Tai Chi for Seniors
by Sifu David Goldstein
In the last few years I have had the great privilege to work with (i.e., teach Tai Chi to) students with various degrees of physical limitations. I have worked with children at the Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, with students suffering from Parkinson's and M.S., and I have worked with seniors.
In working with a child recovering from a car accident or cancer, or working with someone with Parkinson's, I must understand the limitations of the student and help him/her to make adjustments in order to achieve proper Tai Chi and to attain maximum benefit from the practice.
The experience of working with these students has made me aware that we all have limitations. I am physically limited. My knees do not allow me to go as low as I would want in Snake Creeps Down, my back does not allow me to jump as high as I might want in performing a jump kick in Lao Jia Yi Lu. Adjustments are made. We all make adjustments. The trick is to:
1. be aware that a limitation exists and understand it,
2. know what is the best adjustment (compromise) in the Tai Chi in order to stay within the underlying rules of the movement.
This means, of course, that we must understand the fundamental principles of the Tai Chi movement.
Working with Seniors
Seniors present an additional challenge. Yes, there is often a weakness in the muscle or a basic stiffness and lack of flexibility that must be addressed -- but more challenging is the difficulty in remembering the movements. One need not be over 70 to have trouble remembering the moves. All of my students who came to Tai Chi over the age of 50 and did not have previous experience with either Martial Arts or dance, had trouble remembering the moves. After all, it's like learning a new and very strange language.
I encourage my 50-year-old-plus students to be patient and to persevere. We eventually get there and the student is able to perform a solo form by himself. With someone in their 80’s the problem of memory is not only more acute, but the need for improved health and strength is usually more crucial.
So, I have followed the lead of other Tai Chi teachers of seniors and have focused on separate, simple exercises that are Tai Chi in nature (i.e., mind-body, relaxed, smooth, etc.) that will contribute to the student’s overall goals as quickly as possible without the frustration or anxiety of not being able to remember complex movements and ordered choreography.
A simple exercise regime is described in the following pdf document for downloading.
I hope you find the exercises helpful. These are only a few of the exercises I use for a half-hour training session with Seniors, but they should give you a general idea of the methodology. Please contact me if you have any comments or questions.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
― Lao Tzu