Category: MS and Tai Chi

How Tai Chi and Qigong Helps the Physically Challenged

You’ve heard this before “Tai Chi Chuan is for everyone-all ages and abilities”. Numerous studies conducted have shown some of the benefits of practicing Tai Chi and Qigong over a period of time can help a person’s  balance and flexibility, relaxation, increase their cognitive ability, and strengthen core muscle groups. It has also been known to lower a person’s blood pressure and the risk for heart disease, and provide joint movement to alleviate arthritis pain.

But how does Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong help the physically challenged? Can Tai Chi stop or slow down tremors in MS and Parkinson’s disease patients? How can flexibility and balance be improved when you are in a wheelchair or use a walker? How does it help people who have suffered the effects of a stroke?

The answer: Adaptability!

Most of the Tai Chi and qigong forms and exercises can be scaled down by sitting in a chair (or wheelchair). Instead of shifting the weight from one leg to the other in standing postures, the weight shift is from side to side (one buttocks to the other). Arm movements are slow and controlled.  If using a walker Tai Chi stepping is modified with the foot movements. Pause between steps to coordinate the arm movements with the stepping. And most importantly, every movement and posture is coordinated with the breath. The 10 Essential Points of Tai Chi Ten Essential Points of Tai Chi still apply whether you are seated or using a walker.

In addition to adapting the steps and movements, the person will benefit from the meditative aspects of Tai Chi and Qigong. After all, Tai Chi Chuan is labeled “meditation in motion” – whether you are sitting or standing.

With consistent practice Chi flow is developed and expressed through the movements; with adjustments to the forms, the healing aspects of Tai Chi and Qigong could have a positive impact on the symptoms of the physically challenged.

Here are a few Tai Chi postures or exercises to try seated:

–      Cloud Hands (Waving Hands Like Clouds)

–      Crouching Tiger (Push)

–      Forming the Ball and Carrying the Ball (side to side)

–      Yang Style 13 Classical Postures

Qigong:

–      Three Water Course

–      Lifting the Sky (courtesy of Anthony Korahais)

Practicing Qigong and Tai Chi Chuan

Every new student that joins one of my classes is asked a simple question – “Why do you want to study Tai Chi?” I usually get the same responses:

  • “To improve my balance, coordination, flexibility.”
  • “ To learn to relax.”
  • “For health and personal wellness.”
  • “To help me with my balance”.

But what about for those who have been studying for a number of months and years? Has your reason for studying Tai Chi changed over the months and years? How often do you practice?  How do you practice?

Many people just starting out understand how relaxed they feel after taking one or two classes with a good instructor. But the common mistake made, especially for beginners, is the dedication to the art of Qigong and Tai Chi Chuan. Qigong and Tai Chi offer a laundry list of possible benefits when performed on a regular basis:

  • Improved body alignment and flexibility
  • Peaceful, meditative movements
  • Bridge between mind, body and spirit
  • Self defense and martial arts
  • Internal healing

In order to reap these and the many other benefits not listed one needs to dedicate time to practice. Just attending a one hour class two or three times a week isn’t enough. A good instructor would encourage his or her students to practice what they learned in class; take ample notes on what they’ve done and bring questions to class; and recognize, over time, any changes that occur personally.

What if I practice incorrectly?

Some students are afraid they will practice “incorrectly”. The operative word here is “practice”! Whether or not it is correct is not important! Taking the time to understand what you have learned is the key; write down your problem areas and bring them to your instructor’s attention– it will be addressed.

What is a good amount of time to practice?

My Sifu always provided us with a gauge: “for every 30 minutes of practice you develop one drop of Chi”. Cultivating and storing chi is essential for your daily life, especially in the chaotic world we live in. So, using that measurement, a good daily practice should last at least 30 minutes. 15 to 20 minutes can set your mind and body on a good direction for you day. If you are able to squeeze in 10 minutes of qigong or run through a form at lunch time that counts, too!

How do you practice? What aspects of practicing Tai Chi interests you the most?

Experienced and novice learners should practice what is in their heart. Decide ahead of time what you plan to do and length of time:

  • Practice your forms, either the entire form or parts of it; focus on problem areas and repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Think of the martial aspects of the postures – does this improve your execution?
  • Practice with a partner – apply two person form techniques if possible.
  • Note your techniques when using weapons.
  • Most importantly, remember the 10 essential points of Tai Chi.

