Why You Should Use Tai Chi With Your Mature Clients: It Is Easier Than You Think!
(this is the first in a series of guest blog posts on Tai Chi)
You might be wondering “What can Tai Chi really do for my clients? Isn’t it just a slow moving way to relax?” Well, yes, it is slow moving and relaxing and there are certainly benefits that occur from these aspects, but Tai Chi is so much more than just a slow, relaxing form of movement.
Let’s take a look at the most gentle, flowing movement of the form. It’s called Wave Hands like Clouds and it really is everyone’s favorite move in the form because it is relaxing and easy to do. Here is a description of the movement and some pictures to help you understand it:
Start with the right arm and draw a clockwise circle, palm toward the face. It’s as if you are wiping your eyebrows gently. Then draw a counter-clockwise circle with the left arm keeping the palm toward the face again. Then try putting it together by starting with the right arm and as the right arm reaches the bottom half of the circle, start the left arm. Keep the hands loose and light. After you have mastered the arm movement, you can add the footwork. You will always step left with Wave Hands like Clouds. Begin by bringing the left hand down towards your body into its counter-clockwise motion. As you begin to move the left hand, adjust the left foot so the toes point forward and you are ready to step to your left. Continue your arm movements as you step in with right foot and then out
How are you helping your clients in their everyday life with this movement? There are several things happening with Wave Hands like Clouds.
The first thing we talk about is proper posture. In Tai Chi, we talk about three columns in the body. There is one column that runs down the center of the body and one column through each shoulder to each hip. Obviously, the center column is just anterior to our spinal column. The goal in Tai Chi is to not break the columns, but rather to keep the columns intact. This proper alignment allows the body to remain in a relaxed posture that most of our population struggles with.
As you step left with Wave Hands like Clouds, you must learn to shift your weight completely over to the right column in order to move your left foot and maintain your columns. Then you must shift your weight completely over to the left column to move your right foot over to your left. You must maintain an upright and relaxed position throughout the core. In other words, you can’t focus on the movement of the arms and lean to the left with your shoulders as you step left. This focus on maintaining the integrity through the core region is new and challenging to many of our clients.
You are also supposed to rotate your upper body with Wave Hands like Clouds. Many people have lost the ability to rotate through their thoracic region. Years of poor posture, sedentary lifestyles and sitting too much have caused this range of motion loss. With Wave Hands like Clouds, we are re-teaching people to utilize trunk rotation. Going back to the columns, we teach our clients to rotate around their central column or axis. It’s amazing how challenging this can be for your clients! They struggle with the dissociation of trunk and hips, but with Wave Hands like Clouds, their focus is on getting the movement correct. Sometimes as trainers, we get too technical with our clients and that frustrates them. They don’t care about thoracic mobility and dissociation. It’s confusing and not something they are interested in. Of course, we are interested in it because it’s our life’s work to study the functioning of the body. But our clients are often turned off by too much technical lingo. So as you teach Tai Chi, your clients are getting the benefits, but they are focusing on learning a movement and are interested in it because it helps them do the form better.
Wave Hands like Clouds will also challenge your clients to improve their breathing. People often struggle with incorporating deep, relaxing breathing because they have gotten into the habit of shallow, quick breathing. Again, poor posture has a lot to do with this. Because breath control is a very important part of Tai Chi, people must work on expanding their capacity beyond the short, shallow pattern they have developed in their everyday lives. There are two breathing patterns with the Wave Hands like Clouds movement. One can breathe in as the left hand creates its circle and then breathe out as the right hand creates its circle. In Tai Chi, we talk about breathing as being long, slow, continuous and deep. This challenges many students! The other breathing pattern is a step harder than the first one. One breathes in during both the left and right circle and then breathes out during the next cycle of left and right circles. This pattern is very difficult and requires immense control. But again, your clients have the opportunity to work on increasing their lung capacity without actually thinking about the technical side of how they are helping their bodies.
All of these concepts of columns, rotation and breathing are actually part of learning to focus on relaxation in Tai Chi, as well. Yes, Tai Chi is slow and relaxing movements. My definition of Tai Chi is this: Tai Chi is a martial art that utilizes gentle, flowing movements to enhance health in the body and the mind. Our society is chronically stressed these days and learning to relax is actually an important part of healing the body. Chronic stress causes inflammation throughout the body and inflammation is instrumental in causing many lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. It is critical that we give our clients a form of exercise that actually teaches their bodies to relax and doesn’t add additional stress. Tai Chi is that perfect form of exercise that provides a balance to our clients’ stressful lives.
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Dianne Bailey is an experienced martial artist and Tai Chi instructor. She created the Open The Door to Tai Chi certification program so that more fitness professionals can quickly and easily learn how to integrate Tai Chi into their exercise programs to improve balance, strength and cognition with their older clients.