Patients gain improved balance, flexibility, and peace of mind through Tai Chi

Tai Chi is gentle and fully adaptable to all levels of mobility; aids in vitality and increases circulation

Martin Bayne

Over the last 20 years, many studies have been published attesting to the health and wellness benefits of Tai Chi. The centuries-old defensive martial art has more recently seen significant growth in the U.S. Benefits of practicing Tai Chi include: greater balance, flexibility, ease of movement, centeredness, loosening of tension, and peace of mind. Who doesn’t need more of that?

In fact, Harvard Medical School recently published The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind, a book by Peter Wayne

Fang-Chih Lee – a Boston-based instructor who teaches classes in both Tai Chi and Qi Gong – conducts classes at rehabilitation centers and assisted living facilities. Many of her students have either mobility limitations or mental ones, and many are in wheelchairs. In 30 years of teaching, Fang has seen patients respond to Tai Chi in ways that physical therapy may not have helped. Because Tai Chi involves barely any footwork, it is very easy to adapt the movements for those using wheelchairs or other devices.

Meditation and motion

Fang says that she often sees elderly students whose hands have become clenched over time and are unable to open, who suffer from arthritis. Sometimes physical therapy has not been able to help them. Through the improved circulation that comes from practicing Tai Chi, their clenched hands are often able to open once more. The sequence of 37 movements and postures used in Tai Chi is gentle, and the focus is on breathing together, followed by stretching.

Fang’s husband, Peter, says that at age 67, he feels more physically versatile than he did in his 40s, thanks to practicing Tai Chi. He notes that for seniors, “all it takes is one fall” to really incapacitate. Tai Chi greatly improves balance and flexibility. Its gentle movements enable many of Fang’s students in their 80s and 90s.

Says Fang, "Tai Chi is not just exercise. The deep breathing practiced in Tai Chi helps to improve circulation and movement; it gets our chi, our body energy, flowing better. Often, a big problem for seniors is sitting too long without movements; after long periods of physical stagnation, the bone joints start to shrink.”

“Tai Chi starts internally,” Fang says, “getting the energy and blood moving, which then allows various parts of the body to relax and find balance. It’s very therapeutic for all the major systems. It might not fully heal someone, but it can tremendously reduce the degree of pain they feel, return some flexibility, and slow down the aging process. It's great motivation for us when students can now do something they couldn't do before."

To learn more about Tai Chi and Qi Gong with Fang and to view excerpts from her two DVDs, visit www.taichiwithfang.com.