Photo depicting a female-presenting instructor in a white t-shirt and black leggings standing in the front of a classroom demonstrating Tai Ji Quan movements to elders standing and mimicking her movements.

ICHS’s Free Tai Ji Quan Program Improves Elders’ Mobility

by Amanda Ong

For many elders, especially those who are low-income or face language barriers, access to exercise classes is often low, even as movement is vital to aging health. But the International Community Health Services (ICHS) has a counter to these issues: its “Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance” program has been running since winter of 2020, and recently has been made available in-person to the community as well as virtually.

“Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance” is an entirely free, six-month program for elders to use the practice of Tai Ji Quan to improve balance. The program is offered with instruction in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese to increase accessibility within the CID community, where ICHS is based.

“I think this Tai Ji Quan uses a combination of traditional Tai Ji Quan with slight modifications as well as exercise to improve their stability and balance,” Ava Zhou, program specialist at ICHS, told the Emerald in an interview. “We are happy to lower seniors’ risk and improve seniors’ ability to control their movements.”

Tai Ji Quan classes teach elders critical skills for mobility and balance, especially as falling becomes an increased risk for them. (Photo: Theo Bickel)

Zhou says “Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance” is different from traditional Tai Ji Quan because it is built to improve balance and shifts in weight. The class runs for six weeks with two classes a week, in which instructors teach Tai Ji Quan forms and therapeutic movements. Anyone can join so long as they are older than 55 and live in King County.

“We begin with easy movements, and the classes progress over time for more challenging exercises and forms,” Zhou said. “If they are tired, we have different forms to exercise.”

Another major benefit of the classes is that since the pandemic, many elders have little opportunity to socialize with others, especially those who might live alone and be cautious of social distancing. ICHS’s virtual and in-person classes are about six to 12 people. This way, elders can socialize with classmates.

“The seniors through this program can get a lot of benefits, because this program is research-based,” Zhou says. “The balance channeling [we use is] designed for the older adults at risk of falling. People with balance disorders improved their balance a lot.”

For virtual classes, to measure safety, ICHS will visit the seniors at their houses before the seniors enroll in its class. ICHS will help each senior set up their iPad or equipment and conduct an assessment on their level of ability, which can range greatly between students who are 55 and as old as 85. ICHS also assesses the space and safety of their at-home environment, so it can ensure elders are equipped to move properly during classes by themselves.

The Tai Ji Quan class is also a way to tackle some of the elders’ technological needs. With ICHS’s equipment support, it also teaches elders how to use iPads and to navigate the technology needed to take a virtual class on their own.

For in-person classes, ICHS also offers transportation support. In some cases, elders can be transported to and from class. Zhou says that such careful attention to accessibility is the main key for helping the elders of the community, and the community at large, by ensuring the elders can get around safely.

ICHS hosts in-person classes at three different locations. Though many of its participants are elders from Chinatown, some come from across King County, including Renton and Redmond.

Most importantly, the classes teach elders critical skills for mobility and balance. Not only does ICHS help them build critical physical skills, but it also offers them a community to provide them with help when they may need it.

“A lot of seniors will fall as they’re getting older and older,” Zhou said. “And when they [do], then they will get sick — it is very dangerous when they fall when we are old. And then [Tai Ji Quan] exercise prevents falling, which is important.”

Now, many of those who complete the program enjoy it so much they want to enroll again. For this, ICHS allows them to enroll in classes with new challenges, and they strengthen their balance and mobility.

“The clients graduate from our program, they all say, ‘I love this program. I feel better. I can stand up right away,’” Zhou said. “They improve because through mini-movements in our program, and they change their brain system, eyes, and the body. So they say, ‘Oh, I see I got younger!’”

To learn more about and register for the ICHS “Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance” program, visit ICHS’s website. Senior scientist Dr. Fuzhong Li, who developed the Tai Ji Quan Moving for Better Balance theory, will also be visiting ICHS this coming Friday, May 13.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: “Tai Ji Quan: Move for Better Balance” is an entirely free six-month program for elders to use the practice of Tai Ji Quan to improve balance. (Photo: Theo Bickel)

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!