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Massage Today
June, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 06

Tai Chi: A Bridge Between You and Your Clients

By Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT

Over the past year, I have written quite a bit on wellness opportunities for massage therapists as part of the self-care series in Massage Today. Until I reflected on this, it never occurred to me how many different and interesting ways there are to take care of one's self! A recent visit with a friend of mine, a gerontologist who works at St.

Vincent's Hospital in Indianapolis, opened me up to yet another avenue of pursuit for wellness that complements the work therapists do. She shared with me the success she has had with her arthritis patients since starting a new tai chi regiment with them.

I have previously written about the benefits of yoga, and while tai chi is similar, it is more accessible than yoga, as it is a little less demanding on the body. While both yoga and tai chi integrate breathing with body postures and focus on aligning the body and mind, there are significant differences between them. Yoga originated in India, includes schools that are very vigorous, and originally included a spiritual component to the practice. Tai chi is a form of martial arts that originated in China, focuses on aligning the body and mind, and uses solely low-impact movements. While traveling through China, many times I witnessed people in parks practicing tai chi, as well as men in business suits starting out their workday by practicing tai chi in their office.

That being said, my research led me to Dr. Paul Lam, a world authority in the field of tai chi practice and instruction. He is a physician in Australia and has trained over 10,000 instructors across the globe through his Tai Chi for Health program. After answering my questions, I was amazed by the many benefits of tai chi, not only for massage therapists, but also for our clients, especially those who suffer from arthritis. Dr. Lam was such a wonderful source of information.

The following is my interview with Dr. Lam:

How would you describe tai chi to the layperson?

Tai chi originated in ancient China where it is considered a martial art. There is much more to tai chi than one can see, but basically, tai chi consists of slow, continuous whole-body movements, strung together in a form. Like dance, the movements are learned and follow one after the other. The essential principles of tai chi include integrating the mind with the body, fluid movements, controlled breathing and mental concentration. The central focus is to enable the qi (pronounced chee), or life force, to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. Total harmony of the inner- and outer-self comes from the integration of the mind and body. This can be achieved through regular practice.

We know there are many benefits to practicing tai chi. When thinking about massage therapists, and the work they do, what do you think are the most beneficial aspects of tai chi for them?

Treating patients can be emotionally and physically draining for massage therapists. Tai chi can strengthen your mental balance and improve your physical energy as well as your internal strength. It is an excellent way to help therapists revitalize themselves. Once a therapist learns tai chi, he/she can then apply the tai chi principle as they treat their patients. These principles enable the therapist to work with better posture, using more internal energy and causing less muscular strain. This increases the therapeutic effect and minimizes the chance of injury. The therapist can use tai chi principles to regenerate their internal energy so they will not feel as tired as they usually do.

Is it more beneficial for massage therapists to practice tai chi before or after giving a massage?

Practicing tai chi is always beneficial at any time, especially before and after a session with a client. Practicing tai chi prior to seeing clients only takes a short period of time and helps to warm up and stretch the body. After a session, it can help one wind down by restoring physical and mental energy.

Are there different routines to do in the morning and in the evening?

There are many forms of tai chi, and one should choose a form based on individual preference. You can learn many different sets of tai chi or focus on one simple set. Whether one practices the same set or different sets in the morning or evening does not matter. The benefit of practicing tai chi and the key to improving in it is to adhere to the essential principles, which remain the same regardless of which style or set one chooses.

If someone wants to begin tai chi for the first time, where should he/she start?

I believe going to a good teacher, one who is suitable for your needs, is the best way to begin the practice of tai chi. Our instructors for the Tai Chi for Health programs are taught how to teach the program safely and effectively and can be an excellent place to start. Actually, massage therapists are one of the professional groups qualified to learn to teach in our Tai Chi for Health program within a relatively short period of time, so you might already know a colleague who teaches tai chi, and just didn't realize it!

While Dr. Lam believes the best place to start is in a classroom, he also suggested DVDs and books on tai chi for those who cannot attend a class. For more information on Dr. Lam including a list of his intructors, DVDs and books, go to www.drpaullam.com.


Sharon Puszko is the owner/director/educator for Day-Break Geriatric Massage Institute. She may be contacted at or through her Web site: www.daybreak-massage.com.

 

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