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(4 pages total)

Page 3 - Ancient T'ai Chi Exercises Effective in Preventing Falls

This list of Tai Chi's benefits is a virtual recipe for alleviating these common problems in the elderly. The most significant difference between Tai Chi and other exercises is awareness. There's nothing special about the Tai Chi moves in and of themselves. As any master will confirm, if the moves are performed without concentration, Tai Chi is merely exercise. But there is something very 'present' about its emphasis on awareness. And according to the study, "training for balance may partly work not just because it increases the limits of stability and balance per se, but because the subject becomes aware of his or her limits of stability and allows compensation for the deficits."

As such, it's worth seeking out elderly populations and the health care professionals who serve them with proposals for Tai Chi classes designed specifically to meet the particular needs of senior citizens. At the same time, the structure of a Tai Chi class for seniors should take into account their special needs and interests. That applies to everything from the moves taught to the underlying motivating factors for learning the moves.

The Tai Chi moves in this study are a simplified selection from the first third of the Yang style. This modified form begins, naturally enough, with Commencement. The following nine moves are:


  • Ward off left.

  • Push Left

  • Cloudy Hands

  • Single Whip

  • Ward off Left

  • Brush Left Knee, Push Right

  • Kick Right

  • Kick Left

  • Close.

  • Even with such a simple selection of Yang moves it's significant that Xu taught less than one move each week, despite meeting twice per week. Think how that compares to the more common goal of teaching two moves per week.

    For impatient youth, two moves a week may be necessary to maintain student interest. But that needn't be the case. While everyone wants to feel that they're making progress, that progress can take shape in ways other than 'new moves.' Xu was able to keep his students interested in the principles and the details by showing them the immediate benefit to their training. By emphasizing their growing 'awareness' and 'centeredness' Xu showed his students a greater insight into their selves, which was more than enough to make them enthusiastic students.

    This calls into question the traditional teaching method of 'just do the form'. Xu's real success as a motivator was his ability to relate stories from his student's own lives. As a youthful man in his 60s, when he explained how they can be distracted by thoughts of their grand children that might cause them to miss a step and incur a fall, they saw the value of 'being in the moment.' Showing how Tai Chi kept them in the moment occurred by his explanation, not merely by his demonstration of a move. While some may complain that it's spoonfeeding, it's also what kept more than the hard-core in the class. Wolf points out one similarity between this Tai Chi module and every other known activity, the biggest obstacle was getting them to "commit to dedicated discipline." Once they saw the value, then they became more serious students.

    Wolf was particularly impressed with the fact that over 50% of the Tai Chi students returned to studying after the four month break required by the experiment. Many teachers operate on the 'week in week out' premise to keep students in the fold. The experience of these students suggests that with proper motivation, time off only builds enthusiasm and commitment to the art.

    It's important to consider that seniors aren't particularly seeking out Tai Chi. They're not willing to pass any test imposed by masters to prove their seriousness as students. They're not 'serious' students in the traditional martial arts definition of the term, so it's counterproductive to impose such standards. You wouldn't expect someone who has never heard of Catholicism to understand the nuances or etiquette of a Catholic High mass without a gradual explanation. In the same way, willing seniors deserve to be introduced to Tai Chi with the gentle awareness that they're open minded enough to consider this very foreign activity. It's important to recognize that they're merely considering it, not already committed to the practice.

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