Marietta resident Judy Grize has severe osteoarthritis. She's had two back surgeries and both of her knees replaced. To help alleviate her pain, she turned to tai chi.
"When you get done with this class ... there's no stiffness," she said. "You still know the arthritis is there, but it doesn't hurt." Grize, 67, is one of nine certified instructors for the Arthritis Foundation Tai Chi Program offered through the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Washington County. The tai chi program aims to reduce pain, stiffness and fatigue and improve physical function, muscle strength, flexibility, mobility and balance in people who suffer from arthritis.
Tai chi originated in ancient China. It promotes correct body posture, integrates body and mind and improves qi - the life energy inside a person. The Sun style tai chi used in the Arthritis Foundation's Tai Chi Program is characterized by agile steps and smooth movements. It consists of six basic and six advanced movements, as well as a warm-up and cool-down. After learning the 12 movements, participants continue to be challenged, as they must learn to reverse the direction of the movements.
Classes started at the O'Neill Center on Fourth Street in Marietta in August. Since then, the program has expanded to the Belpre and New Matamoras senior centers, as well as Hannah's House in Harmar and the Cutler Community Center. Future classes are planned for the Lower Salem Community Center and WASCO. "RSVP is trying to reach the whole county," said RSVP director Lisa Valentine. "Part of the goal wasn't to just have tai chi in Marietta, but have tai chi everywhere." Devola resident Sandra Ashcraft, 62, participates in classes held at the O'Neill Senior Center. So far, she has attended three classes. "It's supposed to be good for stress and depression," she said.
"And I am very awkward and thought it would give me balance." RSVP volunteers serve as instructors for the classes. Those who participate are 55 and older. In total, 124 people participate in the various classes across Washington County. "In the class I teach at Hannah's House, most of them are in their 90s ... they're amazing," Grize said. There is no cost to participate in the classes and pre-registration is not necessary. Sessions are eight weeks long. Valentine said the tai chi program was started after three RSVP volunteers fell in a period of just a few weeks.
"Falls are the number one cause of loss of independence for seniors," she said. Valentine said RSVP volunteer coordinator Ashby Seyler-Schmidt was instrumental in implementing the Arthritis Foundation Tai Chi Program in Washington County. "I basically stayed on top of the instructors to get their certification," Seyler-Schmidt said. "I was always here if they had questions." Valentine said the instructors were trained by Ralph Dehner, a tai chi for health master/trainer from Cincinnati. The training was made possible through a $1,500 Marietta Community Foundation grant.
"The training was ongoing from April to the present," she said. "We are now working with our instructor group on the level 2 forms (movements)." John and Emily Smith, both 75, teach classes together at the Cutler Community Center. Emily Smith said it's a team effort - her husband turns his back to class participants so they can mimic what he's doing, and she faces them so she can make sure they're doing it correctly. "He does have quite a bit of arthritis - he's had two back surgeries," she said.
"It's so smooth; there's no jerking to it. It almost looks like a ballet if you really see it done right, but it does help him." Emily Smith noted that they just wrapped up an eight-week class with 11 participants. "I think we're doing pretty good and most of them, by the time they get through the classes, they get pretty efficient," she said.