This is a blog post that Henry Hoffman first posted in May 2017, that I felt was really worth sharing here. I have edited it slightly, and added several videos that I felt might be helpful.
A stroke survivor has the potential to experience traumatic damage throughout their body. Making matters even worse, the process of recovery for an individual can feel like an uphill battle with limited options and overwhelming rehabilitation programs.
Along with healing the body, one of the most important things to consider is how well a survivor can adjust to their new lifestyle. Of course, one’s life may never be exactly the same as before, but a feeling of regularity can be achieved with a positive outlook and an open mind.
Doing tai chi is one way to help the healing process. According to a study done by the American Heart Association, implementing the ancient Chinese art of tai chi into one’s routine may produce strong results of increased stability and functionality, leading to an overall sense of well being for the stroke survivor.
Created over one thousand years ago, tai chi was developed by a Taoist monk named Zhang San Feng. He was inspired after watching a fight take place between a snake and a hawk, impressed by how effortlessly the snake countered the bird’s swift attacks. The form was born as a result of his observations, integrating a balance between mind and body with proper breathing techniques and meditation.
In Chinese tradition, the life force that flows through all living things is called qi (chee), and followers of tai chi consider the life force as an essential part of their overall well being. A series of 81 movements are performed slowly in a continuous rhythm, carried out with total concentration; the fluid repetitions are believed to help maintain one’s mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health.
Though it was originally founded as a form of martial arts, history has transformed the practice of tai chi into a major, uplifting exercise. It has the benefit of combining aerobics, strength conditioning, body coordination, balance, pain relief, and sleep enhancement all into one workout. The best part is that even in times of limited mobility, tai chi is still possible and can be a tremendous ally.
Tai Chi and Stroke
One of the main issues that a stroke survivor experiences is a problem with balance. Factors contributing to this issue include vision impairments, unbalanced inner-ear equilibrium, or physical weakness on one side of the body. This is where tai chi can make a huge difference. With a complete focus on slow, controlled, and repetitive movements, tai chi is effective in improving one’s balance through dynamic motion and coordination, which is crucial to prevent falls. What many people may not know is that stroke survivors endure seven times as many falls each year as healthy adults. Multiple falls have the potential to cause fractures, decrease mobility, and increase fear of falling that can result in social isolation or dependence.
The success that tai chi promotes comes from the skill of learning how to shift weight throughout the lower half of the body while the upper part of the body carries out separate actions. This exchange gives the practitioner the ability to not only condition their body, but to be mindful of their movements. Utilizing a present mind is what makes the form so powerful, and when one is fully aware in the moment, a better sense of control is sure to follow.
It’s important to remember that tai chi is a daily practice, which means that a routine of the movements is needed to experience the full benefits of the form. Here are some exercises that you can try at home, but before you follow through with any program, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor first.
This first video is an instructional tai chi lesson with Dr. Paul Lam, the Director of the Tai Chi for Health Institute in Sydney, Australia. It leads the beginner through an easy-to-follow sequence of movements that promotes health and well being:
For stroke survivors with limited mobility, this second video teaches one to increase their lower and upper body strength while seated in a chair. Over time, this sequence can be used to transition to a standing position:
This last video showcases the top ten tai chi moves for beginners. The sequence includes movements for warming up and cooling down, as well as daily tai chi practices to follow:
Find Inner Strength
Suffering from a stroke is a tremendous event for anyone to face, but the practice of tai chi offers the possibility for a regeneration of the mind, body, and spirit. When dealing with physical therapy and rehabilitation, a patient should feel like they are reconnecting with themselves in a way that embraces patience—progress is made from the application of one’s own strength and personal awareness.
Since tai chi represents the life force of all living things, someone who has experienced a stroke can find comfort in practicing a method of healing that unleashes the power and inner strength that they have always possessed.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the JGH Rehab or Saebo website is solely at your own risk.