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Senior Moments #2: Taiji, Happy Toes, and Piano Fingers

by Roger Whidden, February 17, 2009
Seniors practicing Taiji on the beach

Seniors practicing Taiji on the beach

So how does one teach Taijiquan to seniors, rehabbers, and the generally unfit? Consult the ancients, “The best leader follows.” These people are generally coming to Taiji because of a life urgency (old age, sickness, injury, etc.) which has created an opportunity for change. Experiencing the Qi maybe what their life circumstance is offering up. So you have a teachable moment. Use your Yi to lead the Qi, to lead the Li of your student body as you do in your own body.

Okay, so I need to listen, but they don’t know what to do or how to do it. Or do they? After all, the root meaning of education is to bring out that which is within. So maybe they do know, but as Emerson said, “man is God playing fool.” And from the look of it, we had the “kung” fool part of it well represented. However, how about the God gig(gle)?

Experiment – dial up God. Use your favourite Qi Gong. Preferably use a simple one like feeling the energy ball with the hands facing each other in front of the belly and play the accordion with it. Do not baby sit them, most people can feel the Qi, and you need to lead by doing. Encourage them to allow their fingers to play the keys and entertain the possibility that the toes are happy “twinkle toes” too. Take your time. Then allow participants to partner up and discuss while staying present with the feeling. Form a class circle and give the practitioners an opportunity to share with the group. Just listen, wisdom will come forth. Then maybe validate, structure, and ground the information with poetry of the masters.

I experience the Qi as a manifestation of God’s love. Attuning to the Qi allows me to do God’s work, thy will be done. Qi Gong is the basis for Taijiquan for Graceful Living (my preferred moniker for my not (yet) ready for prime time Taiji players).

Roger Whidden has been teaching martial arts continuously since 1975. His background in sports, Karate, Yoga, meditation, Taiji, and Qigong enables him to excel. Roger holds both a B.S. and M.S. degree in Education and Counseling. More information about Roger can be found at


I teach T'ai Chi and Qigong in western Maine and learned much about teaching the infirm a few years ago after watching a women who has taught general exercise (a program called Moving Freely) to very inactive seniors for a number of years.
She alternated standing with sitting while doing exercises. Many of the participants have limited strength to stand for longer than 5 minutes or have health issues which preclude doing that.
I took the same approach with qigong. Sit and do movements (eight brocades and other pieces of qigong) for about 7-8 minutes. Then we would stand and do gentle exercises for 3-4 minutes. Repeat for 30 minutes or so. Would start and conclude groups with Wu Chi sitting. Used the approach of calming the mind with wu chi and then gathering energy with qigong.
Toward the end, I'd have those who were comfortable stand up and "follow" me doing Yang style through single whip. Most did (group of 45-50). They loved it and were thrilled at the idea of "doing" T'ai Chi.
I teach at a number of hospitals and do specialized programs in T'ai Chi and Qigong for various groups (ie people dealing with cancer, cardiac rehab, osteoporosis clinic etc.) Now one of the first things I do with these groups is try to get a feel for their strength by asking, "Who is comfortable standing 10 minutes or longer?" "Who is comfortable with 5 minutes?" If there is even ONE person would does not raise his hand, I use alternate sitting/standing for 3-4 minutes (always more sitting than standing). People seem to appreciate that.
The reason for doing this is so EVERYONE can benefit. Before I began this approach, I would always noice one or two people who would sort of give up and sit to the sidelines and watch. Now everyone participates.
As always, students can teach us a great deal.
Greenwood – February 19, 2009, 11:52 am
I've recently begun teaching tai chi at a residency program for drug and alcohol abusers. The groups are small and quite mixed: street people and community professionals, those with significant neurologic damage from their own abuse or from fetal alcohol syndrome, those with good balance but often less patience and poor impulse control, and 'ideal' students. It's an incredibly rewarding experience, a precious gift after retiring from my career. I certainly appreciate any words of wisdom!
Gloria Kohut – March 1, 2009, 5:43 pm

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