This CMTer Has Taken Up Tai Chi

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by Young Lee |

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If I woke up early enough as a child, I could catch my grandmother, my “Po Po,” doing her tai chi exercises in an open area of our house right by the front door. For a long time, tai chi was a part of her morning ritual. It was her way of clearing her mind and preparing her body for whatever the day would hold. And I found it fascinating.

The martial arts movements favored by my Po Po were unlike the martial arts forms I saw on television and at the cinema. Compared with the fast and explosive forms I was learning in my karate lessons, my Po Po’s forms were much slower and calmer. But they were no less strong and intentional.

I would sometimes try to mimic my Po Po and her tai chi movements. However, I was never very successful. I think that, while I had the balance and flexibility back then, I lacked the patience that was required.

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My memories of my grandmother’s tai chi came back to me as I found myself yearning for a greater sense of control and awareness of my body, and thought perhaps that tai chi would be a relatively safe and low-impact way to help me relax and test the limits of what my Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) body can do.

Many practitioners praise tai chi’s meditative qualities and the fact that it’s easy on the joints. Studies have even shown that practicing tai chi can elevate a person’s mood and sense of well-being.

After beginning training in tai chi this fall, I can tentatively call myself a fan. The experience has caused me to reflect on how much flexibility and stability CMT has taken from me over the years. And it’s definitely given me a new respect for my Po Po. 

I’m enjoying trying my hand at tai chi, but it’s really hard — CMT or no CMT. 

For example, I hadn’t truly appreciated how challenging the slow and calm movements that characterize tai chi are until I tried doing them. Slow is not at all easier. Oftentimes, slow is harder because it involves constantly adjusting to accommodate a movement while maintaining balance.

And I sometimes wonder if some tai chi movements are even possible with a CMT body. Can I balance on one foot while simultaneously kicking and punching? Should I even try?

During such moments, I try to remind myself of my goal. I’m not aiming for mastery. For me or any other CMTer who may be interested, I think tai chi is still worth trying, despite the challenges. It may not be for everyone, but there’s a reason why it’s recommended for people with CMT and other chronic conditions. It is indeed low-impact. And if you have a decent instructor and are open about your limitations, tai chi can be adapted to accommodate them.

I, for one, choose to continue to try. Right now, my goal is simply to get the “tai chi walk” down. If all I manage is to get halfway there, I think it’d be an accomplishment. Already, it’s helped me learn a bit more about my body.

And it’s reminded me of those fond memories of days spent trying to follow along with my Po Po.


Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.


Benoit Roussy CO(c) avatar

Benoit Roussy CO(c)

I think Tai-Chi is a great idea. You are right that slower movement can actually be harder as they require more control of our muscles which is the challenge for anyone with neuro muscular issues. I've been looking after patients with neuro muscular problems for 29 years and whether patients have CMT, MS, post-stroke, C.P. etc. The ones who do regular exercise seem to fare better in general. Not always easy and requires some adaptation according to each individuals. The old adage; "Use it or lose it" remains true. Patients who are less active lose more function quicker. The ones who do the best are the ones who find a physical activity or hobby that they enjoy. Enjoy the challenge and keep going!


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