Tai (or t’ai) Chi is an ancient martial art originating in the Far East. Based on 6,000 year old Chinese teachings, Tai Chi is both an exercise and fighting system, but which is now practiced as a defence against the stresses and strains of daily life.
Combining movement, meditation and breath regulation, Tai Chi is a series of co-ordinated, rhythmical exercises performed in a slow, relaxed manner that can improve and maintain health (including the functioning of internal organs), create a sense of relaxation, improve balance and posture, and enhance the flow of energy (or Chi) in the body. Unlike yoga, the benefits of Tai Chi are found in the movement, not in holding the posture.
Tai Chi actually consists of 108 intricate exercise sequences which also help improve mental concentration. Those who practice Tai Chi believe that the mind is the most important tool in achieving excellence in all areas of life, including health, and the ability to focus the mind is essential to changing and healing oneself.
How can it help in Parkinson's?
To date there is limited research into the benefits of Tai Chi for Parkinson’s but because it enhances balance and body awareness, it is believed by many to reduce the risk of falls, improve balance and confidence when walking and also improve gait and posture. Some people with Parkinson’s have reported improvements in sleep too.
Unlike most sports or exercises, Tai Chi does not rely on strength, force or speed, which makes it possible for a range of abilities, ages and strengths. Even a small amount of practice can bring benefits in health and fitness, enabling the mind and body to relax. This in turn may improve emotional wellbeing and overall quality of life.
As with all physical therapies, you may find some of the activities challenging, but techniques may be adapted to suit individuals – your teacher should be able to advise on this. Special care may be needed if you have severe osteoporosis, a hernia or are pregnant
What should I expect if I join a class?
Tai Chi is not regulated in some countries. It is therefore a good idea to ask your doctor or other healthcare professional for recommendations. Friends, family, other people with Parkinson’s or your national Parkinson’s association may also be able to advise based on personal experience.
It is advisable to see a teacher who has experience of Parkinson’s so do ask about their experience of the condition as well as their qualifications.
Tai Chi classes are relaxing and non-competitive, and comprise four basic elements:
- Dao Yin – easy-to-learn exercises and gentle stretches to warm up the body and help remove toxins from joints and ligaments
- Chi Kung - exercises with synchronised breathing to help strengthen and balance the body’s energy whilst aiding concentration and reducing stress
- Tai Chi Chuan – a series of movements performed in a slow, relaxed and flowing way, also known as the Form. Lasting from 5 to 20 minutes, the Form is a kind of moving meditation. Each movement can be practiced at increasing levels of depth as the student develops
- Push-hands practice (certain classes only) – these are partner exercises designed to help the student develop an understanding of the underlying philosophy of Tai Chi as a martial art.
You will need to wear clothing that you find easy to move and stretch in, but no specialist equipment is required. Tai Chi should be taught by a qualified teacher and not learned from a book. Always make sure that your teacher knows that you have Parkinson’s.