Vol. 28

Instructor Dick LaFontaine and His Tai Chi for Arthritis

By Christine R. Walsh

fitness-lead-dick-lafontaine3Arthritis can be a paradox. Those who struggle with the disorder are told to “move” and “keep active” in order to help relieve symptoms ~ the pain, stiffness, swelling and decreased range of motion. But movement can seem to hurt more than help, especially when you’re first embarking on a fitness routine. Hitting the track or biking around town can be totally out of the question.

Thankfully, there are other options.

The gentle movements of Tai Chi have helped many people who are suffering with arthritis exercise within their comfort levels and experience more flexibility and less pain later on. With Tai Chi, you perform a series of postures in a slow, graceful manner. Each posture flows into the next without pause, so your body is in constant motion.

As a Tai Chi instructor, Dick LaFontaine of Oxford has seen the benefits of this ancient system of non-competitive and self-paced movements.

“Once I started doing it, it was fun and it felt good,” recalls LaFontaine. “It’s just like a moving meditation ~ you’re distracted from the everyday life and you’re grounded in the moment.”

Prompted by his daughter, LaFontaine joined a 4 week karate class when he was 51. Once the class ended, he signed up for more but eventually moved on to Tai Chi. He took classes for over 7 years and, after deciding to become an instructor, studied the teachings of Dr. Paul Lam, a family physician from Australia who developed a type of Tai Chi specifically for those dealing with arthritis.

Throughout the years, people have reported numerous benefits from practicing Tai Chi: reduced anxiety and depression, improved balance, flexibility and strength, lowered blood pressure, increased energy and agility. The practice reportedly helps some sleep better as well. Of course, always consult your physician when addressing the symptoms or causes of any illness, and discuss with your doctor what exercise regime is best suited for you before beginning. But no matter your level of ability, LaFontaine, now 68, believes that there is a version of Tai Chi that is right for each person.

“Tai chi is adaptable for any body condition,” LaFontaine shares. “There’s even Tai Chi that is practiced in a chair. In one class, I had people who had trouble standing, so they could do it while they were sitting. I just always encourage people to adapt what we do to their bodies’ limitations.”

People also enjoy Tai Chi because the classes are typically inexpensive, the dress is casual, and no no fancy gym equipment is required. LaFontaine teaches about four classes a week around the Worcester area and is determined to keep up the good work in years to come.

“I’m going to teach for as long as I can,” he says. “It’s the kind of thing where other people are benefiting, but you’re benefiting as you teach!”

For more information, please visit www.sayyestoyoga.com.

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