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Stretching Myself

Aug 28, 2008 - 2 comments

I’m not talking in metaphors or goals here; I’m really stretching myself – all 6’ of me. In keeping with the new, healthier version of Laura, I decided it was time to add a new element to my routine.

I have been gradually adding more distance to my daily walk, and have it up to about a mile or two depending on the weather – no big deal, except I was very sedentary before my MI and I don’t particularly care for the big hill on our street that I must ascend if I want to get home.

The treadmill, elliptical and stationary bicycle in the basement are my husband's territory – he doesn’t mind sharing, but the last time I was on the treadmill in the late spring I sprained my ankle and wrenched my back. If you’re old enough to remember the opening scene of The Jetson’s with George on the treadmill, that was me reenacting the fun. After I fell off the treadmill and found my way upstairs, he observantly said “was that you that made the loud thump?” That was the end of my 2.8 MPH at a grade of 3 alone in the bowels of my house.

The cardiologist didn’t write a ‘script for cardiac rehab, because my heart wasn’t really damaged during my “event.” My changed diet of yogurt and water and vegetables and virtually no alcohol, sugar or carbs for the past 6 months has helped me to shed about 40 pounds off my frame, but the muscles still didn’t work well. Little did I know at the time that there was another medical problem lurking in my body.

In August I was hit with the big surprise – “we think you have multiple sclerosis” and I am currently undergoing more tests to pin down that diagnosis. Funny thing about MS, it won’t kill you like a heart problem, but it can really mess with your day-to-day living. Suddenly the episodes of dizziness and lack of balance that were attributed to heart and blood pressure fluctuations look more like MS than cardiac symptoms. Tripping over my feet on the treadmill could certainly be MS, but then again I’ve always been a tad bit uncoordinated.

Where I work has a wonderful Wellness Program for staff and faculty, as well as a state of the art, almost brand new, RecPlex building, with everything one could want to get healthy and stay healthy. Enthusiastically I read the offerings for this school year and wondered what class I should take to improve my strength and balance, as well as give some tone to my weary muscles.

Co-ed aerobics? Sweating isn’t really my thing.
Zumba? A room full of skinny women moving to the Latin beat probably would hurt me as much if not more than baring my thighs in the aerobics class.

I scrolled down the list and finally found what I think will be the perfect class for me …. Tai Chi. Two nights a week, immediately after work. No spandex or lycra clothing necessary. Just come, move, destress, breathe – I can do that.
I’ve taken Tai Chi before, never mind that it was in 1968 when I was in 6th grade at a special after school program that brought students from all over the city to a central location to experience the arts in an integrated setting – this class will be a logical choice for me. I remember how much I enjoyed that experience 40 years ago, or at least I tell myself I remember it but with my brain there is no guarantee, but I bought my membership to the RecPlex through payroll deduction anyway, paid my fee for the class and eagerly anticipated last night’s first session.

There are only 8 of us in the class and the instructor, Carmen, is a very tan, buff middle-aged man who looks like he should be teaching Zumba instead of Tai Chi. I’m embracing the moment, feeling good about all this and then we assumed the beginning posture – every time I rocked forward to Dragon position my right knee popped. Every time I rocked back on my heels, my right knee popped. I’m not talking out of the socket popping, I am talking everyone in the studio could hear this sound coming from my body. My knee is making sounds like the popcorn starting to pop in the microwave.

Here is a brief aside to this story – a friend and I have been e-mailing and I wrote to her about my intent to take Tai Chi. She warned me about other bodily function noises that come out of 50-something year old bodies being bent and contorted, so I truly was focusing on that potential problem. There probably is a movement in Tai Chi called “break wind” but it is meant as a movement and not a physical reaction. Fortunately I made it through the first class without that problem, but I can’t guarantee it won’t still happen during this semester.

But back to my first class – So out loud I finally have to say “yes everyone, that is my knee you hear and no, it isn’t hurting me, yet.” “ Could I maybe do chair Tai Chi instead”, I say to Carmen. He gives me that look like “you whimp, you can do this.” Kind of one of those “Grasshopper, you have much to learn” look - Kindly and benevolent while at the same time you know you can be devoured by the Dragon.

Then comes the next move – now this proves my memory is not quite what I thought it would be, but 40 years is a long time ago. I swear I did not remember that you do so much standing on one leg and then on the other leg in Tai Chi. Now this thought alone would have kept me from registering for this course. My balance is as bad as my memory, if not worse, and touching the heel of my foot to the knee of my other leg is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, convincing my foot to even come up off the floor at times is a challenge, thanks to the disease in my brain. Let me just say I was not the star pupil of the night but I did attract the most attention.

In a quiet moment when Carmen crept across the floor and was about to reproach me about my stance as well as my foot dragging on the floor, I quietly whispered my pending MS diagnosis – “take that Snarling Dragon, Grasshopper is not so weak” I thought. The dragon backed off immediately.

The best part of the first class? It was only 50 minutes long and we don’t meet again until next Wednesday because of the holiday on Monday. Surprisingly when I got out of bed this morning, my knee still works. My thigh muscles are sore but in a good way.

We talked after class and Carmen is actually quite encouraging about me staying with the class – Tai Chi is excellent for balance and core strength training (that’s why I signed up) and he is anxious to see me prove it is effective in slowing the decay of MS. I finally confessed to him that I had taken Tai Chi in a previous life. I mentioned the name of the program I was enrolled in and he looked at me again. Carmen learned to be a Tai Chi instructor after his experience in the very same program I learned from – we both had the same Master instructor. There is a good probability that we were there at the same time.

So that is the beginning of my new adventure. I'll write more after the next experience with the Dragon.

The grasshopper

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428506 tn?1296560999
by wonko, Aug 28, 2008
Thank you for posting this!  You have a really great sense of humor, BTW.

That is awesome that you are 6', my mom is about that and never has been impressed with my 5'9" status.

I'm fast approaching 30, and have similar issues with wanting better balance and strength.  I work at a desk and it is amazing how standing on one leg for even a moment can puts things in perspective...  I have not tried Tai Chi yet, but my standard stretching also encourages wind release, esp. since eating better means so many vegetables!  

Do you think Tai Chi is best experienced as a group/class, or can it be done individually?  For now, most of my exercise is being done in-house, as I am unsure about the time, expense, and public humiliation of joining a gym.

I'll keep an eye out for the next installment.  Good luck and congrats on getting out there and doing it!

572651 tn?1531002957
by Lulu54, Aug 28, 2008
I sit all day long too and it has taken a toll...

There are good Tai Chi tapes available - probably can get them at your local library.  You can do it on your own - my 86 year old dad has one for seniors - I wish that was the one being taught in this class.  :-) You would just need a lot of floor room to move around.  

I personally like group classes because if I've paid money to go I am more likely to attend.  At home I have to be disciplined and that's not always easy.... that is always an excuse.

Thanks for the nice comments and stay in touch.  Next class isn't until next Wednesday, but we're supposed to practice on our own.  So far I've practiced breathing.  LOL


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