The Art of Relaxation
Finding Your Chi
The path to wellness can take many turns.
While traditional medical treatment addresses the body’s physical needs, emotional concerns are sometimes left untended. Stress builds. Tension mounts. And the body reacts in ways that are not conducive to healing.
For thousands of years, people have turned to practices such as tai chi and meditation to help them achieve a spirit of well-being. While complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies don’t heal disease — and should never be considered an alternative to traditional medical treatment — they can alleviate symptoms and promote an overall sense of wellness.
“It’s about taking responsibility for your own long-term wellness,” said Marye Anne Boyd, aquatic and land personal trainer for UAMS. A four-year breast cancer survivor, Boyd practiced tai chi, meditation and water-based therapy to help control the anxiety and physical symptoms related to her disease.
She and fellow instructor Kellie Coleman teach water wellness classes, including aqua chi, aqua aerobics and aqua kickboxing at the water therapy pool in the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute on the UAMS campus. Cost to use the pool is $30 per month, and physician referrals are not required.
Other CAM therapies offered at the Stephen Spine Institute include oncology massage.
A Chinese practice dating back as far as 3,500 years, tai chi is considered a “soft” martial art that emphasizes relaxation and inner peace through a series of slow, rhythmic movements. “Hard” martial arts such as karate and taekwondo stress more physically challenging offensive techniques.
Doctors often refer patients to Boyd and Coleman’s water wellness classes to relieve joint and muscle problems, but it can benefit those with conditions ranging from arthritis and back pain to cancer and stress. “A patient may receive treatment from both a doctor and a therapist. However, at some point they have to decide how to maintain their wellness for the long term. That’s often when they come to us,” she said.
Although tai chi is most commonly performed on land, the Stephens Institute classes are made accessible to even more people by being offered in the water. “When you get in the water, the effects of gravity are taken away. You have freedom of movement,” Boyd said, adding that this has particular benefits for persons who are overweight or have trouble with balance.
A learning experience
While more and more people are seeking complementary treatments to reduce the pain and stress related to illness, many people still don’t understand their true benefits.
Dr. Sandy Pope, assistant professor in the UAMS Department of Geriatrics, has been interested in alternative medical treatments since owning a health food store and working as a massage therapist in the 1970s. She now teaches a four-week class on CAM therapies to fourth-year medical students in the UAMS College of Medicine.
“I have felt from early on that healing is not just a physical thing. It involves the body, the mind and the spirit,” she said.
The idea behind Pope’s course is not to teach students how to perform CAM therapies, but is to raise their awareness of the therapies’ benefits. Care providers in various disciplines visit the class to provide first-hand information on each therapy, from massage and visual imaging to acupuncture and chiropractics. Pope also teaches a variety of meditation techniques that the students practice throughout the course.
As a result of their classroom experience, many of her students develop a long-term interest in CAM therapies and continue to study them after the class has ended, Pope said. “It’s an intensive course. The students get a world of experience they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
To read more about the Stephens Spine Institute, visit www.uams.edu/spinesinstitute.
The Art of Relaxation
Finding Your Chi