Can Tai Chi & Qigong Make Ageing Aussie Adults’ Lives More Liveable? Personal Experiences of Millions of Seniors & Many Researchers Say Yes―Read On

Arthur Gatley 13/09/2019

Today’s older adults’ life experiences, wants and needs are vastly different to those of their parents. You face a ‘third age’ of moderately healthy retirement.

Can Tai Chi (taiji) and Qigong (jigung) improve Australia’s older adults’ health and happiness? Can burgeoning aged-care costs be reduced by Tai Chi and Qigong?  Can ageism be countered by happier and healthier seniors’ who engage with community more effectively? Today, globally, millions practice Tai Chi and Qigong. Both regimens focus on ‘three regulations’ of posture and movement, controlled breathing and meditation.

The Teacher

Twenty-five years ago 64-year-old Rodney, Cobargo’s Tai Chi/Qigong teacher, was working in a paddock. Suddenly his life changed. Struck by lightning this capable energetic man became disabled. He could no longer work or maintain his property, social life crashed, Rodney became depressed. After 15 or so diagnostic failures an older GP blamed his thyroid. Rodney took his prescription to Cobargo’s quaint wee pharmacy, days later his ‘absolutely wrecked’ body and mind experienced remarkable improvement.

Rodney became happier but his body, damaged by a building career and ‘25 years of NRL footie’, needed attention. Tai Chi classes started in the Cobargo School of Arts and his Tai Chi/Qigong journey began. For a time, Rodney drove to Canberra every weekend to train with Brett Wagland and associate and partner Fontane, masters of the arts, a six-hour journey from home and back. Rodney became proficient, training daily and teaching weekly.

He’d taken over teaching Tai Chi/Qigong in the hall. Groups of two or three grew to classes of 20-plus mature age Tai Chi students, graceful exercises accompanied by soft music, humming air conditioners and clicking knees. Self‑effacing Rodney put growth down to ‘the Hall Committee installing air conditioning’, Cobargo is cold in winter and hot in summer. The real reason being, Rodney frequently promotes his classes, often at regional township events.

Research Findings

The US National Centre for Biotechnology Information’s A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi states―’Qigong practices activate naturally occurring physiological and psychological mechanisms of self-repair and health recovery’. Exercises are disciplined ‘drawing on natural forces to optimise and balance energy within’.

The study demonstrates improvements in mobility, balance, inner ear problems, heart performance, general inflammation, BMI, blood chemistry, anxiety levels, blood pressure, depression, older adult mobility, quality of life (QOL) for older adults, QOL of HIV/AIDS sufferers, improvements in moods of those suffering traumatic brain injury, self-efficacy― self-confidence in terms of one’s ability to achieve tasks, arthritis, shingles, joint movements of sedentary folk, spinal column pain, self-esteem, sleeping, QOL for cancer sufferers, cardiopulmonary patient QOL, geriatric depression and hand grip strength.

Carl and Annie Started 9 Months Ago

Both are Rodney’s students, 65-year-old Carl once saw people doing Qigong exercises on ‘the flat in Bermagui’ thinking his frozen left shoulder ‘would be buggered after this’. Despite treatment Carl’s shoulder remained frozen, frustration mounted. Carl was in pain and unable to ‘get a straight answer’ from therapists. Some of them ‘didn’t want to know about it’. Tai Chi/Qigong emerged as the only effective treatment.

Carl went to Reboot in Bermagui, a seaside-town festival featuring stalls, sport, food, music and other entertainments. Carl saw Rodney demonstrating Tai Chi/Qigong to ‘about two people’.

Carl joined in, ‘I realised pretty much within the first five minutes, hang on, I think this is what I need’. Admitting that ‘I just used to poo-poo it’ Carl discovered his error of assumption. Tai Chi/Qigong were the only thing that helped, he has been practicing it for nine months. His frozen shoulder has thawed.

A Dancer

Carl’s partner Annie is 64 and was doing yoga at the same Saturday event, after finishing Annie joined Rodney’s class saying, ‘I thought gee, this is alright’. Next day she and Carl fronted Rodney’s Sunday session. Annie says she ‘just mastered it’, a surprise for this aerobics and Pilates practitioner. Annie moves like Bruce Lee, when I asked about prior martial arts training Annie replied ‘Zumba’.

Zumba is a trade-marked fitness training system using Hiphop rhythms. Anne has practiced a range of fitness regimes, now favouring Tai Chi/Qigong while gracefully ageing.

