World-renowned tai chi expert visits DMU campus

Dr. Paul Lam survived a childhood of terror, starvation and culture shock, facing these and other challenges with courage and determination. Later, motivated to become a doctor so that he could help heal people, he began studying tai chi with his father-in-law, hoping to ease the painful arthritis caused by his early years of starvation and malnutrition. Dr. Lam went on to become a world leader in using tai chi to improve health.

Dr. Lam, second from right, talks with (from left) Steven Halm, D.O., FAAP, FACP, dean of DMU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine; Sue Huppert, chief external and governmental affairs officer; Kathy Mercuris, P.T., D.H.S., associate professor of physical therapy; and Erica Heinrichs, a local instructor for the Tai Chi for Health Institute.

On Oct. 10, this hero of health visited the DMU campus to learn about the University, talk with faculty about their research in movement science and tour facilities including the renovated DMU Physical Therapy Clinic. The special programs and classes offered by the clinic include Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention.

Born in Vietnam and named Bon Trong, meaning “born strong,” Dr. Lam was left with his grandmother in China when he was 10 months old. Soon after, the Communist Party under Mao Zedong overtook the country, which suffered a disastrous Great Famine that killed 70 million people. He escaped to Hong Kong when he was 16 and later, in Australia, pursued his dream of becoming a physician. But arthritis pain continued to plague him.

Dr. Paul Lam takes a brief tai chi break with Kristin Lowry, Ph.D., left, and Kathy Mercuris, P.T., D.H.S., both associate professors of physical therapy at DMU.

“I knew the future for me was more medications, joint replacement and limitations on what I wanted to do,” he stated in a video interview on his website. “I didn’t want that, so that’s why I tried tai chi.” He trained for years with tai chi masters in China and worked to develop programs to help himself as well as others.

“As a doctor, it’s my job to find the best and quickest solutions for my patients,” he said in the video.

In 2010, Dr. Lam and his colleagues established the Tai Chi for Health Institute. His instructional DVDs and books serve tai chi learners at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels who have a variety of conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend his Tai Chi for Arthritis for Fall Prevention program, and numerous health organizations, fitness associations, hospitals and universities have supported one or all of his Tai Chi for Health programs.

Dr. Lam strikes a tai chi pose on equipment in the DMU Physical Therapy Clinic while Associate Professor Mercuris and Kari Smith, D.P.T., clinic manager, observe.

Dr. Lam said the “ultimate purpose” of tai chi is to improve one’s “chi,” the vital energy held to animate the body internally. Its principles include mindfulness, moving slowly and smoothly, and exercising in a standing position to strengthen the muscles that stabilize and support the spine.

Now over 70 years old, Dr. Lam says he continues to get stronger and more flexible with tai chi.

“When [your chi] is strong and harmonious, then you’re strong, healthy and harmonious,” he said in the video. “Tai chi builds inner strength and helps us to interact with others in a more positive, harmonious way.”

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