By Jesse Leinfelder with Joan Campbell
Let’s try to imagine facing a serious illness while still motivated to carry on as best you can with your life. Joan Campbell and I met such people while teaching the Eight Ways through the Interstitial Lung Disease Collaborative (ILDC).
Working with the ILDC founder, Aliaa Barakat, and engaging with the students, Joan and I learned a great deal about the struggles and needs of people with serious lung diseases. The interstitial disease is so formidable that four of our participants died during or soon after the study classes at relatively young ages.
All knew they were supposed to engage in physical activity—but were at a loss to find activities that they could manage; the Eight Ways of Tai Chi turned out to be very well-suited. In addition, we designed the class sessions to alternate active and resting times.
We presented the Eight Ways positions and movement and used the seated/resting times for:
1) Q&A and sharing to build community
2) Quiet, tan-tien-focused meditative intervals for finding one’s center and building awareness of the chi energy that can be gathered, circulated, and sent to parts of the body most in need of healing.
We frequently reminded participants to listen to their bodies. To sit and rest when needed, hold on to the back of their chair when feeling unstable, and recognize when it was time to stand up and move with the group again.
To avoid adding stress, we never requested that anyone use a breathing pattern but rather asked students occasionally to check if they were still breathing or reminded them to breathe gently. As opposed to using the sometimes-fraught term “relax,” we spoke of softening things that one might be holding tight, both physically and emotionally.
Documenting our findings, we were honored to achieve publication of this qualitative study in the journal Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health, a Sage publication. Click here to read the study. It includes details of how the course was adapted for the students and quotes reflecting their lived experiences.
Insights from a few of our participants:
*“I find that the sessions of Tai Chi are gentle … They don’t exhaust me. I can get up, I can use my muscles, and I’m not a wet rag at the end of the session. And the way that the sessions are conducted with meditation and resting interspersed with doing the physical motions works out perfectly for me.”
*“Balance is about that center point [the tan tien]…. I never thought of the center of your body as being so low in your body. I don’t know why I didn’t know where my center was. I think the focus on that point brought things all together.“
*“In pulmonary rehabilitation, we focused on the diaphragmatic breathing. Now, I think more about the tan t’ien. I try to breathe into that point, and I get a much, much deeper breath. When I get short of breath, I try to just relax, and I think of that center point, and it gets me breathing easier much quicker.”
Click here to read a previous blog post from Jesse Leinfelder and Joan Campbell on their work with vulnerable students experiencing lung disorders.
Jesse Leinfelder, EdD, has been with the School of Tai Chi Chuan/Tai Chi Foundation since 1978. She began studying and teaching tai chi with the Gainesville Tai Chi Center, and continues learning, practicing and teaching through summer and winter trainings and online classes. She has also taught with the Portland School, and now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In her other professional work, Jesse enhances early childhood education and care. Currently Jesse serves on the Board of the Tai Chi Foundation.
Joan Campbell, EdS, is a retired Professor of Education and has been practicing tai chi since studying at Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing’s Hall of Happiness in New York in 1973. Joan began teaching tai chi with permission from Patrick Watson in 1986. In addition to her own classes, Joan teaches ongoing tai chi classes with her husband, Paul Campbell, in Gainesville, Florida.
Tai Chi Foundation 2023