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A gym that makes house calls

November, 2010

Jerry Spinak has arthritis – information that might surprise you when you hear what he does for a living. He attributes his mobility to a lifelong practice of an ancient Chinese art.

Spinak has been teaching tai chi for 35 years. He gained his apprenticeship with a Chinese master of the Yang style, the most practiced form of tai chi in the world.

It was through teaching tai chi at the YMCA in the ’80s that he discovered a passion for working with seniors. “I love it,” he says. “I teach at nursing homes, residences, and privately. I enjoy it so much that I show up early. And I get hugs! I get to tell jokes! We have such a good time. When I leave those classes, I feel so good.”

For the past four years, Spinak has been working on a form of tai chi he developed especially for seniors. “With the proliferation of research in the past 25 years I have learned a lot about balance and fall prevention,” he says.

It is a style that incorporates the choreographed, fluid motions of the traditional elements of tai chi. The only difference is that it is done in a sitting position and involves movements from the torso up that can be practiced by seniors with limited mobility. “These movements can be done by anyone, whether they walk, use a cane, or are in a wheelchair,” he says.

Spinak does encourage his students who feel centred and balanced enough to stand to do so, but he remains cautious. “I’m very concerned about safety and proper stance in repetitive movements for my students,” he says.

Spinak also teaches an ancient Chinese technique called Qigong, a breathing exercise that is proven to retrigger a part of the brain that regulates the heartbeat. “It’s as good as any medication on the market right now to reduce blood pressure – And studies have shown the combination of the two give even better results.

“In Australia one the first studies on tai chi was done for its benefits for people 70 and older. (The study) found that 47.5 per cent of those who did tai chi had fewer falls,” he says. “This has been tested time and time again by different universities and the results keep coming up the same. The statistic itself is amazing.”



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