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An ancient Chinese mind-body exercise, Tai Chi provides many benefits for seniors

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Bill Vasicek teaches Tai Chi to students Linda Kohoutek, left, and Joyce Halverson on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the Grand Forks Senior Center.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – Walk into the room where the Tai Chi class is conducted at the Grand Forks Senior Center and you immediately feel a sense of peace, quiet and calm. The music is soft and soothing.

At the front of the room, Bill Vasicek talks his students through and demonstrates the flow of each movement in the ancient mind/body exercise, sometimes referred to as “moving meditation,” that originated in China.

Vasicek leads beginning and intermediate Tai Chi classes, which meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. No fee is charged and Senior Center membership is not required.

Those who attend the sessions “enjoy it,” Vasicek said, noting that he’d like to have more students. “It is exercise, but it’s not strenuous exercise.”

The style of Tai Chi that he teaches is helpful for those coping with arthritis and fall prevention, said Vasicek, who is trained and certified to teach it. “The movement is modified so that it’s not causing harm if a person has arthritis.”

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Tai Chi is also particularly beneficial in improving one’s balance, he said.

Linda Kohoutek of Grand Forks, who’s been taking the class for about two years, can attest to that. The exercise is good for attaining “better balance,” she said. “And it’s stress-relieving too.”

Having a good sense of balance is crucial in preventing falls and injury, especially for older people, the CDC has confirmed.

Vasicek, who retired as community safety coordinator for Altru Health System, said that hospital statistics revealed that “older adults who fell would end up in the hospital or dying from their injuries. It was alarming.”

In the hospital’s emergency room, “falls were always at the top of the list during the 17 years I was (at Altru), and it was all ages.”

Recently, Joyce Halverson of Grand Forks noticed that when getting out of bed in the morning, she wasn’t as stable as she used to be, she said. “I can’t leap out of bed; I feel I needed more stability.”

She was invited by a friend, Gail Hove, a regular attendee who joined the class at the strong recommendation of her health care provider.

Halverson, who’s been attending the exercise class for about four months, has found that it’s helped her with balance, she said. “It’s very relaxing, too.”

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“Bill is an excellent teacher,” Halverson said. “He’s so patient, he’s non-judgmental. It’s a very stress-free environment.”

She is “not much of a joiner,” she said, but the benefits she’s received from the Tai Chi classes make her want to come back whenever she can.

Certified to teach

Vasicek is certified to teach the Sun style of Tai Chi, which is characterized by “slow, steady, continuous movement,” he said. “It’s a little easier (style of Tai Chi) and it’s easier to do.”

Vasicek took training through an online “Tai Chi for Health” program, offered by Dr. Paul Lam, a physician from China who lives in Australia, he said. “All my training was virtual, working with a master trainer.”

“We’re taught to modify movements to make it comfortable for (participants),” he said. “We do exercises within their comfort zones. There should be no pain.”

Vasicek has been conducting Tai Chi classes at the Senior Center for about two years.

The Sun style of Tai Chi incorporates gentle resistance; participants are guided through hand and arm movements while imagining they’re pushing water, he said. Even while imagining it, they’re strengthening the arm muscles.

In certain movements, “the mind, body and spirit are in perfect alignment, Vasicek said.

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Tai Chi also incorporates simultaneous breathing with certain movements. A participant can practice the exercise while seated in a chair, “but you’re not going to get the balance benefit out of it, but you are still getting exercise, and it helps you with coordination and strengthening the core,” he said. “If they have a balance issue, I have them stand by a chair, if they need to hang onto the chair, they can.”

Vasicek has even seen the benefits in his own health.

When he comes to the Senior Center and uses the stairs, “my knees hurt a little bit,” he said. “Then I do (Tai Chi) for an hour and I feel great.”

For more information on this and other programs offered by the Grand Forks Senior Center, visit the website, http://www.gfseniorcenter.org or call (701) 772-7245. The Senior Center is located at 620 Fourth Ave. S.

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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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