Why Tai Chi for Autism?
In a world that assaults the senses, a common reaction to over-stimulation for a person on the autism spectrum is freezing up, or becoming tense, blocked, and withdrawn. With regular practice of Tai Chi, the mind learns how to let go, and the body responds by letting go of blocks and deeply held tension. As one practices, the body finds its own relaxation response.
Persons with autism face many challenges in school, work, and home life. Research shows the co-morbidity of autism and depression and/or anxiety is high. Thankfully, the current research in neurology and educational kinesiology also shows that purposeful activity and movement open new neural pathways. People who engage in meditative and stress relief activities report that they are better able to focus, less likely to become frustrated or angry, and more receptive to participating in activities with others.
In our experience with persons with learning disabilities, OCD, Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and ADHD, we have found that the techniques presented in Tai Chi have a profound effect on behavior. It is a form of exercise the practitioners find engaging and rewarding.
Originally developed in China as a martial art, most people now do Tai Chi for health, fitness, and stress release. The slow, steady movements of Tai Chi can be practiced without strain. Tai Chi provides a full body exercise that trains all the parts of the body to work together efficiently -- opening the spine and joints, stretching and strengthening the muscles and tendons, and activating the immune system.
Stress Release and Relaxation:
Tai Chi is much more than a physical regimen; as the body becomes more elastic and flexible, the mind becomes more relaxed and resilient. The Tai Chi routine is practiced slowly and calmly, improving focus and clarity of mind.
Tai Chi also develops the quality of what the Chinese call “sung” – letting go. The body and mind release tension to become truly relaxed and open.
Patterning of Energy Flows:
Tai Chi has the same Taoist roots as Traditional Chinese Medicine. It encourages the flow of “chi” – life energy – to revitalize the body and nourish the spirit. Chi is always flowing from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven. As people standing between heaven and earth, we participate in that flow. The movements of Tai Chi influence the quality of that energy, organizing and amplifying its flow inside the body, creating a harmonious balance of yin and yang. In fact, “Tai Chi” is the name of the familiar yin-yang symbol we all recognize.
As the balanced chi flows encouraged by Tai Chi practice become habitual, the qualities of relaxation and calm permeate the body and mind. For example, moving with the head lifted opens the spine. When the spine opens, the arms and legs open, and chi flows freely and unobstructed. The body becomes rooted and stabile and, at the same time, lighter and more agile. The practitioner is calm and at peace.
Slow practice of Tai Chi allows one to fully concentrate on each detail as one performs the movements. This total immediate awareness is meditation in motion, allowing the mind to become tranquil and calm.
Depth of Practice:
The beginning Tai Chi practitioner learns a set of basic physical movements -- standing, shifting weight, and turning according to the principles of balanced, unified movement with proper body alignment. As one practices over time, one learns in more detail and on a deeper, more internal level.
For persons on the autism spectrum who enjoy thinking, learning, and studying in depth, Tai Chi offers a discipline with challenges reaching many levels. More than an exercise routine, Tai Chi is truly an art offering physical, energetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual rewards.
About the Instructor
Mary Christianson has 30 years experience. Trained and certified by a lineage Master, Mary teaches more than the physical movements of Tai Chi; she teaches the inner workings and energetic principles that make Tai Chi truly effective as a health and stress release practice.
Mary began her study of Chinese internal energy arts in 1979 with Master B.P. Chan in New York City. She also studied intensively with Master B.K. Frantzis, who learned in Beijing from Liu Hung Cheih, a Chinese Taoist Master. Mary studied Mandarin Chinese at Hunter College and Taiwan National Normal University.
Mary has taught Tai Chi and Qigong (Chi Gung) at the Taoist Arts Center in New York City, Brighton Tai Chi in England, Brookline Tai Chi in Massachusetts, and the Center for International Medicine and Aikido Institute in Oakland, California. She developed her program for persons on the autism spectrum while teaching in the public schools in California and at Minnesota Life College.
Classes & Events
We can tailor a Tai Chi program for any size group, for students of different ages and with varying abilities.
Students learn natural breathing, basic mindfulness meditation, fundamentals of proper posture and body alignment, and simple movement exercises for improving flexibility and releasing tension.
On-Going Weekly Classes:
Students learn natural breathing, basic mindfulness meditation, fundamentals of proper posture and body alignment, and a short Tai Chi form designed for beginners. Guided practice and feedback from the instructor over time improve student progress, as teaching methods and materials can be adjusted to meet the particular problems of each student.
Some students benefit most from one-on-one instruction. The teacher can address very specific problems and offer practices at the appropriate level. Students who are especially tense or stressed, or those with behaviors that are distracting to others in a larger class setting, thrive on individual instruction.