A plead from his 86 year old mother rang through his ears, “Stan, if you can help me get from here to there better than I do now, show me.”
It was the Spring of 2006 and Stan Cohen had a revelation. For years, he had been practicing the ancient Chinese martial art of T’ai Chi with his mentor, Grandmaster Tom Sulick, “It was truly a wonderful experience” he recalls. “I was basically his private student for nine years.”
Stan is 59—he didn’t begin practicing T’ai Chi until he was 41. He had been practicing martial arts; but Grandmaster Sulick saw in Stan a need for the calming inner focus of T’ai Chi. He’s been hooked ever since, and he’s found a new way to spread the health benefits of T’ai Chi to seniors.
“T’ai Chi is several thousand years old. It’s based in being mindful…being very aware of how your body moves. All of the motion is very slow and very controlled. It’s called an internal martial art. Meaning it is a very very one person thing. What I teach them is taken from the methods of T’ai Chi, calisthenics, and everyday activities. I incorporate the things they can do with activities from everyday life…opening and closing a window or curtains using T’ai Chi theory.”
Seven years later, in 2013, what began has a personal quest for his mother has turned into a
movement in the senior community of New Jersey. Whether at home or at a senior center, Stan is showing older Americans the benefits of this Eastern art; and like a modern day Marco Polo, Stan says Westerners are finally starting to appreciate this strange import from the East:
Western culture is starting to say this really works, it will calm you. The first reaction I get from activity directors is, ‘how did you get all of these people to participate? They normally don’t do things.’ A lot of seniors don’t think they have the ability to exercise. If you give them something that they think they can do, a good number of them will participate.
But not only is Stan’s program getting seniors to participate in exercise, it could be increasing the length of their lives. According to Cohen, 50% of people over 70 that fall and break their hip pass away within 12 months, “So my goal is to help them not fall and maintain their independence.” T’ai Chi increases leg strength and focus—huge keys to fall prevention.
Stan has been able to teach his program to family caregivers, home care workers, and even seniors with Alzheimer’s & dementia. The slow focused movement is particularly good for Alzheimer’s patients—who are able to follow the gentle pattern of movement—as well as those with multiple sclerosis, Parkenson’s, diabetes, and cognitive issues.
Cohen hopes for his work to continue even after he’s gone, and to make the program affordable for anyone, “My altruistic goal is to have seniors be able to learn the exercises I teach to them at no additional cost over what they are currently paying for home care or health care.”