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(4 pages total)

Page 4 - Ancient T'ai Chi Exercises Effective in Preventing Falls

This study reveals the value of learning only part of the form -- a benefit to many older people who have a hard time remembering moves as the form grows longer and more complex. It's not condescending -- but ammunition for explaining why it's OK not to torture yourself over your slow progress or your frustration at learning new moves. When students are encouraged to see the value of what they already know, they're less frustrated by feelings of inadequacy. In fact, building self esteem is a significant benefit to Tai Chi study. The Tai Chi students had a greatly improved sense of control over their own health. Given the growing body of evidence for the power of positive thinking, this is hardly surprising. Without trying to deny the impact of objective physical maladies, there's a lot of validity in the maxim: You're as healthy as you think you are. Tai chi gives people confidence that they can move in ways they might have been afraid to try without this training. By so doing, Tai Chi builds the confidence that leads to more independent and thus more fulfilling lives. *

The study's short length (only 10 weeks ) also belies the fallacy that it takes years to benefit from Tai Chi. While it's true that the Tai Chi journey is a lifetime affair, it behooves teachers to emphasize that the benefits accrue from the first lesson. While serious Tai Chi study cultivates humility, it's hardly appropriate in the early stages of study. The common statement that 'I still know only very little' is a statement of philosophy, a recognition that there is still a long way to go on the Tai Chi journey. It's a statement suitable for a lesson in attitude, rather than a helpful way to reach the population who are interested in Tai Chi primarily for health. Once students see the physical value of the form, then they're more open to how that physical awareness transfers to the psychological realm. At that point, it may make sense to speak gently of the ebb and flow of life and how Tai Chi expresses the Yin/Yang dichotomy and our own humble place in the universe based upon that understanding. But just as timing and sensitivity are important in the form, they're important in teaching to a specialized audience. Certainly, teaching seniors isn't for everyone. But if you're a teacher with that extra dose of patience and the flexibility of teaching methods to consider students who have goals that may be different from your own, then seeking out seniors in your area can be a rewarding new teaching opportunity.

Studies like this one present both an opportunity and a responsibility to everyone interested in Eastern thought and practice. We need to take advantage of good news like this to show people that Tai Chi works not just from our own Eastern flavored view of the world, but also when seen through the eyes of Western medical scientists. Too often, when a supportive article does show up in scientific literature, it doesn't get the play us converts might like in the popular press. That's the difference between having highly paid corporate PR teams who pitch the story to the decision makers and the decentralized low profile that is the very foundation of a practice like Tai Chi. That's not to say Tai Chi needs a Tony Robbins. It's more a recognition that we should all take advantage of the persuasive power of a study like the one out of the National Institute on Aging to subtly make our case for Tai Chi in our quiet way.

While it's true, to paraphrase Lao Tsu, that 'words can't reveal the whole truth,' words can guide people in the right direction. Tai Chi won't become the next fad, and will be healthier for that. But by telling the curious or the confused how Tai Chi's benefits have been demonstrated by mainstream western physicians, we can slowly help more people live healthier lives through the joys of Tai Chi.

Author: Tom Forsythe, Kanab, Utah

Reprinted from Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness

Copyright 1996, reproduction prohibited without written permission.

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