Clinical Ai Chi | Ai Chi general introduction
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Ai Chi general introduction


Ai Chi has proven to be effective for persons with various diseases, like e.g. multiple sclerosis. Recent research has shown (very) positive effects on fatigue, balance, muscle strength, pain, stiffness, and autonomy. What is Ai Chi and why is this method look so effective?

Ai Chi has been developed by Jun Konno, owner of an aquatic fitness institute in Yokohama, Japan. Jun Konno is also Watsu lecturer and developed  Ai Chi as an introduction to Watsu, but around 2000 quickly became popular because of it’s simplicity and effects.

Ai Chi is active and includes 19 continuous slow and broad movements, accomplished without force. Ai Chi focuses on breathing, upper limb movement, trunk stability, lower limb movement, balance and coordinated total body movements.

The basis of support is gradual narrowing and movements are combined with deep breathing at breath rate: about 14 to 16 times per minute.

The 19 movements form a sequence with gradual increasing difficulty. There is no need to perform all movements. Different protocols exist, consisting of a choice of the 19 movements and/or a different amount of repetitions.

Ai Chi has elements of both Qi Gong   and Tai Chi Chuan. It is an active relaxation technique in which postural control and breathing are important. Persons stand in shoulder deep water, preferably in the Tai Chi positions with knees slightly flexed. The water (and air) temperature should be not too cool in order to support active relaxation. Mostly, music is used to guide the rhythm of movements and breathing. Rhythm functions as an external stimulus to continue smooth movements and is highly valued by persons with multiple sclerosis.

Movement initiation is also supported by the relative instability because of buoyancy. Breathing changes the buoyancy effect constantly, which means that a person in fact always moves a little bit: basis for the start of an intentional movement.

Ai Chi also includes important elements, necessary for balance (and fall prevention): continuous weight transfer, not using arms to support en also narrow supporting surfaces. The Association IATF in Valens (CH) has developed variations to challenge balance even more, according to research in fall prevention. These variations and the application to patient categories belong to Clinical Ai Chi.

Objectives of Ai Chi in Fall Prevention

Falls is one of the problems in MS, leading not only to an increase of incapacity but also to an increase of morbidity and mortality. Tai Chi is used successfully to increase balance and to reduce fall risk, Ai Chi has the same effects. A pool adds extra advantages however. When persons are safe (and feel safe), they are able to make larger movements than on land without the risk of losing that balance. Controlling large reaching movements at the end of a large range of  movement is essential for safe activities of daily living.

Mobilizing connective tissue

Ai Chi is known as a relaxation technique. Breathing, control of smooth movements and posture correction give a sense of relaxation. Physically this shows itself as reduced stiffness of connective tissue in and around muscles. Reduction of stiffness is facilitated by the repetitive movements, having direct effects on connective tissue. This means that gradually also small effects of range of movement can be acquired.

The possibility to relax is enhanced by the fact that slow movements in water, as well as maintaining a posture, only require about 25% of the muscular force of comparable land activities. This is another reason why Ai Chi is relaxing: it is easy to grade muscle activity and coordination of movements therefore need less energy.

This also means that weak persons are able to perform Ai Chi (for an extended time). Many persons feel themselves less spastic.

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