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LifeStyle with Tai Chi and Qigong >> Tai Chi Qigong for Children

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 98)

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.




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