As you become more disciplined in your daily practice of Qigong and Tai Chi you will notice improvements in your physical, mental and spiritual well being. You will learn to use your “Kung Fu” in everything you do.

So, if you haven’t already, join the Tai Chi revolution – find a good instructor and start now – you won’t regret the results!

Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong is For Everyone

People these days take Tai Chi for many reasons but most people take it because of the positive health benefits:

– Improves flexibility
– Increases blood circulation, muscle strength and physical stamina
– Promotes relaxation
– Has been known to lower blood pressure
– Decreases the risk of falling by achieving better balance

And much more!

People with MS and Parkinson’s reap these benefits but it also has a more profound affect on them because of their disease.

With regular practice the meditative qualities of Tai Chi and Qigong can help reduce depression, as shown in the published study in August 2014 of BMC Neurology. The National MS Society recommends meditation for MS patients. Meditation helps relax the mind, creating a spiritual euphoria for some people. Relaxing the mind sends signals to the muscles to relax as well, which is so important for these individuals since they tend to have tight, spastic muscles.

Let’s talk about how it can improve balance. The constant shifting of weight from one leg to the other or one side to another for those sitting, and keeping the head erect generally over time improves a person’s balance. That’s good for the general population. Because MS affects people in different ways–some are mobile but have weakness in one side of their body or in certain limbs; some can stand and walk without assistive devices; some use walkers and can manage standing for short periods of time; and there are those who have little control of their movements and are in wheelchairs. Holding the head erect and keeping a straight spine in Wu Chi position is a struggle. Tai Chi can still work for all of these situations – with adjustments to the movements. Over time Tai Chi and Qigong can have positive affects on balance whether sitting or standing, strengthen limbs and increase endurance of holding postures and, of course, mental stability, from meditation.

For me personally, for now I am completely mobile and only use a small device to assist in walking. I practice daily and have recently started standing meditation (Zhan Zhang). Believe it or not the standing meditation alone helps improve the balance but I’ll leave that for a future posting.

Continue to practice the forms you know and over time you will see a difference physically, mentally and emotionally.

Pam Dye-brush knee and push
Pam doing Yang style brush knee and push

MS and Tai Chi Chuan

My focus on this blog will be my personal experiences dealing with MS and the impact of daily practices of Tai Chi Chaun on my physical and mental capacities. I’ve always said to people that Tai Chi Chuan is “my medicine”. I have PPMS (Primary Progressive MS) which means I probably won’t have any relapses (which is good) but my progression of the disease will continue downhill (which is not good).
I take Baclofen to help with spasticity and Ampyra® to help me with my walking. My daily practice of Tai Chi helps with not only with my balance and rooting but it’s meditative qualities keep me stay relaxed and energized throughout each day.

For much of my adult life I have been physically active: I’ve played tennis and squash, always swimming, biked on long tours, and even did a handful of road races (I hated running), some triathlons and biathlons and, of course, was into the martial arts. I took up Kung Fu in my undergraduate years and got pretty good at it and continued on after graduating and moving to a small town in West Virginia for my first teaching job. I stayed there for two years and moved back to New York and tried to find a comparable Kung Fu style and school but gave up. I continued the other physical activities but they were not as fulfilling as taking Kung Fu. It wasn’t until after I had shoulder surgery in 2001 that I took a Tai Chi Chuan class with Grand Master J. Teasley, got hooked, and never looked back.

During the time after 2002 the symptoms started: weakness in the legs, tripping, fatigue, and numbness in my left leg and arm . I had countless MRI’s of the spine and hips, visited the orthopedists and physical therapists regularly and even had three epidural procedures but no one knew what was wrong with me. I knew something wasn’t right when my legs felt like lead weights and could barely do a kick higher than knee height. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 that a neurologist ordered an MRI of my brain with contrast. I thought “that was weird and scary-my brain?? Is it a tumor?” Nonetheless, he was able to diagnose that I had MS and I was relieved-finally an answer!

I continued practicing Tai Chi in spite of the diagnosis. Little did I know that this would be the best thing for me. There are no platform drugs for Primary Progressive MS-it is a slow, decline in the condition. Sure, my walking has gotten progressively worse over the years with foot drop but that hasn’t stopped me. I took a bad fall in 2008, which required 25 stitches in my bottom lip and chin, not knowing at the time that MS caused the fall.

Today, I continue my Tai Chi, knowing it will keep me happy and mentally centered. I am happy to share what I have learned with others and want to especially help others with MS and those with physical disabilities.