A feeling of calm: Ai chi has positive effect

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2001

Ai chi is a simple water exercise and relaxation program, practiced by some of the patients of Alaska Aquatic Therapy.

Mark Newton leads the ai chi sessions, which last about half an hour.

"I'd describe it as an Eastern type of practice, as they use the concept of 'balancing your chi,' your vital energy center," Newton said. "You can also use it in a more Western sense. It's great for relaxing, and research shows it has a positive effect on blood pressure, pulse rate and range of motion."

Elaine Corona is a patient who's been practicing ai chi for three months.

"I'm amazed at my increased flexibility," she said. "I've had fibromyalgia, and the joints in my knees and hips have given me a lot of trouble."

Jun Kunno, the creator of ai chi, said thousands of Japanese are now practicing this exercise form. In the book, "Ai Chi: Balance, Harmony and Healing," Kunno said ai chi was originally created as a stepping stone to watsu, a type of message in the water.

Ai chi is a way of moving slowing through the water, without the one-to-one closeness of watsu, Kunno said.

Studies at the Universities of Tsukuba and Tokai in Japan found that oxygen consumption during ai chi rose by 4 to 7 percent. Improved oxygen flow to the brain may help reduce the onset of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, Kunno said.

Mary Zumwalt of Soldotna is an ai chi enthusiast. A former AAT patient, Zumwalt said she used to have problems with chest congestion and colds.

"My lungs have improved quite a bit since I started ai chi," she said.

Zumwalt enjoys the exercise so much she has led ai chi sessions many times at the Nikiski pool.

"I've been doing it since they started AAT," Zumwalt said. "I think it's an excellent stretching exercise, especially for older people. I'm 74 now, and I find it really keeps me limbered up."

Zumwalt likes the way ai chi tones the internal organs, through the twisting and bending movements.

"It has a slow rhythm, which helps you calm down and focus on the breathing," she said.

Corona said the relaxing aspect of ai chi helps her reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

"My body and mind are getting stronger," she said.

Corona's husband, Rudy Corona, suffered two strokes in 1997. The Coronas were both referred to AAT last year by their physician.

"Rudy couldn't walk at all after his strokes, but he's determined to be able to walk again," Corona said. "He's still in a wheelchair most of the time, but we're really excited now, because he walks sometimes with a cane -- in our apartment and out to the car."

Rudy Corona still works on his balance when practicing ai chi.

"It's our goal to be able to practice ai chi together, even when no one's there to lead us," Elaine Corona said.

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