|(Posted 6/28/2008) |
More than 1,000 Chinese people in wheelchairs hope to demonstrate a new activity at the summer Olympic or Paralympic Games in Beijing this summer: Wheelchair Tai Chi.
Dr. Zibin Guo, UC Foundation Professor and head of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Geography at the University of Tennessee is out to show the world that the slow motion movements of Tai Chi can benefit people by increasing their strength, relaxation, confidence and flexibility. It can even help those in wheelchairs.
'I see it as one of the simplest ways of engaging in self-care' said Dr. Guo, a longtime tai chi instructor.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art and healing practice that has become increasingly popular with medical researchers who are looking into its slow, coordinated, movements as a way to build health, strength, balance and relaxation. Based upon the principles of nature, Tai Chi encourages efficient breathing, relaxed motion, increased focus and calmness of mind. Tai Chi can be adapted to accommodate people with a wide range of health conditions, including those who are confined to wheelchairs.
Dr Guo, who hopes to take Wheelchair Tai Chi to the 2008 Paralympics is not the only one to advocate Wheelchair Tai Chi.
Dr. Glenn Haban, a neuropsychologist at Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation in Chattanooga, Tennessee says few studies exist on Wheelchair Tai Chi, but that is about to change.
Dr Haban's research project at Siskin Hospital will study the effect of Tai Chi on those who are wheelchair dependent.' Dr Haban has received funding for "the first research project in the U.S, to measure the effects of tai chi on participants' breathing, heart condition, psychological functioning, and ability to cope' he said.
Tai Wang, a professional basketball player from China turned physical therapy professor, teaches Wheelchair Tai Chi to wheelchair athletes.
Wang explains the concepts of acupressure, reflexology and Tai Chi to his alternative-therapy students at Georgia State University, teaches Tai Chi as a therapeutic exercise to his physical therapy patients and has developed a form of Tai Chi for specifically for wheelchair users.
Determined to help all wheelchair-users perform more efficiently, not just athletes, Wang has received funding to analyze the movements of wheelchair athletes and is currently applying for a grant to study the mobility of other wheelchair-users.
Wang has found that Tai Chi helps wheelchair-users concentrate more effectively. By focusing on both their mental and physical performance Tai Chi practitioners, gain peace of mind and increased strength and flexibility.
Jim Nicholson, a Tai Chi instructor in Vancouver Canada, teaches a modified Tai Chi form for students with disabilities. Participants in his Tai Chi health recovery classes include people with Parkinson's disease, MS, arthritis, brain injury, stroke damage, HIV/AIDS and others. Nicholson says he has seen many students experience "remarkable changes in their health" after taking up Tai Chi. Not surprisingly, though, those who benefit most are those who work the hardest. 'There are no short cuts.'
Gary Paruszkiewicz, a longtime teacher of Tai Chi in Kankakee, Ill., said he learned from experience that wheelchair tai chi works. Forced into a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis in the early 90's, Gary was 'in really bad shape.' With few exercise options available to him, Gary became weaker and depressed. To fight the depression Gary recalled his long forgotten Tai Chi and Chi Kung exercises and modified them so he could perform them in his wheelchair. He now walks independently and has taught thousands of people with disabilities his seated tai chi.
Dr. Guo, who is still hoping to bring Wheelchair Tai Chi to the 2008 Paralympics says, 'People in wheelchairs often feel confined. Tai chi, with its circular movements, creates a sense of infinite space. And the gentle movements improve circulation and mobility.'
The Paralympic Games, for people with physical disabilities, follow the Olympic games as the second largest sporting event in the world.
'In the summer of 2007, eighty individuals with physical disabilities from all China were invited to Beijing to perform the wheelchair Tai Ji at the 2007 Beijing Olympics Cultural Festival.'
The Beijing 2008 Olympic Committee and the Paralympics Committee are considering a proposal to include a wheelchair Tai Ji demonstration by some 500 people who are with disabilities in the opening ceremony of 2008 Paralympic Games.
'Such an event would provide a powerful inspiration for people with disabilities from all over the world.' said Guo. Not everyone can be freed from their wheelchairs, but everyone can try.
To read the original articles, please see,
Tai Chi an Olympic Hopeful, in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, June 26, 2008. Medical Anthropologist Introduces Wheelchair Tai Ji in China, in the University of Tennessee News February 8, 2008 and Wang Helps Wheelchair-users Move More Efficiently in the Georgia State University archive. November, 12, 2002.