By HARRIET KESSLER
Editor of the Voice
First comes Michu, a sturdy brown and white Japanese Akita.
The dog walks to an-anteroom off the Jewish Geriatric Home auditorium, gets his bone, and enters the auditorium, where he stretches out in the middle of the circle formed by more than 30 seated men and women.
Next comes Alexandria-Goldman. A petite dark haired woman. The instructor encourages Michu to give a few kisses, do a-few tricks, and then walks the circle, greeting each student by name and gently massaging each and every back.
Preliminaries over, she starts the music, and goes to work.; “Inhale,” Goldman croons. Exhale, “she continues. “Now up,” she chants, to the gentle flute and piano rhythms wafting through the auditorium. And now down.”
Her students, their ages ranging up to literally 100, move their heads and arms at her direction, making the room resemble a scene from “Cocoons” sans swimming pool. ” .
This is Tai Chi class at JGH, an almost every Monday morning happening and a very popular program, according to Wynne Newman, activities director at the Home.
It started as a pilot program eight years ago, Tai Chi had some four or five students, Newman said “Today, as many as 50 seniors, JGH residents and Brachfeld Medical Day Center clients, participate. Instruction
provided by Cherry Hill’s Asian American Academy of Martial Arts; is funded by the JGH Auxiliary.
What’s the appeal?
“It’s a gentle kind of exercise that older folks can do,” said Keith Mazza, head of the Asian American Academy and instructor, Goldman’s son. “Without straining frail bodies, Tai Chi movements and breathing are invigorating , . .they feed the blood, bringing oxygen into the system and keeping muscles from atrophying.”
And then, of course, there’s the laying on of hands. “These people want their massages. If Alex should forget someone, believe me, they remind her.”
“This is one of several exercise programs we have here, and offers something for older people at all levels.” she said. “It’s both invigorating and relaxing. Twenty regular participants find that Tai Chi helps them with anxiety;
Another participant who can’t sit still ordinarily manages to sit through the whole hour long class.”
Participants include a man who is totally blind, several women who speak only Russian, and a women suffering from dementia in varying degrees.
JGH was a pioneer in bringing Tai Chi into nursing homes, according to Mazza who now produces instruction into six similar facilities. The program has been so successful at JGH, we’re thinking of adding more classes” Newman said. Mazza has offered to train JGH Staff members as instructors.