the Eastern Way

He mentions the case of one heart patient in his sixties who had difficulty doing a simple forward bend. After practicing at least three hours a week for the last seven years, the patient, now in his mid-70s, cannot believe his range of mobility, which he feels is even greater than when he was in his 50s. Of course, Sierra emphasizes, the patient does yoga regularly. “You have to do it daily, even if it's just for a few minutes.”

Yoga’s adaptability and focus on the overall well-being of the client makes it good for almost anyone, says one Arizona instructor who specializes in “yoga therapy” in her one-on-one practice. Clara Sida of Glendale notes that some forms, such as “restorative yoga,” allow practitioners to use beds, tables, blankets, and other forms of support, making it ideal for those with physical limitations. Sida is a registered and certified yoga teacher.

“I have a 74-year-old client with numerous medical conditions. She couldn't stand up against the wall for more than 30 seconds. She’s only been in yoga therapy for four weeks and she is able to stand for more than three minutes. Her doctors can't believe her progress,” says Sida, a certified spiritual counselor who became a yoga instructor after a 20-year career as a secretary. “I see great progress in my clients. They're standing straighter, walking for longer periods. They have more energy. The color of their skin just comes back. They feel more alive.”

And they often feel better prepared to deal with obstacles.

“These practices allow us to deal with changes that are an inevitable part of life,” says Sierra. “Some people might call this component 'spiritual.’ ”

It is this sacred component that attracted Miami real estate agent Elly Chovel to a highly meditative form called kriya yoga, which she says is a “simple, quick technique to achieve calmness, peace, and spirituality.”

“The difference in my day when I get up and do it and when I don't is very noticeable in terms of how calm and clear my mind and body feel,” says Chovel, who is in her mid-50s. Her practice centers not on verbalized prayers but on connecting with God through breathing. “Every breath you take is an awareness that God is within you,” she explains.

Kallos notes that the common thread of healing that runs through both yoga and tai chi is “the energy of life.” In yoga, that energy is called prana. In tai chi, it's chi. “Christians call it the Holy Spirit,” she says.

Indeed, in their essence, both tai chi and yoga are about this one thing: flow. The flow of breath. The flow of energy. The flow of movement.

Flow means not forcing the moves. It means pulling back if you feel discomfort and then once again easing into the poses. It means striving to be relaxed, even as you work hard. Yoga instructors encourage “exploring” the poses. In doing so, one becomes acutely aware of the messages the body sends. Where is the flexibility? Where is the soreness? Where are the limits? Can they be expanded a bit more?

“Ease is the key word,” says Sierra. “What is ‘ease’ for you may be different for me. The instructor should allow you to discover what it is for you.”

You may also like: Avoid a bad fall by exercising to improve your balance.>>

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