Fall Prevention with Tai Chi

Tai Chi Assists with Fall Prevention

By Lisa Kohler, PT

I recently attended a continuing education course where I became a certified instructor of Tai Chi for Rehabilitation. I took another course a while ago but this one was so much different. It was developed by Dr. Paul Lam who is a physician. I spent one whole day learning the movements, and another day learning the teaching methods! I am excited for the opportunity to teach a  Tai Chi for Rehabilitation class, but first I want to share what it is, the history behind it, specifics of the program, and its benefits.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi originated in ancient China as a martial art over 3000 years ago. It is also known as Shadow Boxing and means the ultimate of ultimate. It consists of exercises with a focus on maintaining balance and harmony, which leads to peace.  Tai Chi is popular all over the world and many studies have researched its numerous health benefits. Research has shown that Tai Chi is one of the most effective fall prevention programs.

History of Tai Chi based on Three Styles of Movement

  1. Chen style – Began in the 1670s by Chen Wangting. It is a set of movements with a focus on mental concentration, breathing and closely connected actions. It is an ideal form of exercise to use for all aspects of health care. A book was written in 1932 that described both the philosophical and medical aspects of the movements. It emphasizes spiral force with a mix of both slow/soft and fast/hard movements. Due to this, it has more difficult movements than the other two styles below.
  2. Yang style – Developed in the early 19th century by Yang Lu-Chan. It is known by its gentle, graceful and slow movements. This is the most popular style because it is easy to learn and promotes health.
  3. Sun style – Began in 1912, the youngest of the major styles, by Sun Lu-tang. It is known for agility in stepping; as one foot moves, the other follows. The primary purpose is for healing and relaxation. It is also easier to learn because of the upright posture/positions.

There are at least two other styles, Wu/Hao and Wu, but these are not movements used in the Tai Chi for Rehabilitation set of exercises.

Specifics of the Tai Chi for Rehabilitation Program

  1. Movement – Controlled by slow, smooth and continuous movements with focus on moving an imaginary resistance. This will improve balance, coordination and strength.
  2. Body – Focus on upright posture and good alignment. Awareness of weight shifting to increase mobility and coordination.
  3. Internal – Ultimate goal is to integrate mind and body. Consciously and gently stretch joints. Be present in the movement by focus. Be aware of breathing deeply.

This program uses a combination of the Sun, Yang and Chen styles described above.

Benefits of Tai Chi for Rehabilitation

  • Easy to learn
  • Promotes healing and managing stress
  • Can be modified, such as sitting
  • Empowering/increased confidence
  • Social aspect
  • Increased balance, coordination and strength, which reduces fall risk