As an aquatic therapist, I frequently witness the freedom warm water gives individuals who are unable to move with ease on land. One form of land exercise that lends itself beautifully to the pool and actually offers some advantages in an aquatic environment is tai chi. In fact, one form of aquatic tai chi, called “ Ai Chi “, was specifically designed for performing in a warm pool. As such, it takes advantage of the water’s properties, fostering range of motion while challenging balance (safely) and facilitating core strength and stability.
Developed by a Japanese swim coach, Jun Kunno and aquatic therapist, Ruth Sova, Ai Chi literally means “flowing aquatic energy”. The series of movements is simple, but effective and becomes meditative when performed repeatedly and coordinated with the breath. I’ve had the pleasure of doing Ai Chi with as many as 50 people in a large swimming pool at an aquatic therapy conference. Believe it or not, it can even be meditative in a group that size when everyone is in sync. I love teaching it to my clients and it’s a great way to conclude an aquatic therapy or aquatic fitness session.
Water Tai Chi incorporates more traditional tai chi movements and translates them to an aquatic environment. Like Ai Chi, Water Tai Chi combines the mind/body benefits from traditional tai chi with the gentle, freeing, flowing environment of the water.
One important component of aquatic tai chi is the temperature of the water. The temperature for both Ai Chi and Water Tai Chi should be a minimum of 86 degrees farenheit. This allows for slow, relaxed movement and increased blood flow to joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments. Contact your local YMCA or the Arthritis Foundation to see about classes offered in your area.