Life After Karate

Thea, married and 73, trained Karate as a young woman. Time took its toll, a late-life stroke was a wake-up call. University of the Third Age, U3A, offered Tai Chi/Qigong, Thea signed up. Her earlier Karate training proved to be a two-edged sword. Past expertise in that ‘hard’ fighting art made transition to gentler Tai Chi/Qigong challenging. U3A’s instructor ‘had eyes in the back of his head’ helping Thea to adjust from hard to soft Tai Chi/Qigong training.

Changes after three years of Tai Chi/Qigong practice for Thea are physical and psychological. Balance issues improved and age related lower back problems diminished, her Thursday Qigong session ‘keeps that in line’. Thea’s ‘mental strength’ improved due to Qigong’s meditative practices, her more relaxed demeaner means improved mindfulness, focusing on consequences of actions when making decisions. Plus, Tai Chi/Qigong’s disciplines improve her attention to daily tasks and other commitments.

Thea now effectively runs the household, cares for two breeding Boerboels and tends around 5,000 square metres of garden. Voluntarily making clothing for children in Loganlea Hospital expresses her new-found positivity. Other benefits Thea notes are her attitude to her diet, fried foods and snacking while shopping are anathematic. More respect for the temple of her body? Tai Chi/Qigong practice has been very positive for Thea.

This is Personal

This story starts with a motorcycle crash at 18. I regained consciousness in St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne with a cracked skull, fractured sacroiliac joint―connects one’s pelvis to one’s spine, a foot-peg through a leg and other bumps. Discharged after six weeks I spent months on my back. Serendipitously, a friend spirited me to a weekend with fellow bike enthusiasts and out of the wheelchair and walking.

By 70 searing pain, ruined skeletal geometry, sleeplessness and anxiety sent me to a local GP who prescribed pills, physiotherapy and gentle walks on flat ground. This achieved little, especially after a heart attack sentenced me to desk-work and a diet of more pills, dangerous and addictive analgesics.

Local resident Rodney invited me to his Tai Chi/Qigong lessons, after my whingeing about my torment. There were around 15 or so locals: two middle-aged male construction workers and the rest were women. Rodney and veteran Tai Chi practitioner assistants, 76-year-old Bob and arthritic but restored Di, took us through our paces. Miraculously, I woke up next morning pain free and at peace with the world, bingo!

Gentle, graceful, meditative and thoroughly enjoyable Tai Chi/Qigong was a significant life-moment. The best bit, regular practice manages pain and anxiety limiting pill taking, failure-to-practice’s negative consequences keeps me training. All this for $15 a week, ephemerally effective physiotherapy is $80 a session.

Dementia Can be Managed

Dementia is news, it’s incurable, disabling and scary. Carole Milligan, Qigong teacher, did some work with demented folk for an Aberdeenshire, Scotland dementia support group. Qigong was chosen as dementia limitations make the complex Tai Chi form unusable.

The program was effective, similar programs need to be instigated for Australia’s dementia sufferers. Why, because of observed outcomes and self-reports from participants? Milligan says, ‘regular physical activity could represent an important and potent protective factor for cognitive decline and dementia in elderly persons.’  This is reinforced in participant self-reporting, some examples:

  • ‘My husband thinks I’m better … I can do things without hesitating.’
  • ‘… my daughter sees a difference – I’m more relaxed and things work better’
  • ‘Qigong has stopped the buzzing in my head.’
  • ‘… I was struggling at my local yoga class, but I managed this fine.’

and the best one

  • It was for the physical side that I came initially. I didn’t realise how much it would help me mentally. I feel normal – I forget that I’ve got dementia.

If you’re caring for a dementia sufferer it will help to read Millgan’s report.

 

What’s Needed Next

Australia spent around $15 billion on aged care in the 2015/16 financial year. The bill, home support, $2.2 billion, home care, $1.5 billion and residential care, $11.4 billion. It is a clear that proven benefits of Tai Chi/Qigong for older adults means costs to taxpayers would be significantly reduced by encouraging Australian senior citizens to practice these arts to delay entry to residential care.

An additional benefit will be less ageism, resulting in more respectful engagement with the general community. A caution, some claim Tai Chi/Qigong expertise. Be aware that it takes 20 years to perfect the full practice, check credentials of teachers to avoid disappointment. Assuredly more research into the health, sociological, economic and political benefits of Tai Chi/Qigong for older adults is indicated.

Arthur Gatley, arthurgatley@bigpond.com, +61428978434

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