Mary Jones wants to help fellow seniors stay healthy by teaching them the art of tai chi.
Jones, 75, believes that tai-chi can make a difference in fall prevention among seniors, and is teaching classes to help enhance breathing and balance.
“I started doing tai chi when I moved out here, and I just fell in love with it,” she said. “Missouri has the highest death rate among seniors from falls in the U.S. The doctors are recommending it now. If you look in the government programs, the CDC and the aging program recommend this tai chi class as an exercise program for senior citizens. They’re trying to keep us out of the emergency room.”
The technique might have saved her life.
In 2013, Jones was having trouble breathing and was airlifted to a hospital. The doctors believed she had a cholesterol blockage and a stent was put in her heart.
But it turned out Jones was misdiagnosed by her cardiologist, and her new cardiologist told her that her aortic valve was collapsing and not allowing oxygen into the body.
“I got a letter in the mail, and it said the doctor is no longer at the hospital,” she said. “These are the cardiologists, you have to call one and make an appointment at your earliest convenience. I called and they said they want you here in the morning at 8 a.m. I knew that wasn’t good.”
Jones was diagnosed on April 1, 2014, and nine days later she was in the hospital for open heart surgery. Waiting any longer to have the surgery could have been critical.
“The doctor told my daughters that when they took out that valve, it fell apart in their hand,” Jones said. “It was that bad. I probably wouldn’t have made it another two months.”
Having an active lifestyle could have been what saved Jones.
“I believe in exercise,” she said. “I think you just feel better. I think it made a difference in me being alive. If it hadn’t been for the yoga and tai chi and the deep breathing I had done for years, who knows what would have happened.”
Within two months, Jones was back teaching tai chi again.
“That’s how easy it is,” she said. “It’s gentle. It’s slow. It makes you feel good.”
Jones was born in Doe Run, Mo. She got married when she was 17 and moved to Tulsa, Okla, where she had three children and lived for 54 years.
Jones worked for an oil company in Oklahoma as an accountant and she owned property.
“I’ve always been active,” she said. “The house is a mess, but the yard was always really nice. I’m not much for staying inside.”
In 2011, Jones moved to Washington to live with her older sister.
“The kids were grown and the grandkids were grown and the great-grandkids were coming along,” she said. “I came up to visit my sister, she was a widow and I had been divorced for years and years and years. We decided that I would come up and live with her.”
Jones started doing tai chi at the Senior Center in 2011 and instantly took to it.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has been described as meditation in motion. It’s a low impact exercise that is feasible for all fitness levels.
“It is exercise you can do standing up or sitting down,” Jones said. “You move really slow. It improves your balance, it improves your coordination and it’s extremely good for fall prevention. It teaches you to pay attention to where you’re walking and how you’re walking and it re-trains your brain to pay attention to where you’re at.”
Jones said that it takes most people many classes before they feel the benefits of tai chi.
“You can’t try it one day a week for six weeks and have it work,” she said. “You have to do it for 2-3 times a week for six weeks, then tell me how you feel. It takes a while before you realize it’s doing any good. And then all of a sudden you wake up one morning and you think ‘I feel better.’ You have more energy and you wake up and you’re ready to get out of bed instead of laying there. It’s amazing the way it works.”
Jones teaches classes at Peace Lutheran Church Tuesdays and Fridays and at the Washington Senior Center on Mondays. She had never been a teacher of anything before, but in her 70s Jones found her niche.
“I’m better at it than I thought I would be,” she said. “I’ve never done it before, but I said I had to get old to do it. I’ll do anything I can to help people, because if I can keep one person out of a chair easier, I’ve done what I’ve set out to do.”