Using Tai Chi to Improve Balance for Kids
by Dr. Nancy Lindgren, PT, DPT, PCS, C/NDT
Editor's note: Dr. Nancy H. Lindgren is a
certified pediatric clinical specialist from Wisconsin with over 33 years of
clinical experience working with children, babies, and adults. She has been
exploring and practicing Tai Chi Fundamentals, created by Tricia Yu, since 2010.
Since I work in the public schools with
children, one of the most valuable pieces of Tai Chi for me is the Tai Chi
stance for falls prevention. The stance widens the base of support, lowers the
center of gravity, bends and "softens" the joints to allow for balance reactions
and shifts in weight. As I work and practice with students, we can gradually
widen their stance, get more bend to the legs, and continue to work on keeping
their arms out and ready to protect or catch themselves. Students with walkers
and crutches get bumped all the time in the crowded school hallways, and Tai Chi
practice is perfect to help them learn to be more defensive, aware, and to "go
with the flow."
Here is a true story.
One student returned to school after
several months of being off due to having a cardiac arrest, which resulted in an
anoxic brain injury and cortical visual impairment. He was legally blind and was
very rigid as he tried to walk with help. When I thought of trying some Tai Chi
moves as a fun therapeutic exercise, I determined that I would probably have to
teach him the moves by helping him to move his arms and legs first. I did a
little reading and ran across an article that encouraged me. It says: "assisted
movement technique the Tai Chi instructor places the participant's hand or arm
on the instructor's arm and then performed the movement while the participant's
hand or arm followed the movement. This technique allowed the participant to
feel the actual movement, thus creating a memory of the movement pattern that
could be replicated when the instructor was not present." (Tai Chi for People
with Visual Impairments: A Pilot Study, Orientation and Mobility, Jan 2004, Vol
So I tried it and decided to use the softball pitch move for underhand bocce
ball throwing. Together we practiced the rhythmic movements of "softball pitch"
in the 70/30 stance. Then we went to a game of pitching the bocce balls. I also
used cues that our vision therapist was encouraging such as "try to throw the
ball as far as you can towards 10 o'clock." As his visual impairment was a
cortical impairment, his eyes and brain were actually seeing much more than he
was able to understand and acknowledge at this point. He would pick up about
half of the bocce balls thrown onto the grass while stating that he could not
see them. But more importantly, he was working on weight shifting and balance in
a functional, fun way. He was doing gait training via one of the Tai Chi
Fundamentals basic movement patterns.
I anticipate future studies demonstrating
improved gait, self-reported focus, cognition, and coordination with children.
For students especially, I believe that the increased large muscle input that
Tai Chi demands leads to calming in the nervous system; that the structured
movement is organizing to the brain and could lead to improved memory and
learning on cognitive tests, and that the mind and body in sync will lead to
calmness, less violence, better behavior, and improved self-report measures of
quality of life.