The 13 students were relaxed but concentrating on following the teacher’s instructions recently at the Sports Park gym. Instructor Ruth Cole was teaching a Tai Chi class with her soothing voice while her students were doing body movements or forms with names like “Part The Wild Horses Mane” and “Wave Hands Like Clouds.”
Although the forms may seem easy to perform, the students are exercising their muscles as well as using their coordination and awareness, and improving their balance.
Student Nancy Hazelton has been taking the class since 2016. She said her balance has improved tremendously since. At one point she was falling off her bike and using a cane to walk. Since taking the class she is not using her cane anymore. “Now my balance is much better,”she said.
Hazelton practices Tai Chi at home as well.
Cole teaches the Tai Ji Quan Movement for Better Balance, an eight-form sequence by Fuzhong Li, P.h.D. twice a week at Sports Park. “This particular form of Tai Chi movement is for better balance. This is evidence based and known to have healthful benefits,” she explained.
Cole’s Tai Chi class is sponsored by the County of San Diego and it is free. In addition to the class in Imperial Beach, Cole also teaches at Balboa Hospital, to active duty servicemembers, and at Montgomery-Waller Recreation Center.
Cole has been teaching this particular form of Tai Chi for the county for over five years. Before that time she taught a curative form of Quan style that has 19 movements. Cole studied at the Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego and the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.
Cole’s journey into the healing arts started when she discovered Aikido, a modern Japanese martial art, which she studied for two years. But when she found Tai Chi she was hooked and hasn’t looked back since.
Cole has lived in Imperial Beach for the past 30 years and it is the place where her children also grew up.
Cole, who is a holistic health practitioner, has owned a business called Healing Wave since 2009. Healing Wave first shared an office with an acupuncturist, and later was a mobile business. In 2016 Cole opened her office on Palm Avenue and has been there since. Cole is a licensed massage therapist, does medical massage (Tui Na) and is a curative Tai Chi instructor.
Tai Chi started as an internal martial art used for defense training and health benefits. The martial art applications comes into play to understand body placement and for balance. Cole’s class focuses on fall prevention for seniors or people with injuries. “It’s evidence based; that’s why I teach at Balboa Hospital,” she said about the style of Tai Chi.
Cole explained that Tai Chi is a low impact exercise based on the fascia (connective tissue that holds the body together) which winds up on the body. The movements in Tai Chi are rounded and make the use of the entire joint capsule following the fascia for stability and strength. The circular movements are never forced and the muscle are relaxed while performing the exercises.
The long term practice of Tai Chi has many benefits. “You will be strong… You will not look buff… but people lose weight. Participants use muscles not normally used to using, it’s a low impact exercise, clinically studied to have less injury that other exercises,” she said.
Cole said her students have enjoyed many benefit over the years. One of her male students had spinal issues for a long time, but since taking the class his posture has changed remarkably and he does not have back pain anymore.
With the Tai Chi added to their exercise routine students are more active. Some ride their bikes to class or walk. Cole had one student who was 100 years old who walked to class with her daughter many times. “It is stimulating the nervous system and moves the blood from the feet and the calves up. When you come here and start doing Tai Chi you have more energy,” she said.
Another added benefit to the class is the social aspect. Students in the class form a bond, and when someone doesn’t come, everyone wants to know if anything happened. “People are concerned if others don’t show up for class,” said Cole.
Cole, who will turn 65 years old in a few months, enjoys the practice of Tai Chi herself. “It keeps me moving to teach. I learn more in depth to teach it to others. It’s a life long challenge -you can be competent and happy with your practice. This is definitely a stress reliever, it’s moving meditation,” she said.
Tai Chi focuses your attention forward. In Cole’s class paper cranes are strategically placed so that students fix their gaze on them rather than looking at their feet.
Sue Arciaga started taking the class about five years ago when it was held at the park. “I got hooked. There are too many wonderful things about Tai Chi as you age. It helps with balance, coordination and awareness,” she said.
Tai Chi for Better Balance is free and held inside the Sports Park gym on Tuesdays and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sports Park, 425 Imperial Beach Boulevard.