Tai chi and qigong (pronounced ‘chi kung’) are gentle exercise styles that use movement and mindfulness to increase flexibility, improve balance and help walking. In this feature, Bhanu Ramaswamy looks at some of the benefits of these meditative movements for people with Parkinson’s.
Tai chi and qigong are traditional Chinese wellness practices. Both forms of exercise have numerous variations that are adapted by teachers to form a class.
Qigong repeats a precise set of movements designed to enhance physical and physiological health. Tai chi combines slow, gentle movements with deep breathing and relaxation. Research has shown that both styles can lower blood pressure, reduce arthritic pain, decrease the risk of falls and improve mental health.
Teaching tai chi and qigong
Both practices overlap with the 3 regulations from traditional Chinese medicine:
- Physical body (involving posture and movement)
- The mind
Both breathing and the mind make up meditative components of the practice. Qigong is used more than tai chi for health as it is easier to learn.
Both are performed in a group setting and can be run as standing or seated exercise classes. They can be done gently or vigorously to incorporate large and expansive movement as well as small, subtle moves.
There are more than a dozen forms of tai chi and qigong. The tutor will decide which style to use based on their experience of supporting people with medical conditions and their own teaching. They will be able to adapt and tailor the exercise to movement difficulties encountered by people with Parkinson’s.
How can tai chi and qigong help symptoms of Parkinson’s?
Concentrating on smooth, flowing movement, along with breathing, helps people with Parkinson’s relax their body. It also reduces stress with an impact on reducing pain, boosting immunity, and improving general health over time. In a scientific trial for people with Parkinson’s who practised for 6 months, those who did tai chi demonstrated greater improvement in their walking ability, posture, and reported fewer falls than those not on the programme.
Tai chi is about ensuring internal energy can flow, so each move is performed in a slow-motion sequence. For example:
Move your right foot forward half a step.
Slowly open the right palm and bring your arm up to face level out in front of you. At the same time turn your torso to the left.
The left arm and hand move in a downward arc and end with the palm facing up.
High pat on horse
Point your toes on your left foot down and lift the rest of the foot up, with very little weight on your foot.
Deep breath and exhale
Take a purposeful breath in, then exhale to relax before moving to the next sequence.
"What we're trying to learn in tai chi is to move with complete relaxation in our bodies.
"It takes a lot of practice, but you can retrain your body to not tremor."
Watch our short video to hear about Andy's experience of teaching tai chi with Parkinson's.