Tai chi and qigong for Parkinson's

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)
  • Breathing
  • 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.

Movements

Tai chi is about ensuring internal energy can flow, so each move is performed in a slow-motion sequence. For example:

Single whip

Move your right foot forward half a step.

Beak position

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.

Downward arc

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.

Video

Slice text

"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. 

 

For classes, your Parkinson’s UK local group may organise them or know of local teachers.

Otherwise, try one of these registers:

The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain

The Taoist Tai Chi Society of Great Britain