By Julie Feldman

When I first arrived at the Ji Hong Tai Chi School in Richmond Hill Ontario, I was very frail; my pain was in control.

I had been bedridden for 6 months; I could hardly speak, and had difficulty eating because my jaw was very tight due to the pain intensity. With tremendous effort I slowly tried Tai Chi and I must say the idea of ‘moving my body’ was very frightening.

The first day I arrived with an attendant, I could hardly lift my arms. Helen Lau, a tai chi instructor, stood by my side throughout the first session, and in her gentle way supported me throughout the class. Eventually, I improved my strength & muscle control, and agility. The neck spasm is still present but the symptoms are less intense.

I now use tai chi to help manage my pain level( which can vary between levels 6 to 8). Following a tai chi session, my pain level could then go down to a level 5 or 6, with having increased mobility for the next few days. This difference in the ‘World of Pain’ is quite significant.

When practicing Tai Chi, I cannot do the kicks easily and I become dizzy from the spins so I do them in a much smaller scale. There was an incident for one of the forms where you have to turn and raise your arms above shoulder height, which is painful for me to do, so the Chief instructor said “Don’t think of raising your hand; just think of raising your elbow”, and it worked!

It was almost like trying to trick my brain in order to manage my fear of pain. I chose Tai Chi because I had to consider an activity that would accommodate my physical limitations. I cannot bend down easily or move too quickly for long periods of time. Thankfully, Tai Chi is a good fit as it requires you to keep your spine straight and to move slowly. If I don’t practice Tai Chi my symptoms will dominate my entire body to the point I could hardly move. When this occurs it is very easy to feel depressed.

Tai Chi reinforces a very important lesson; you have to be strong to withstand and manage permanent pain in your life. Whether it is physical or emotional pain, one needs to rely heavily on their own internal energy to survive daily, and find ways to manage the pain most effectively. Always be patient; many people will not understand your condition due to the fact they are not living in your skin.