Unlike most sports or exercises, Tai Chi does not rely on strength, force or speed, which makes it possible for a range of 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.
To date there is limited research into the benefits of Tai Chi in 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.
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
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.