What Next?

Many thanks to Leonard Tuchyner for this wonderful article about T’ai Chi and rehabilitation after medical procedures.

At my age, I have friends who have gone through serious operations, including knee replacements. Some have done well and others not so much. The difference, as far as my observations go, is what happens after the medical services are finished.

Throughout my life, I’ve relied on physical activities to maintain my health, but gradually my aging body forced me to give up many of them. I had been an avid bicycle rider, but eventually, advanced retinal deterioration caused legal blindness. I could no longer determine where the edges of unmarked roads were. Consequently, I was forced to hang up my riding helmet. By the time I was 68, I had to abandon martial arts. My joints could no longer bear the stress of these activities. Even gardening was becoming painful. I knew vigorous physical activity was essential for good health, but what was I to do?

My wife had signed up for a round of classes at the Charlottesville T’ae Chi Center, so I decided to attend a demonstration. When I witnessed the smooth, seemingly effortless routines people of all ages were doing, I decided to give it a try. I was particularly enamored with the school Master’s demonstration. She moved with the grace of flowing water.

Three years later, T’ai Chi was a permanent part of me. Practicing was an easy joy.

All my vital signs were good, which was surprising, because my aortic valve had a dangerously advanced stenosis. There were no symptoms, but MRI’s and ultrasounds don’t lie. I needed open heart surgery to replace the valve. Recovery from that procedure was difficult. The main reason stemmed from the fact that the sternum, by necessity, had been partially split down the middle and I was constrained from putting any strain on it. Nevertheless, I was back at group practice within 3 months. T’ai Chi had waited for me like an old, reliable friend. Group practices take an hour to complete, and I always felt refreshed at completion.
However, another physical challenge awaited me. Although I had no difficulty doing T’ai Chi on my feet for an hour straight without discomfort, I could not walk far. When I did walk, a cane was needed. My knees were worn past the bone-on-bone point. Deep ruts had been worn in the bone. The only thing that was holding back a double knee replacement was my cardiologist’s go-ahead. Within one-and-a-half years the open heart surgery and two knee replacements had been performed. Again, T’ai Chi was waiting, and I was back at group practice six weeks after each replacement.

I’m 77 now. Two or three times a week, I take a brisk mile-long walk which includes some very steep and long hills. I don’t even need to breathe hard. I think T’ai Chi had a lot to do with that. Through the years, several students have gone through serious medical procedures. All of them have returned to T’ai Chi group practice within a remarkably short time.

Following my surgeries, I went through some pretty intensive physical therapy. While I was going through that therapy, I was also engaged in T’ai Chi, and my physical therapist and I communicated about T’ai Chi. the two approaches augmented each other, and when I finished therapy, my therapist was confident in the soundness of the T’ai Chi approach.

At my age, I have friends who have gone through serious operations, including knee replacements. Some have done well and others not so much. The difference, as far as my observations go, is what happens after the medical services are finished. If people do the exercises that have been prescribed and realize that they must become a permanent aspect of their lives, they usually do well. But how many people are willing to do that? Also, without periodic check-ins with the professionals, how many people continue to do the protocols correctly?

T’ai Chi is soundly based in human mind and body mechanics. The relationship that a student has with the teacher and the group is not transient, and technique is always being scrutinized. Most people think of balance when they think of T’ai Chi. but actually, balance is a by-product. Posture and ergonomic integration is more important than balance, because they are the qualities that produce balance. Every movement in the process is done with minimal wasted energy. Practitioners strive for relaxation in everything they do. The quality of the teacher and the school is of utmost importance in helping students to achieve these goals.

In addition to the direct physical, mindful meditative qualities and group participation benefits, I also have a family. By that, I mean that my T’ai Chi group of fellow students and teachers are a family. Cooperation and mutual support rule. There is nothing of competition. I personally have never run into a nicer group of people, and I’ve been around for 77 years.

After medical procedures, physical therapy and other rehabilitative services, what next? The T’ai Chi School and community is a potent choice. It is a way to build health into lifestyle. Without a lifestyle that supports the gains of medical services, those gains can be lost quickly. That is true for patients of any age. I personally know that to be a fact.