The ancient Chinese self-defense art of Tai Chi has received much exposure from a growing body of research that supports these personal reports and also due to the benefits reported by its practitioners.
In the many decades of their general martial arts experience and specifically about tai chi, some practitioners can experience growing benefits to their health. This article will talk about the very first level of tai chi practice – what benefits can first time practitioners and people with disabilities can expect from the exercise. This may include people suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, as well as people going through rehabilitation or with falls associated with muscle weakness or people simply suffering from deterioration brought about by old age.
It’s been clear that there is a wide range of abilities between people who aren’t able to walk or stand up or aren’t able to practice tai chi even for a few minutes for whatever reason and people to those who are able to exercise for an hour or more. It is to this former group and their caregivers that this article is addressed, since they are the ones to most likely benefit from short regular periods of caregiver-assisted practice even if it’s only a fifteen to twenty minute session – and thereupon, it is through these caregivers that Tai Chi practice should best be conveyed.
Once the movement routines of basic exercises are learned, what’s next required is daily physical mindful practice i.e. with thought, awareness, and motivation. The instructor model of “staying one step ahead of the student” subsequently corresponds to the idea of patient and caregiver (and “in knowledge participation and in knowing together”) since the mindful practice of proper exercises is the one that appears to be the most beneficial.
Let us consider necessity and suitability:
Exercise – what’s required is a few basic simple exercises grounded on the principles of Tai Chi: fluidity of movement, grounding, posture, and balance regarding the center of the body.
A basic comprehension of Tai Chi practice and movement as it applies at this level.
1. Every day practice for a certain period and in a manner that’s best suited for the person – usually comprising a single or multiple short sessions.
2. Transference of the principles of Tai Chi learned from the exercises into daily activities via constant mindfulness of physical movement.
3. A cycle of learning feedback between patient and caregiver in which the caregiver offers an external reference to help the patient in his/her internal mindfulness – For instance, by making observations about the manner exercises are being done and by providing support and encouragement to the patient.
4. Provision of a caregiver mentoring and training program to enable and support the caregiver to cultivate his practice and understanding
This would make an appropriate level of Tai Chi accessible to a maximum number of people on a regular basis, thus providing the proper degree of practice to the greatest number of individuals. At a minimum, a single Tai Chi instructor, teaching four seminars each day in a year to ten people (themselves able to pass on the learning to ten caregivers) could effectively allow 400 people to attain proper activity level.
1. Transporting patients to a Tai Chi class: Besides timing problems with care homes and transport difficulties, a tai chi class would often include an hour or more of walking, standing, etc. which some patients would find impossible.
2. Recruiting a Tai Chi instructor to care homes: Impractical for reasons of cost and availability. Other problems that might crop up:
3. The patients might not feel it important to exercise when they think there’s no risk likely to affect their health. Tai Chi is basically a remedial therapy that takes a great deal of resource and personal motivation to achieve progress at a certain level. In other words – it is usually too late by the time it is needed. Practicing Tai Chi is a skill best learned before it is needed.
While the need is urgent, the motivation and time left to people to learn the skills of Tai Chi is sometimes short; hence, it is only practically to set a lower goal to maximize opportunities for achievement.
4. Communication problems are usually experienced by students in these situations, while communication from instructor to caregiver may be quite clear – caregivers should then be trained to convey information to their patients based on time availability, opportunity, relationship, and personal knowledge. As long as the messages are proper and simple, conveyance through caregivers may be a totally appropriate mode of communication given the constrained objectives.
5. Degree of personal capacity. Tai Chi is essentially learning to look after oneself. In a class environment, this is usually not understood easily since students in class may construe guidance as a command, so placing the responsibility for their education on the teacher. Caregivers may have a different perspective and are perhaps the best ones able to judge their patient’s ability – when to reassure, and when and how to do so and not to do so.
6. Having a bunch of vulnerable people together in class to give them enough time to practice daily or weekly practice can expend a whole lot of resource. One the other hand, getting able-bodied caregivers to periodic seminars is much more feasible and can generate a group of individuals that work in the caring community to teach appropriate Tai Chi to many more individuals (including perhaps chiropodists, hairdressers, relatives, physiotherapists, and even the entire staff of a care home). Professional caregivers who may be visiting might find this a suitable skill supplement. This situation can bring in the biggest “bang per buck” – or the most efficient use of resources.
7. Since the bulk of research pertaining to tai chi is mostly about short-term trials (like the 2011 falls prevention program that involved ten and fifteen weekly classes done at the Letchworth Center for Healthy Living) – we now know a comparatively small activity can generate highly meaningful benefits for the people concerned. We can also surmise, based on experience, that stronger benefits are attained with regular practice. Therefore, we may assume that a few daily periods of mindful practice are the best ways to attain the most rapid and best possible results.
8. Approach and Practice – On the onset, it may be enough to be simply motivated to perform Tai Chi exercises without knowing anything about it. Eventually however, it would be essential to cultivate the understanding that the exercises of Tai Chi are connected to a framework that allows people to grow based on a logical approach. Aside from helping maintain interest as “mystery” gives way to “science”, it is also important for a person to imbibe optimal benefits from the exercises themselves. Practice without the understanding and the thought that’s derived from tai chi can only obtain half the careful consideration, mindfulness, and package of the technique instead of completely developing/learning the practice.
How can such an approach materialize? A daily seminar program can convey Tai Chi awareness to caregivers within a day or two. Doing these seminars frequently can lead to the proper teaching and skill development of Tai Chi exercises, while at the same time developing a follow up program that include telephone, online, and face-to-face tutoring.
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