In the quiet morning hours, certified Tai Chi instructor Linda DeMedio began movements that could be described as deliberate, methodical and naturally fluid.
She gently stretched her arms up, then slowly brought them in as she lowered them to her sides. She then pushed them out again to complete the locomotion-style movement, while bringing her left leg out followed by her right to meet those outstretched arms.
Although this may be just the simple first step of a Tai Chi warm-up exercise, DeMedio said the effects from continuous practice of further movements may be profound – particularly if the individual has limited or difficult mobility.
“In Tai Chi, your steps are very conscious,” DeMedio said. “The continuous flow is very good for every part of your body, as it exercises every single part of the body.”
DeMedio is a certified Tai Chi instructor by the Arthritis Foundation, and teaches a class designed specifically for those with arthritis.
Speaking during one of her recent classes, DeMedio was addressing Tai Chi students gathered at the North Wales Area Library (NWAL). At the time, the class was in its fourth week at the library, and had a strong attendance of over 14 students. It is the first time NWAL has hosted such a class.
“Tai Chi is not as easy as we think it’s going to be, because it’s different,” DeMedio said. “But, that’s the beauty of Tai Chi, we are continually challenged.”
A Textbook Beginning
DeMedio, a Plymouth-Whitemarsh resident, said she has been active in exercise for her whole life. She has been involved with aerobics, kickboxing, dance and yoga, among other highly physical exercises.
However, upon recently discovering Tai Chi, she came to a realization about her future passion for staying fit.
“I realized that as I’m getting older, I’m going to face a lot of different issues,” DeMedio said. “Tai Chi is something I can do for the rest of my life.”
She began her Tai Chi research by taking out books at her local library, the William Jeans Memorial Library in Lafayette Hill.
In her research, she found that Tai Chi is an ancient and sophisticated martial art with several styles and forms. She came across one particular style, the “Sun-Style” of Tai Chi, when she found the Tai Chi for Health Institute website. According to the website, an Australian physician by the name of Dr. Paul Lam, had been teaching the health benefits of the martial art for over 15 years. Since then, he has developed several Tai Chi for Health programs, of which several organizations, including the Arthritis Foundation, certify instructors.
Before the end of 2012, DeMedio achieved her certification, and noticed that the Jeans Library had concluded a series on Yoga classes. She took the opportunity to pitch Tai Chi as another option for health programming.
When asked why teach Tai Chi in a library, as opposed to a gym or health club, DeMedio responded that the latter venues may be too daunting for students who may best benefit from the class; whereas libraries are accessible to everyone.
Her classes, which started in early January, run for eight-weeks in one-hour sessions. Currently, she has two classes, one at the Jeans library and the other at NWAL.
According to Jean Blackledge, NWAL director, Pennsylvania libraries are focusing efforts on certain programming, as directed by the Pennsylvania Libraries Association’s statewide initiative “Libraries and 21st Century Literacies.” According to the association's website, one such programming directive is the “Health Literacy”:
Libraries can play an important role in helping citizens actively manage their own and their family’s well-being, making them effective partners with their health care providers and reducing costs.
“We wanted to have something more hands-on,” Blackldege said. “And, we thought we would try Tai Chi.”
She said that the NWAL, whose new location is designed to have a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere, often has high participation with its programs, and that the Tai Chi program has proved to be no exception.
She added that the library is trying to encourage more of its senior patrons to attend library programs.
And, as a result of a waiting list for the first Tai Chi class, Blackledge is considering asking DeMedio to create two more classes at the conclusion of her first class: One class again for beginners, and another for continuing students.
“We are delighted by it,” Blackledge said.
Tai Chi for Arthritis
DeMedio said she enjoys teaching the class, particularly taking satisfaction in the increasing abilities for movement within her students.
She said the focus of her class is not necessarily toward perfection, but rather guiding students in a comfortable setting toward that aim.
“It’s something that I feel like I’m doing some good for people,” DeMedio said.
She would often tell her students that they know the limits of their body, and that they should not go over that limit into pain.
She further explained that the certain forms in Tai Chi must be practiced with controlled movement. The repetition of such forms could help increase balance, coordination and internal strength. She asked her students to think of moving through an invisible resistance, or through water.
“Or like Jello,” she said with a smile.
She would also remind her students that the essential principles of Tai Chi are not solely based on outward body movements, but also the power of integrating body and mind.
In the class, her students first shadowed every step DeMedio made, and then in turn, demonstrated those steps by themselves.
And, while everyone was moving at his or her own pace, it was an impressive sight to also see the class move in unison.
“You don’t notice, because you concentrate on your own movements,” Natalie Allen-Rees, a NWAL Tai Chi student from Upper Gwynedd, said. “It just looks great.”
Many of the students’ ages ranged from 40s – 50s. DeMedio said that at both Jeans and NWAL libraries, her students could range from late teens to upper 80s.
“The teacher is great. You can see how patient she was with us,” Woody Woodbury, NWAL Tai Chi student, said. “She doesn’t make anyone nervous.”
Woodbury, 65, retired this year from a 24-year career teaching math and computer sciences at North Penn High School. While he has been in the Army reserves for 20 years and holds a black belt in karate, Woodbury said that he is glad NWAL has provided this exercise option for him.
“This is much more comfortable,” Woodbury said. “It’s now more of meditation and restoration.”
Ellen Mordas, 54, of Hatfield, also noticed the physical improvements made by herself and her fellow classmates. She said at the beginning of the class, some students required chairs for balance, but by the fourth week, everyone stood on his or her own feet.
Mordas was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term disease that affects all the joints in a person’s body. She found she had the disease nearly a decade ago, when she was performing as a vocalist and musician on stage.
However, for the last five years of her active performing life, she could not appear on stage without the assistance of heavy boots for balance. Afterward, for more than two years, she said she rarely left her home and had to undergo expensive medical treatment.
Mordas said she was grateful to learn that her local library offered such a class, and more so that in a few weeks, she was able to see little improvements of her mobility.
“I like the fact that I can do this,” Mordas said, adding, “And, I can do Tai Chi wherever I go.”
For more information, visit the North Wales Area Public Library website or the William Jeans Memorial Library website. To contact Linda DeMedio, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-694-1863.