AFTER months of working out in their own bubble Vanessa Lowndes Centre (VLC) whānau living with mental, physical, and intellectual disabilities are relishing the chance to exercise further afield.
VLC whānau have resumed their tai chi classes at Waikanae Beach and the Botanical Gardens now that Covid-19 restrictions have lifted and it’s easier to gather in groups around the rohe.
“It’s so good for the VLC whānau, they love it,” says Turanga Health instructor Walter ‘The Wiz’ Walsh, who opens each class with a karakia. “Getting out into the fresh air is so good for everyone’s wairua.”
Tai chi is a type of martial art that has evolved over thousands of years as an effective means of alleviating stress and anxiety. It is considered a form of meditation in motion which promotes serenity and inner peace. Practitioners all over the world often gather in public places to do the exercises.
Walter has always incorporated te reo Māori into his classes and this year he looks forward to increasing the links between the tai chi movements and te ao Māori. He says by taking the class outside whānau can more easily connect their movements with the environment, Tāwhirimātea, God of Wind and Storms, Papatūānuku Earth Mother, Tāne Mahuta, God of Forests and Birds, and Tangaroa, God of the Sea.
“We can incorporate a kaupapa Māori centred programme by drawing on key themes and whenua.”
Walter says it’s not unusual for members of the public to observe the class with interest. Some join in and he’s occasionally seen Waikanae Beach Top 10 staff try out some of the movements.
As for the whānau, they love it, he says. “It’s all about whanaungatanga. We used to have two male members of the class who wouldn’t move much at the start. Now they’re keen to move through all the movements. It’s a work in progress for those with disabilities and while their movements aren’t perfect it’s helping their mind.”
Initially set up by ACC as part of an injury and falls prevention programme for the elderly, tai chi was first adopted by Turanga Health (managers of VLC) in 1996. Before Covid, tai chi was also taught as part of the wraparound support programme Eke Tu for whānau managing chronic conditions.
“When someone loves tai chi they always want more,” says Walter.
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