Tai chi classes aid patients who have Parkinson’s or suffered strokes

Classes held on Tuesdays, starting in July
May 25, 2016

Do you need to relax? De-stress? Improve your range of motion or balance?

There’s an exercise for that.

It’s called tai chi and classes are being offered at Memorial Hospital this summer.

Shirley Dollesin, physical therapist assistant, and a certified tai chi instructor, has been teaching tai chi for 14 years.

“I grew up in the martial arts,” Dollesin said. “But I didn’t start practicing tai chi until 1999.”

Also a chief petty officer in the Navy Reserves, she has been teaching classes at Memorial since 2002, and will start the next six-week session in the sun style tai chi in July.

So why would a hospital offer tai chi classes?

Shirley Dollesin
Shirley Dollesin, a physical therapist assistant, teaches tai chi at Memorial Hospital.

“Although it’s classified as a martial art, people do it for many different reasons,” she said. “There are many benefits to practicing tai chi. It’s been called a moving meditation.  The slow, gentle movements and deep breathing exercises can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration, increase range of motion, and develop better balance and coordination.

“There are known neurological effects as well. Tai chi can be beneficial for people who have experienced strokes, injuries, or other disorders, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. It helps with the brain and body connection and can be easily performed sitting or standing.”

But you don’t have to have a health issue to benefit from tai chi.

“If you’re healthy, it’s … a great form of exercise. It’s a beautiful art,” Dollesin said. “We spend so much time always on the go; you know move-move-move and go-go-go…. With tai chi, you learn to slow down, physically, mentally and emotionally. I think tai chi is for everybody and everybody.”

Feedback from the class has been overwhelmingly positive, said Brian Baxter, director of HealthLink. Post-class surveys rated the class high, and patient comments are often like this one: “Tai chi has helped improve my flexibility and relieved some back pain that I have had.”

Sometimes classes fill up, so applicants are urged to sign up early. And classes can be designed to meet the needs of the participants.

It’s an exercise that can be tailored to all ages and all abilities, Dollesin said.

She said research is finding that tai chi has many benefits for different medical issues.

“I teach tai chi for many patient populations. Sometimes people are recovering from cardiac issues, some are battling fatigue from cancer treatments, and many are just trying to get back to moving again,” she said. “Tai chi is a good starting point for them. You can take what you need from it. And now that I’ve gotten older,” at age 55, “It’s something I can still do.””

Not only can patients and the public take the classes, but employees can sign up, too.  Classes cost $70, but employees get a 30 percent discount.

The next class begins in July. The six one-hour sessions will be held on Tuesdays, July 5 through Aug. 9, starting at 6 p.m.  They’re held at the Memorial Administrative Center, 2420 E. Pikes Peak Ave. To sign up, call HealthLink at  (719) 444-2273 or visit HealthLinkClasses@uchealth.org.  Classes are limited to 12 participants and you must be 13 or older to attend. Teen participants need to attend with an adult.

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs and a regular contributor to UCHealth Today. She has written travel articles for major U.S. newspapers and national, regional and local magazines. She spent 32 years as an award-winning writer, reporter and editor for The Gazette in Colorado Springs.