TaiJi Quan, Marshmallows & Monologues

Ah yes, weekends up north. Woods, rivers, frogs, a bottle of J.Lohr, a few friends and a roaring campfire. All the essentials. Oh yeah, and non-stop dialogue. Uugh… What is it about sitting under the stars that makes people so damn inquisitive? Can’t we just forget the banter for once and enjoy roasting marshmallows to the nourishing and soothing sounds of nature? Sigh, perhaps not.

In lieu of all the illuminating campfire conversation (yawn), my nicely caramelizing marshmallow had my full attention. That is until I heard one of my campfire comrades casually declare that “TaiJi Quan is just something for old people to practice in the park.”

While only distracted for the briefest of moments, it was long enough for my poor little marshmallow to melt from it’s stick and plunk into the fire. I now had two options:

Option #1: Throw the TaiJi non-believer in the river.

Option #2: Engage him in retributive conversation.

I opted for #2. I know I know, I should have avenged my marshmallow and thrown him in the river, but I gave way to more socially appropriate behaviors and just lectured him instead. Here’s the scoop.

TaiJi Quan has been around for at least a few hundred years. The word ‘TaiJi‘ refers to the (now somewhat cliché) philosophy of Yin and Yang, while ‘Quan‘ translates as ‘fist’, paying homage to TaiJi Quan‘s origins as a martial art. The practice is generally recognized as a flowing series of movements performed at a somewhat slow and steady rhythm. Anyone wanting to see a traditional example of this can watch a good performance online here.

One of the things that makes our neurological protocol unique is our successful integration of traditional exercise systems. One of the systems we’ve integrated is TaiJi Quan.

While we haven’t been teaching our clients TaiJi Quan in the traditional sense, elements of it’s practice have become integral to the active portion of our protocol. Here are some of the ways we’ve found characteristics of TaiJi Quan practice useful for neurological rehabilitation:

1) Moving slowly with precise attention to detail aids in reestablishing proper moving patterns.

2) Staying focused on what you’re doing improves body awareness and muscle control.

3) The continuously circular, twisting, contracting and expanding movements unique to TaiJi Quan are excellent for opening joints and promoting circulation.

4) Emphasis on relaxation while moving can decrease spasms, improve fluid movement and help maintain healthy muscle tone.

5) Coordinating breathing patterns with movement strengthens respiration and improves tolerance to exercise.

6) Clients find these exercises interesting, engaging and can practice them anytime.

TaiJi Quan also includes a variety of two-person exercises that are extremely useful for improving sensory awareness, muscle control, strength and endurance. The beauty of these exercises is that, if clients are unable to move through the full range of motion themselves, the therapist can assist them through the movement.

As you can see, TaiJi Quan is in fact not just ‘for old people’. We’ve customized therapeutic movement patterns for clients living with all kinds of neurological conditions, including spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis, stroke and traumatic brain injury, and seen improvement in their sensory, motor and even cognitive function. For some clients we’ve also incorporated elements from other traditional exercise systems like meditation and QiGong into their therapy. A lot of wisdom has been gathered into these practices over the centuries, wisdom we plan to make good use of.

The plan is to eventually post some videos of this therapy, but we’re all terrible videographers and keep forgetting to grab the recorder. I promise it will happen soon.

In the meanwhile, I hope my brief, but heartfelt melted marshmallow inspired monologue has given you a new perspective on the value of traditional exercise systems. If not, well, there’s still option #1.

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