“Tai chi is a great vehicle to clear your mind, restore your body and refresh yourself.” – Kenny Perez, Tai Chi Instructor within VA’s Community Care Network
Most of us realize that our health and wellness is affected by many different aspects of our lives – our sleep habits, nutrition, activity levels, stress levels, surroundings, relationships and much more.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes that all of these aspects of health and wellness must be considered in order to provide high-quality, meaningful health care to our nation’s Veterans. VA’s Whole Health Approach to care also looks at wellness – incorporating complementary and integrative health services, such as yoga, meditation and massage therapy, alongside conventional health care and treatments to optimize care.
Kenny Perez, a tai chi instructor within VA’s Community Care Network, understands the benefits of integrating complementary approaches like tai chi into our overall health and wellness routines and shares his thoughts on the practice and its many health benefits.
Meet Kenny Perez
Kenny is a tai chi expert and the founder of a wellness center within VA’s Community Care Network (CCN), offering live and online classes for all fitness levels and age groups.
While some people are just beginning to learn more about tai chi or incorporate it into their wellness routines, Kenny is a career martial artist, studying the art for more than 50 years.
“I was lucky enough to be one of the first to go to China and be accepted as a student in the professional martial arts training schools,” he said.
While there, Kenny injured his back and needed an entire year to rehab from the fracture.
“During that time, I didn’t want to stop my martial arts training and wanted to learn some exercises that I could do to help,” he said. “That’s when I really started focusing on tai chi.”
Kenny trained with elite masters and teachers of tai chi in China. He has since made tai chi his career.
“Tai chi is a big part of my life,” he said.
Using the success of tai chi in his own health and wellness journey, Kenny has since shared his passion with others.
As an instructor, Kenny helps people through tai chi for rehab, exercise, art form, sport and even self-defense.
A Closer Look at Tai Chi
Although tai chi is rising in popularity in the U.S., many people may still wonder what it is. According to VA, tai chi is a mind-body exercise combining slow-flowing intentional movements with breathing, awareness and visualization.
Kenny described it this way: “Tai chi is a form of exercise that’s not too aggressive or vigorous. It’s a form of moving meditation.”
Tai chi combines physical movement, breathing techniques, stretching and meditation to create a full-body workout that anyone can use – regardless of age or physical condition.
While tai chi is rooted in the Asian traditions of martial arts, Chinese medicine and philosophy, Kenny wants people to understand its purpose as it relates to our health and wellness.
“It’s not a religion. It’s not mysterious. Tai chi is taught in China as a way to keep fit and reduce stress levels,” he said.
In Kenny’s classes, people come to learn tai chi for different reasons, including outward exercise, internal health benefits and self-protection.
“Tai chi is a great vehicle to clear your mind, restore your body and refresh yourself,” Kenny shared.
Within VA, tai chi may be offered at your local VA facility, or through telehealth services or community providers, such as Kenny and his team. Class intensity and duration can vary based on your ability level, but in general, VA says classes are one hour in length and are offered two to three times a week for 12 to 24 weeks. Tai chi can be used for all different ages and fitness levels and can be done alone or in groups, online or in person.
“You can do it standing, sitting or lying down. I even use a tai chi water workout,” Kenny added.
The Health Benefits of Tai Chi
VA cites numerous studies that show the potential benefits of tai chi, including wide-ranging physical and mental health benefits such as:
- Improved sleep
- Increased overall well-being
- Improved balance and fall protection
- Improved pain symptoms
- Improved cognitive function and focus
- Improved mental health, including a reduction in the severity and prevalence of depression
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved glucose management
- Improved pulmonary rehabilitation
These benefits can help a wide range of patients who may be dealing with certain health conditions such as osteoarthritis, chronic pain, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, fibromyalgia, certain mental health conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more.
Kenny believes practicing tai chi for even five minutes a day can enhance your body’s health. He said physical exercises release stress, improve focus, help to center the body’s balance, enhance blood circulation, and promote good digestion. In addition, he talked about the health benefits gained through tai chi’s focus on deep breathing.
“Deep breathing is a way to ground yourself,” he said. “It strengthens your lung muscles and brings more oxygen into the blood. Deep breathing exercises help to relax your heartbeat and lower your blood pressure.”
For people used to thinking about exercise as a vigorous routine of lifting weights and cardio movements, Kenny noted that it’s just as important to turn inward to recharge.
“When you go to the gym to workout, that’s great for your external body, as blood flows to your big red muscles,” he said.
In tai chi, Kenny said, we learn to redirect the blood flow to the internal part of the body.
“It’s a different side of training,” he shared. “This strengthens and refines tiny muscles, puts focus on the bones, joints, tendons and ligaments, and helps replenish our organs with fresh blood.”
He continued, “It can be a great wake-up exercise, as well as a great wind-down exercise because it invigorates the body and releases stress at the same time.”
Tai Chi for Health Conditions Commonly Faced by Veterans
For Kenny personally, tai chi helped him rehabilitate a fracture in his back and regain his strength. As an instructor, he has seen tai chi impact people in a wide variety of ways.
“I’ve seen great improvement in seniors with balance problems, people who have difficulty focusing and people who carry stress in their bodies,” Kenny shared. “I’ve had people come to me for rehabilitative exercises after knee surgery or for back injuries as well.”
According to Kenny, the meditative movements of tai chi, the slow-motion exercises, can renew a patient’s ability levels, strength and ability to focus. He summed it up this way: “Keep the body healthy, the mind calm and the spirit invigorated.”
- Check out VA’s news stories about Veterans who have successfully incorporated tai chi into their wellness routines. Learn about Army Veterans Dr. Norman Gallimore and Bill Seelaus and how tai chi benefits their lives.
- Use VA’s #LiveWholeHealth video series to introduce yourself to short, easy-to-follow meditation and relaxation techniques, including tai chi movements and breathing exercises.
- Learn more about tai chi and its health benefits through the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Talk to your health care provider if you’re interested in exploring the benefits of tai chi or any other complementary health approach. Together, you can make well-informed decisions about what’s best for your overall health and wellness.
Editor’s Note – Thank you to Dynamic Martial Arts Tai Chi Fitness & Wellness Center founder Kenny Perez for participating in this article. Dynamic Martial Arts Tai Chi Fitness & Wellness Center in Phoenix is just one of TriWest’s thousands of network providers caring for Veterans, including wellness and integrative health. If you are a network provider caring for Veterans with a story about Veteran care to share, please email us at Media@TriWest.com.