SUN CITY CENTER — It’s hard to believe people can improve their balance, stretch their muscles and develop more flexibility by visiting a restaurant.
They can though, if it’s the restaurant in SunTowers retirement center in Sun City Center Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m.
The restaurant isn’t open for meals then. The tables are pushed aside and people are seated on rows of chairs. By ten after ten, background music is playing softly and Jeanette Craig and Truvia Richardson have begun to instruct the group in therapeutic Tai Chi.
Their class is open to everyone, not just to SunTowers residents or residents of Sun City Center, and there is no cost.
“Gather in your arms,” says Truvia as she spreads her arms out wide and makes a circle, starting at the bottom and working her way up over her head. She takes her time. Others take theirs.
Part of the benefit of therapeutic Tai Chi is that the movements are slow and very deliberate.
“Bow and arrow,” she calls next. “Pull the strings on the right side. Turn slowly and pull the strings on the left.”
First-timers to the group follow her lead well because she makes it easy for them and Truvia demonstrates everything in the front of the room.
Meanwhile, Jeanette walks through the aisles between chairs giving one-on-one assistance to those who want it.
The two therapists have been giving the therapeutic Tai Chi class for about a year after taking a course in balance instruction where they learned moves they wanted to incorporate into their therapy routines.
“It’s much simpler, especially for people who have trouble with regular exercises, than regular Tai Chi because balance exercises are built right in,” said Truvia. “Anyone who has balance or endurance issues should consider taking it.”
It’s a good thing for people who use assistance devices such as canes or walkers too, she added.
Jeanette urges people who cannot stand to do the exercises while seated in their chairs. Others hold the back of a chair in front of them as they stand. Everyone participates as much as they can.
Denny Hanson, 74, who has lived in the area for eight years, coming from Minnesota, has been taking the class about six months. He works at many forms of exercise, especially dancing. He goes to classes in Latin, rhythm and line dancing and also works out in the gym at least twice a week.
“I love the (therapeutic Tai Chi) class,” he said. “It gives you many health benefits and it helps you gain a lot of control.”
Another reason cited for liking it is because it’s safe to practice at home.
Jeanette decided to offer the class both sitting and standing because those who can’t stand and exercise can work the same core muscles in the mid-body sitting down.
Jeanette is an occupational therapist at SunTowers and Truvia is a physical therapist. Both say mixing therapy with Tai Chi- an ancient Chinese system of physical exercise and control- is an excellent fit.
Their class is different from regular Tai Chi classes because it is designed around movements used in physical and occupational therapy.
“Many of the moves in Tai Chi work the same muscles the same way as we would in regular therapy and are more fun, while helping a person create a sense of balance,” Truvia said.
A respiratory therapy group which is part of a Better Breathing group joins them once a month as well.
“This is much safer for someone with respiratory problems than many other forms of exercise,” Jeanette said.
There is no need to register or call ahead to participate in the Wednesday class.