Deep breathing, relaxation, and slow, gentle movements are the primary elements of tai chi, a Chinese martial art that is gentler than most forms of yoga. It is usually performed as an ordered set of slow, elegant motions that promote balance through thoughtful consideration of movement and heightening of body awareness.
True to its Buddhist roots, tai chi seeks to:
- relieve stress
- improve focus
- improve muscle tone
- develop balance of the mind and the body
Recent clinical studies have confirmed that tai chi produces measurable benefits in improving balance, lowering blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health. None of these studies involved people with MS, however. Make sure you talk to your health care provider before you begin tai chi or any exercise program.
Working on balance
The New York City-Southern New York Chapter has been offering a tai chi class for several years. Domingo Colon, the instructor, has been teaching tai chi for more than 25 years and has adapted the traditional forms to accommodate students at all levels of ability. Many members of his MS class rely on wheelchairs for mobility. Most have problems with balance.
Improving proprioception, which is our perception of movement and spatial orientation, is a central goal of Colon’s MS tai chi class. This sense of orientation can be extremely valuable to people with MS, who often face the problem of inconsistent perceptions of their sense of touch and balance. The tai chi philosophy stresses that balance is not only a physical achievement, but a mental one as well. Some of the most important types of balance can be accessed with sitting exercises.
Find the right class
Visit the American Tai Chi & Qigong Association, which lists many centers and instructors nationwide.
Local community centers, recreation departments and many fitness clubs also may offer classes. The philosophy that guides tai chi leads instructors to be willing to adapt the discipline to individual needs. Still, be sure to talk with the instructor privately about your MS before starting any class.