Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art and, as a slow movement technique, is used for both self-defense and improved health. It is traditionally practiced in a standing position with gentle circular motions that move the joints and muscles through full range of motion.
In 2008, Dr. Zibin Guo, a medical anthropologist at University of Tennessee Chattanooga collaborated with four other medical professionals at UT Chattanooga and Sisken Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation in Chattanooga to study the benefits of Tai Chi for the physically disabled.
His research was kindled by findings that showed exercise to be an important part of psychological and physical improvement for people with disabilities. The studies also indicated that inconvenient exercise classes, inaccessible facilities, financial limits, unsuitable exercise regimens and lack of motivation restricted exercise for the disabled.
Dr. Guo was a Tai Chi master and had years of experience working in rehabilitation medicine. The results of his research showed significant positive results that a simple form of Tai Chi could have in aiding with mobility and pain reduction in the disabled.
Seated Tai Chi was developed with two forms. Four moves for back pain and four moves for neck and shoulder pain were patterned according to the muscle groups involved in each type of pain. This type of Tai Chi requires less stamina and is not concerned with balance, contributing to a more relaxed session. There is less stress on the spine allowing easier rotation to promote upper body strength.
Learning the moves is easy and, since they only require a small amount of space, can be practiced in many convenient settings. They can also be used in the standing position for those who have been able to progress from a sitting position.
The clinical research showed that Seated Tai Chi is very effective in helping rehabilitation from pain and other health issues. As with traditional Tai Chi, it has also been shown to decrease stress and improve mental well being and there is no evidence that the exercise causes any harm.
Dr. Guo’s Tai Chi was performed during the 2008 Beijing Paralympics Cultural Festival. As a result, the China Federation for People with Disabilities has made it a policy to promote Seated Tai Chi in all programs that provide disabled services.
In the United States, University of Tennessee Chattanooga is now offering certification to any therapists interested in using seated/wheelchair Tai Chi in the rehabilitation of people with physical limitations due to injuries or chronic health conditions.