As a 65 year old severe hemophiliac, I have run the course on many forms of treatments. As a child I remember sucking on salt pork for mouth bleeds and eating raw spanish peanuts that were thought to boost factor levels. When fresh frozen plasma came along, I thought it was the greatest treatment on earth. But it took a toll. My joints in particular took the worst of it, especially my ankles.
In my late 20’s, I remember the first signs of arthritis in my ankles and hips. The range of motion was already becoming limited and painful. I had been involved in the martial arts since I was 18, and although it did damage to my body, I also credit it for strengthening and increasing flexibility in me. Let’s not even discuss what it did for my confidence and feeling of self worth. It was the first time I ever physically pushed myself beyond my perceived limits. To make a long story short, in my late 30’s I had bi-lateral hip replacements when it was discovered I had no remaining cartilage in my hips; they were bone on bone. My ankles were badly damaged too, but I continued on, as replacements were not available yet. The pain increased until even walking was intolerable, I couldn’t make it farther than 2 blocks. I tried many things: braces, medications, PT, but nothing seemed to resolve my pain.
Life has a way of bringing us full circle. I went back to my roots in the martial arts. This time, something much more gentle: Tai Chi. Because of the slow, gentle movements, I was able to perform at a basic level. I watched video tapes, learning the basics, but felt that something was lacking. Then fate stepped in. I came across a weekend seminar in Denver, lead by a well known instructor, David-Dorian Ross. I decided to attend, hoping that I could participate for a little while and could further my practice. For the first time, I swallowed my pride and explained hemophilia to an instructor. You see, I had always hidden it from my previous instructors. He was completely understanding, and told me to rest as I needed. We began training and the next thing I knew, we broke for lunch. I had trained for 4 hours, without pain!
Why does Tai Chi work? Well, there are many reasons, the first being, the movement is very slow and gentle. You only do what your body allows you to do. We are all different, and we all have limitations due to past injuries that cause an imbalance in us. Tai Chi restores your body to it’s natural balance. Of course I would have some pain when I pushed my limitations. I was taught to go to that first initial moment of pain, hold it there for a second, then release it. My range of motion and strength increased, while my limitations decreased.
Second, because you’re focused on the movement, Tai Chi becomes very meditative. You don’t think about what you can or can’t do, or even the twinge of pain that you sometimes feel. You tend to forget about everything but your breath and movement. You become mindful and focused. I’ve discovered that the limitations I had put on myself were more mental than physical. I am capable of more than I thought.
Within the last year, I have had both ankles replaced. My recovery was short, much shorter than was anticipated. I believe this was due to my practice of Tai Chi. Is it for everyone? Probably not. Is it worth a try? Absolutely.