PUBLISHED: 5:26 PM on Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Tai chi movement gains traction in Juneau
JUNEAU - Many Americans were introduced to tai chi during this summer's Olympic opening ceremony, when 2,008 Chinese tai chi practitioners gracefully moved in unison.

Practiced by Chinese by centuries, tai chi is now practiced throughout the world for its health benefits. This soft style martial art involves a set of forms performed fluidly with a meditative focus. Tai chi energy is spreading in Juneau, especially among those who might have difficulty with other exercise regimens.

Katie Spielberger photo
  Jo Boehme (far right) leads a beginning class in Tai Chi for Health at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center in September. Boehme's next beginner's class will begin at Pavitt Health and Fitness Oct. 20.
Paula Terrel led an active life until osteoarthritis in her right hip escalated from "zero to ten in just six months."

Through Barlett Regional Hospital she learned about tai chi classes designed for those with arthritis or other health problems. "Tai Chi for Health," offered by Jo Boehme, is helping people like Terrel stay active, strengthen balance and relieve stress.

"I'd never had arthritis and I'm very, very active," said Terrel. "I needed to know what I (could) do. The key to coping with osteoarthritis is to keep moving."

The slow, flowing movements of tai chi keep practitioners moving in very low-impact exercise.

"I started the tai chi to help me with the pain," Terrel said. "I needed some gentle exercise to help me with the core and help me with my balance. It made a huge difference."

Katie Spielberger photo
  Tai Chi for Health students practice various forms of the low-impact Chinese martial art, which is gaining popularity in Juneau.
Terrel had hip surgery a year ago. Her surgeon credited her exercise regimen with her quick recovery.

Terrel is not alone. In a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2003, researchers looked at older women with osteoarthritis randomly assigned into two groups, one of which completed a 12-week tai chi exercise program. Compared to the control group, the tai chi group had 35 percent less pain and 29 percent less stiffness, as well as increased ability to perform tasks like climbing stairs, improved abdominal muscles and better balance.

There are four main styles of Tai Chi. Boehme's "Tai Chi for Health" class teaches the Sun style, which is characterized by slow, agile and flowing steps. The forms she teaches were developed in 1997 by Dr. Paul Lam, a tai chi master and practicing family physician in Australia. The forms with designed specially for those with arthritis but are beneficial for anyone.

"It's easier for people who have some balance problems," Boehme said. "It's easier on the hips and knees. The only physical requirement is that someone can stand and move for 10 to 15 minutes at a time."

Boehme added that even the standing requirement is flexible: the movements can also be modified to be done from a sitting position.

Terrel said in her class, "There were people there in worse pain, worse shape than I was. Everyone just kind of does it to the degree that they can.'

Boehme, who is an occupational therapist at Bartlett Regional Hospital, says tai chi fits in perfectly with occupational therapy.

"The slogan of occupational therapy is 'Live life to its fullest," Boehme said.

With her tai chi classes, she attempts to help people do just that.

"It's been incredibly beneficial," Terrel said. "It's amazing for balance, it's amazing for stress. It's amazing for teaching control of your core and your muscles. You don't feel like you're working out, but you are."

Jo Boehme teaches three levels of "Tai Chi for Health," as well as a practice class for those who have completed all three levels. The next beginner class will be Oct. 20 from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. in the Valley at Pavitt Health and Fitness (no membership required). The session will run from Oct. 20 to Nov. 17. Beginner classes will be offered again at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center in early 2009.

For more information about classes, e-mail Jo Boehme at For general information about Tai Chi for Health visit

Annie Geselle also teaches tai chi classes at the Canvas gallery downtown. For more information call 586-1750..