Originating in ancient China as a martial art, Tai Chi has long been recognised as an effective tool for good health. It boasts many benefits and claims to improve most aspects of health including posture, relaxation, concentration, and the flow of Qi, a life energy essential for health and vitality. Over the centuries, Tai Chi has evolved into several styles with different approaches and aims to suit various requirements.

Tai Chi is gentle exercise with fluid, graceful movements and is suitable for almost anyone because the level of exertion can be adjusted to suit individual requirements. Tai Chi requires little room and no special equipment.

Dr Paul Lam, a family physician and clinical lecturer in medicine, took up Tai Chi over 20 years ago in an attempt to reduce the painful effects of his arthritis. "For centuries, doctors of traditional Chinese medicine have prescribed Tai Chi for arthritis," Dr Lam said, "[It] is a gentle and relaxing exercise." The exercise was remarkably effective but he found he had to alter some of the movements to accommodate his arthritis.

In 1997, Dr Lam and a team of medical experts developed a Tai Chi program specifically for people with arthritis. The result was an ‘easy to learn’ program that provides relief from the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis and improves flexibility, strength, and fitness. Students of the program boast of their improved general health, their self control of arthritis and an improvement in lifestyle that for most seemed just a dream. Bill, a student of Tai Chi for Arthritis says, "I can walk anywhere now. I can get out of bed all right and I can go back and play golf again." Another student, Adele, was getting very worried because "my joints were getting stiffer and stiffer…I made up my mind to try Tai Chi and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done."
Rheumatologist, Dr Ian Portek says, "As an overall approach, it is most important that patients [with arthritis] take their medication to endeavour to decrease inflammation but as well as that, they need to exercise…in a way that improves their muscle tone and improves the function and rhythmic movement of the joint." Maintaining or improving movement and muscle tone is very important for people with arthritis because it is the muscles that protect the joint from wear and tear.

The Tai Chi for Arthritis program is being practised around the world with astounding success. "Many of my students have told me how much better their arthritis is after learning Tai Chi," said Dr Lam. "Most experience improvements after only a few weeks." ‘Marjorie’ went to Tai Chi when she was in a great deal of pain. She said, "I thought it was just too much effort but halfway through the class I’ve thought, dear I’m glad I came because the pain, if it hasn’t all gone, is well on the way to going."

For people in NSW who are interested in learning more about Dr Lam’s program, The Arthritis Foundation of New South Wales, as part of Arthritis Week, is holding ‘Tai Chi in the Park’, a demonstration of Tai Chi for arthritis in Hyde Park North at 10am on Sunday 9 April 2000. Come along and learn about the benefits of Tai Chi and how it can help people with arthritis. Dr Paul Lam will explain the program, experienced trainers will demonstrate the technique, and anyone who is interested can participate in a session. Absolutely no experience is necessary. People can also attend classes and workshops around the country or purchase an 80 minute instructional video.

For more information on the Tai Chi for Arthritis program, please contact Anna Bennett on phone (02) 9533 6511 or  the Arthritis Foundation of NSW on phone (02) 9683 1622.


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