Working with older adults can often drain your energy, especially if you are watching their health deteriorate. While there are numerous ways you may be able to help your clients to improve their conditions, few contain the double effect of assisting them while, at the same time, revitalising you. Pamela Kircher, MD, a family physician and former medical director of integrative medicine at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colorado, found that practicing, and teaching, tai chi – particularly Tai Chi for Health programs – can do exactly this.
“I began practicing tai chi as a way to relieve the stress of my busy family practice and the pain of my osteoarthritic knees,” says Kirchner, “but went on to see tai chi as a primary aspect of preventative medicine which has myriad health benefits that result in fewer doctor visits, fewer medications, fewer dollars spent on health care, and a higher quality of life. Today I stay balanced in my own life as I practice tai chi regularly and teach tai chi to others to help them stay balanced in their lives.”
What is Tai Chi?
Tai chi originated in ancient China, where the practice is considered a martial art. In the most basic terms, tai chi consists of slow, continuous, whole-body movements, strung together in a form. Like dance, the movements are learned and follow one after the other.
The essential principles of tai chi include integrating the mind with the body, fluid movements, controlled breathing, and mental concentration. The central focus is to enable the qi (pronounced “chee”), or life force, to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. Total harmony of the inner and outer self comes from the integration of the mind and body. This can be achieved through regular practice.
The Benefits of Practicing Tai Chi
Today, multiple studies show that tai chi is one of the most effective exercises for the health of mind and body, not only in China, but around the world .
The National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found, in a 2007 survey, that more than 2.3 million Americans practice tai chi for various health-related purposes, including:
- to obtain benefits associated with low-impact, weight-bearing, aerobic exercise;
- to improve physical condition, muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility;
- to improve balance and decrease the risk of falls;
- to ease pain and stiffness;
- to improve sleep; and
- for overall wellness. 
Tai chi is especially suitable for older adults because its level of exertion can be adjusted for each individual. From my own experience in many years of teaching, I have found that people adhere to their tai chi practice because they enjoy it, it is easily accessible, and there is no need for special clothing or equipment. For many, like myself, practicing tai chi continues as a lifetime journey, as it is an art with great depth.
Tai Chi for Health Programs
There are many styles and forms of tai chi, and each style has its own unique features, although they all share the same essential principles. Traditional tai chi forms are complex, as they were mainly used for martial arts. Unfortunately, many of these forms also contain movements with a high risk of injury.
As the purpose of learning tai chi changed from martial arts for the elite to improving health, I had the idea of partnering with a team of tai chi experts, medical specialists, and education experts to create easy-to-learn, safer, and more effective tai chi forms. Thus were born the Tai Chi for Health programs, based on Sun and Yang styles.
These programs are easy to learn — and easy to teach. In ancient times, people would spend years training full time before they felt accomplished in tai chi. Tai Chi for Health programs can be learned and have been shown to improve health and quality of life in a much shorter time.