AsianScientist (Apr. 23, 2012) – Researchers have developed a 13 posture Tai Chi program for disabled people, transforming the wheelchair from an assistive device to a tool of empowerment and artistic expression.
13 Posture Wheelchair Tai Chi, which brings traditional Chinese martial and healing arts to people with ambulatory impairment, was developed by Dr. Zibin Guo of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
The work was also published recently in the journal Technology and Innovation – Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors®.
In 2008, Guo collaborated with the China Disabled People’s Federation and the Beijing Paralympics Committee to introduce the Tai Chi Wheelchair at the 2008 Beijing Olympics/Paralympics Cultural Festival. The innovative program incorporates 13 of the standard 24 Tai Chi movements.
A demonstration event from the 2008 Beijing Olympics/Paralympics Cultural Festival:
“Too often, social and cultural barriers discourage people with physical disabilities from participating in fitness activities,” said Guo.
“Wheelchair Tai Chi can be practiced seated for those needing simple, low-impact, upper-body exercise by integrating wheelchair motion with the gentle, dynamic flowing movements of Tai Chi. It lifts the spirit and give practitioners a sense of command of space,” he said.
Tai Chi (太极拳) has been part of Chinese traditional medicine for thousands of years, but has not been an accessible form of martial arts, therapy, or exercise for those with disabilities.
Guo estimates that 83 million people in China are living with disabilities, particularly those that limit mobility. Most of these people also live in rural China where “social and economic development lags behind urban areas,” Guo said.
He also cites a National Health Interview Survey that suggests that about 73 percent of people in the U.S. with disabilities have no or infrequent physical activity.
“Studies conducted in China and elsewhere suggest that these individuals, and especially wheelchair users, have significantly lower self-esteem and are more vulnerable to depression,” Guo explained.
Wheelchair Tai Chi movements allow a wide range of lower back and hip movements, said Guo. Also, the movements help promote upper body mobility and internal circulation. Vertical and horizontal circles improve and stimulate the rotation and range of motion for the torso, waist, back, shoulders, arms, and wrists.
“The slow, guided muscle movement has a way of helping to reinforce the muscle patterns that may not have been present before,” said Dr. Glen F. Haban, a neuropsychologist at Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation in Chattanooga when commenting on early clinical studies related to Wheelchair Tai Chi.
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