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Working wonders

So one of my new found passions has been Tai Chi.  I began practicing Tai Chi about three years ago as yet another way of 1) staying active 2) staying sane 3) staying upright.

A little over a year ago, I was invited to train to be a certified Tai Chi Instructor and so I took my love of this amazing practice to a whole new level.  I have to say that I did not do this lightly or without a great deal of consideration and yes, even fear.  I knew that having RA and managing the chaos that is such a constant part of the disease would present some unique challenges when it came to taking on a teaching role. It is one thing to do a physical activity that could be put on hold when a flare happens.  If my shoulders or hips are painful, stiff and swollen, I could simply curtail my practice when it was only me.  But if I committed to teach a class, then I would have to show up no matter what!  I had to think carefully about just how I would deal with that very likely scenario.

In the end, I decided I would indeed handle it.  And so I have. One way was to work with a co-instructor.  That has proven helpful to both of us.  On several different occasions one or the other of us has had to miss a class.  Having each other to depend on has been a life saver!  I broke my foot last October and had to miss a class while casting, etc. was being resolved.  I was back in a week and worked around it for the rest of that series.

Which brings me to the second strategy to deal with RA while “teaching”. Give your class some credit for being very accepting and patient with you.  I shared from day one my specific situation with RA.  I told them that it was entirely possible, if not probable, that my level of physical participation may need to be modified or adjusted.  The fact is that for many of the folks who take my class, they too have varying degrees of limitations and so they were just fine with hearing that they were not alone in needing modifications.  If anything, I think it made them feel more welcome and comfortable.  They were a lot more at ease with the notion of having to take a break from the practice for whatever reason they had. I actually believe it created a bond between us that might not otherwise have existed.

A third strategy is careful planning.  I do my very best to get to bed early and take care to be “rested up” for the days I teach.  Knowing how RA operates, I am keenly aware that doing something strenuous the day before I teach would be unwise to say the least. Planning ahead has helped to ensure that I am at my best on the days I teach.

What I have discovered is that not only is teaching Tai Chi working for me, it has done wonders for my physical and mental health in ways I never imagined when I agreed to do this.  Often with RA, our self-esteem takes a serious hit as we are often forced to give up activities we love to pursue.  I know that was true for me.  Finding Tai Chi and realizing that not only could I do it, I could teach it, was amazing!  Sharing this passion with others and being able to say with certainty and conviction that you can do Tai Chi no matter your physical limitations, totally helped me to regain that lost self-esteem.  I was, in fact, a walking example of it!

I encourage anyone out there to find a pursuit you feel passionate about and share it with others!  Not only will you be helping others (which is satisfying enough), but it will transform you too!  It really does work wonders!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Achyinseattle
    3 years ago

    I have been interested in Tai Chi since 1979 when I worked at a bookstore and ran across a book about it. I was facinated!
    But I’ve never done anything about it. After my RA diagnosis I keep seeing it crop up “I’m still here, waiting for you to find me again!” it seems to say, lol

    We are very rural, no classes nearby. Definately the hinterland of Seattle area, lol
    Do you have any suggestion of a book with the 24 movements in it that you would recommend? Everytime I go to look, I seem to get overwhelmed.

  • Nan Hart author
    3 years ago

    Hi: I am trained in the method developed by Dr. Lam. Here is a link to his institute products. You can also find some of his lessons on You Tube to see if you like them. I was drawn to this type of Tai Chi because it is fluid, slow, continuous and compact. Perfect for those of us with joint issues. It is also an Evidenced Based falls prevention program which simply means it has been meticulously studied with regard to falls prevention. I took a simple 6 week class to start and then moved to the DVD’s after that. Of course, nowadays, you can download them if you choose. Hope this helps. Nan

  • Nan Hart author
    3 years ago

    Karen you sound like one determined lady! kudos! I also have a passion for swimming and my RA often settles in my shoulders making swimming a challenge. I started jogging in the water doing different gaits, like running kicking my knees back, going sideaways, backwards, etc. Just being in the water keeps me happy!

  • karenkaye
    3 years ago

    Thank you Nan for your article. I too have found exercise vital to my life with all my physical challenges, including RA. I also have tears in my rotator cuff which stopped me from doing my passion, swimming. Even after surgery I was told I would never swim laps again, by both the doc and PT therapist.
    I just won’t accept those predictions, statements, diagnoses. I have been working hard and now I can swim 2 different strokes on my back and my pt therapist is surprised. I will swim “regular” laps again, no matter how long it takes to get there. That is my determination and belief, though I came very close to giving up when I was given the bad news. I cried and then a few weeks later I remembered the negative predictions on my knee replacement. It wasn’t healing right and I was scared. But I got into the pool and started walking laps..just 2 laps the first day.
    It took 2 years to be able to walk normally without pain. I never gave up and I feel blessed to have a level of stubborness in me that sometimes is beneficial. By the way, I have RA, fibromyalgia, chronic fatique syndrome (cfs), osteoporosis, CRPS, and hypothyroidism.
    We have to recognize our accomplishmen’s and I certainly honor yours, Nan.

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