2017-09-01 / Health & Fitness

Tai chi yields stronger muscles, calmer mind


Lizabeth Becton-Read leads tai chi class at NCH Wellness Center. 
Staff | staff@swspotlight.com Lizabeth Becton-Read leads tai chi class at NCH Wellness Center. Staff | staff@swspotlight.com It’s Thursday morning, and I am one of 30 people gathered in a large fitness room at Naples Community Hospital Wellness Center. We move slowly in unison, our faces calm and relaxed, our movements smooth and precise. We are practicing tai chi.

Instructor Lizabeth Becton- Read guides with a soft voice, reminding us to “focus, and be conscious of every movement, every joint, every breath.”

We repeat several moves with names derived from nature: casting the net, scooping the sea, carrying the moon. “You know where your weight is at all times,” she says, as we shift forward and back, or side to side, with knees bent. The rhythm feels soothing.

Becton-Read has a background in martial arts, where tai chi’s roots began centuries ago in China. This gentle exercise improves circulation, flexibility and balance. The fluid movements strengthen muscles while calming the mind.

“I started teaching in New Jersey, for working Type A personalities,” she said. “After seeing a mellowing in many of them, I wanted to impact students with this calming technique on a regular basis.”

“I have several students with high blood pressure,” she added. “They take a reading before and after class, and find it dropped 10-15 points on the high number. Wow!”

Anthony Komaroff, a practicing physician and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, wrote, “Tai chi is often described as ‘meditation in motion.’ I think it could just as well be called medication in motion. This mind-body practice appears to help treat or prevent many health problems.”

Estero resident Karen Bacsik- Kohn has a personal story affirming the benefits of tai chi. In 2014 she had severe knee pain and was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis.

Bacsik-Kohn declined medical treatments and started gentle exercises at home. The following year, she found Becton-Read’s tai chi class meeting her needs.

“Instantly I recognized the healing qualities — the mindful engagement in fluid motions,” she said.

“Liz explains how the muscles are used during tai chi,” she said. “It’s a study in how we use the body and how we can improve it.”

People of all fitness levels can do tai chi. Becton-Read said some arrive with walkers, canes, an awkward gait, arthritis pain, and more. She reminds them to do only what their bodies will allow.

There are huge turnouts at Becton-Read’s classes during the winter. Sometimes 60 people practice in the Garden of Hope and Courage on NCH campus.

Tai chi is offered at many local facilities, such as the YMCA, recreation centers, fitness clubs and yoga studios. Naples Botanical Garden and Collier County libraries have classes.

Bacsik-Kohn especially enjoys being in the NCH garden. “It’s beautiful and almost spiritual,” she said. “It gives an internal peace.”

If you have a question or an idea for Stay Fit, email Ann Marina at marina@swspotlight.com.

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