Seated Tai Chi

Pull up a chair and let’s talk about seated Tai Chi.

I have often told the story of when I was learning Tai Chi and my instructor decided to groom me to become an instructor. I came in to class one day and my instructor (Kym) said “you are going to learn seated Tai Chi today”. I responded I didn't want to learn seated Tai Chi. Kym’s response was “that is the beauty of me being the instructor and you being the student, I get to choose what I teach you”. I am so glad he didn’t listen to me and did what he knew was good for me (remember this during class this week). Since then I have been certified to teach Seated Tai Chi for Arthritis through Tai Chi for Health (Dr. Lam’s organization). I have also taken part in many seated Tai Chi instructor certification courses.

At the beginning of the year I like to take all of my classes through a seated Tai Chi class. We are in the middle of the cold and flu season. When you get hit with either of those seated Tai Chi is a great way to get your strength back as you recover. Also in the winter we tend to be more sedentary than the other seasons of the year. Seated Tai Chi is a great way to work through these quiet months.

Not moving the body (which was designed to move), is one of the worst things we can do. If that is the case why would I be promoting seated Tai Chi? The answer is you can get exercise from a chair. If you have to sit, seated Tai Chi is a great way to keep yourself from getting weaker. In fact you can get stronger by doing Tai Chi and transition to standing Tai Chi. Seated Tai Chi is also a great way in a short exercise in the evening. Instead of just sitting and watching TV or reading a book, on commercials (or between chapters) practice some seated Tai Chi. I remember my Grandmother, a real neat lady. I was 16 when she was spending some time at our house. In the evening she would sit down on the end of the coach and sit there for the rest of the evening. After sitting there for three hours she would get up and complain about how stiff she was. I remember even at 16 years old thinking “if I sat in one place for three hours I would be stiff”.

The CDC recently released a data based on annual surveys on activity. They concluded that “sedentary lifestyles add $117 billion to US health-care costs annually and contribute to one in 10 premature deaths” (I added emphasis). In a statement released with the research Peterson said, “Being physically active helps you sleep better, feel better and reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers”. Can you see how this research ties in with my two previous blogs? (If not, go back and reread those). We can use seated Tai Chi to cut down on our sedentary lifestyles. Especially when we are recovering and rehabilitating from other conditions. We can use seated Tai Chi to help give us a short effective workout in the evening. You can even spend just a little time sitting properly throughout the day to better improve your health.

BUT WAIT, there is more!

Learning seated has helped me (and my students) on many levels:

> It has made me a better standing Tai Chi practitioner. How does that work?

When you are doing seated Tai Chi the leg that would have the weight on it is pushing into the ground. You become more aware of your feet and what foot should have the weight on it. When you go back to standing you start thinking more about where you weight should be.

> It allows anyone to practice Tai Chi (no excuse now).

When teaching in nursing or assisted living facilities (or adult day care), there are some people who cannot stand. Teaching seated Tai Chi is the perfect option for these people. I sometimes have people tell me there is no way they can do Tai Chi. I tell them “if you can sit in a chair and breath I can teach you Tai Chi”.

> It has allowed me to teach Tai Chi to a much broader audience (especially people with chronic conditions).

Besides the above, it makes it a lot easier to accommodate my students. I was teaching a class one Tuesday and noticed several people were sitting down (they looked tired on that day). I had the whole class sit down and ran them through several of the Tai Chi moves starting with the warm up exercises. Then moving on to Tai Chi for Arthritis again from the seated postiion. At the end of class several people came up and told me how much they enjoyed the class and learning seated form. Some people also came up to me the next week and noticed a difference in their skills after practicing seated.

> Seated Tai Chi is a great tool to use when you are trying to rehab from any condition.

If you have been sick for any reason, seated Tai Chi is a great way to get your energy back. Especially if you are rehabbing from any leg issues. The legs can get a great workout without having a “load” (weight) on them. I have had several students start Tai Chi in a chair and move along to standing Tai Chi. I teach several “blended” classes where I teach both standing and seated Tai Chi. Hopefully my students go home with more tools to work with.

> I have become much more aware of my posture when I am sitting down.

I have noticed, especially with my Parkinson friends that the posture they use when they are seated tends to be the same posture they use when they are standing up. This is not a small thing!

This week we are going to be practicing seated Tai Chi in class. Don’t miss this class!!! Learning the seated movements will change the way you view Tai Chi. It will change the way you watch TV or read at night. It will change the way your work. You can get a short “break” from work without ever leaving your chair. If you have any long trips planned you can use seated Tai Chi to help you stay loose while you travel. One of my students legs used to hurt her when she took a flight over two hours. Her legs hurt her so bad she used to not be able to walk off the plane and down the jetway. I told her to try the ankle exercise (heel toe) every half hour during her next trip. IT WORKED (actually that shouldn’t be a big surprise)! She was able to walk off the plane and the end of a two and half hour trip. Essentially, she was doing seated Tai Chi (if only one exercise) while flying.

A word about sitting (yeah just sitting)...

Just as standing in the Wuji position is healthy for you sitting properly (not just in Tai Chi class) is healthy for you. I have noticed when I work with older adults in nursing facilities that most of them cannot sit up straight for any extended period of time (if at all). When you sit up straight you are conditioning your foundational muscles. Your body relies on it’s core for the rest of it’s strength and stability. Not considering your core when working on your strength is like building a house in sand. Working on posture is one of the main things I work on with everyone (especially my Parkinson friends). If you don’t have good posture, you will constantly be fighting your balance. I have included some pictures in this post where I demonstrate examples of good and lots of examples of bad posture (Unfortunately, there are more ways to sit with bad posture than there are good ways).

Your challenge this week is to include some seated Tai Chi exercises in your “20 in 2020 routine”. Spend some time during the day (5 minutes every half hour) sitting in the Tai Chi position (think of it was a Wuji position for the chair). In the evening add a few of the seated moves once or twice throughout the evening. We will be covering many of the seated moves in class this week.

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