Tai chi and qigong (pronounced ‘chi kung’) are gentle exercise styles. They use movement and mindfulness to increase flexibility, improve balance and help walking.
Bhanu Ramaswamy looks at some of the benefits of these meditative movements when you have Parkinson’s.
Tai chi and qigong are traditional Chinese wellness practices. Both types of activity can be adapted by teachers to suit the needs of a class.
Qigong repeats a precise set of movements, which aim to improve physical and physiological health. Tai chi combines slow, gentle movements with deep breathing and relaxation.
Research has shown that both styles of movement can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of falls and improve your mental health. It can also help to manage arthritic pain.
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 are meditative parts of the practice. Qigong is used more than tai chi for health because it's easier to learn.
The exercises are performed in a group setting and can be run as standing or seated exercise classes. They can be done gently or vigorously and include 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 reduces stress and can also help manage pain, boost your immunity, and improve your general health over time.
Research has shown that people with Parkinson’s who practised tai chi for 6 months could walk better, had better posture and had fewer falls than those not who did not practise tai chi.
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 your 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.
Move your left arm and hand in a downwards arc and finish with your palm facing up.
Point your toes on your left foot down and lift the rest of the foot up, with very little weight on your foot.
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.