Tuesday, July 02 2019

Developed in Japan over 30 years ago, Ai Chi was originally created for relaxation and breathing.  Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute (ATRI) founder, Ruth Sova, introduced Ai Chi in the USA and has popularized the program with expanded applications.  In the video, Ai Chi – Range of Motion (ROM), she provides an educational tutorial for adapting Ai Chi postures for stretching.

Inspired by his observations of exercise preferences in Japan, Jun Konno developed a program with lower intensity and gentler movement.   Later named Ai Chi, the program was a combination of deep breathing and slow movements performed standing in chest depth water.  The program included elements of Tai Chi, Shiatsu, and Qigong, combined with basic movement patterns.  Ai Chi was geared towards relaxation therapy in order to combat the health issues caused by stress.  “The physical benefits are excellent, but the power to survive another stress-filled day is incredible,” Jun Konno was quoted as saying. 

As explained and demonstrated in the Ai Chi DVD and handout, Flowing Aquatic Energy, Ai Chi is flowing, soft, round movements executed with a profound inwardly-directed focus. The movements are accentuated with roundness, continuity, naturalness and slowness. There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Willow does not break under weight of snow.”  Stiff or inflexible branches, bones and psyches will break.  The pliant willow does not break.  Pliant bones, connective tissues and psyches will not break.  Ai Chi is designed to make our bodies pliant.

Intrigued by the movements and the health benefits, Ruth approached Jun in 1996 and told him that he needed to get his program in the United States.   Jun replied, “Would you write a book?”   Ruth did and the rest is history.

The benefits of Ai Chi are numerous, including improved flexibility, range of motion and an increase in general mobility, which allows people to move better and live better.  Ruth developed Ai Chi ROM to take this a step further.  The Ai Chi postures in this program have been specifically adapted to enhance flexibility outcomes.

Segment 1:  Breathing/Upper Extremity Postures
Ai Chi arm movements are introduced in this segment with attention to breath and slow controlled movement.  Participants are encouraged to concentrate on exhaling and actively pushing the breath out of the abdominals and then inhaling through the nose.  The Ai Chi upper extremity movements, including Contemplating, Floating, Uplifting, Enclosing and Folding; are tweaked to enhance stretching in the neck, shoulders, mid-back, chest, elbows, wrists and fingers.

Segment 2:  Trunk Stability Postures
Proper body alignment or pelvic mechanics is extremely important in all exercise programs but especially in Ai Chi. Posture and how you hold your body is an integral function of Ai Chi practice.  The Ai Chi postures in this segment include flexibility-enhanced variations of Soothing, Gathering, Freeing, Shifting and Accepting.

Segment 3:  Lower Extremity Postures
Although all of the Ai Chi moves originate from the core, Ai Chi is also rooted in the feet.  Through grounding, weight transfer, plantar flexion, dorsi flexion, inversion and eversion, the feet play a pivotal role in many of the postures.  In this segment, the feet come off the pool floor and the challenge to balance is progressed.  The balance-inspired postures, including Accepting, Rounding and Balancing (Pretzel & Superman) are enhanced to emphasize the stretching phase of the movement.

Segment 4:  Cultivating the Chi Postures
Many health practitioners would agree that a level of total, deep relaxation is an important precondition for curing any disorder.  The underlying concept is that our bodies know how to maintain balance unless thrown off by disease.  Restoring balance back into our lives is required in order to restore our body’s own healing ability. The Chinese Taoists refer to this balanced energy as Chi.  Japanese Buddhists call it Zen.  The Yogics of India call it Prana.  The final segment in the video is dedicated to ending with deep relaxation and balanced energy.  The Ai Chi postures in this segment include flexibility-enhanced Encircling, Surrounding and Nurturing.

 Segment 5:  Putting it All Together
The movements in Ai Chi are designed for continual flow, with no break between exercise movements.  The first four segments of this video are dedicated to demonstrating and educating recommended form for achieving optimal flexibility.  However, Ruth eschews right or wrong in Ai Chi and reminds practitioners that there are no rules. This final segment puts all of the moves together in one routine, performed with flow as Ai Chi is intended to be practiced.   

According to Ruth, water depth should be at shoulder level to lessen joint swelling/pressure and to encourage more soft, pliant movement. In the video, Ruth attains shoulder level by lowering herself into neutral (level II) position in the water.  Practicing Ai Chi in water that is too deep or too shallow will negate the benefits.  Ruth suggests warmer pool temperatures, between 88 to 96 degrees (30+ Celsius), for ideal movement progressions.

Music is optional in Ai Chi; the movements are intended to be slow and cadence free.  However, appropriate music can help balance energy and increase relaxation.  The background music used in the video was AquaCadence, produced by Mark Burnell and made available courtesy of Anne Pringle Burnell and Peyow Pilates.   


Ai Chi Book
Ready to expand your Ai Chi knowledge?  Consider a comprehensive, in-depth book that expands the Ai Chi practice to special populations and more advanced practitioners.  At just $24.95, Ai Chi – Balance, Harmony and Healing, includes practical teaching information and pool scripts. 

Ai Chi Articles
Interested in reading more about Ai Chi?  Visit the Article of Interest tab on the ATRI website.  Scroll down to Techniques and there are several Ai Chi articles.

Ai Chi DVDs
Looking for more visual guidance?   Consider shopping the ATRI Market, where all of ATRI’s education material is for sale.  Scroll down to Ai Chi DVDs.

Ai Chi Cheat Sheets
Excited to introduce some Ai Chi postures in your classes?  The ATRI Market also carries several laminated cards depicting Ai Chi postures and variations.  Scroll down to Ai Chi Laminates.

Ai Chi Education
If this video has whetted your appetite for Ai Chi and you want to take it to the next level with an Ai Chi certification, or by attending a workshop or seminar, visit the ATRI website for a complete listing of educational opportunities.

Fitmotivation would like to extend big thanks and gratitude to Ruth Sova for sharing her passion and knowledge of Ai Chi with video viewers.  We would also like to honor and thank Jun Konno for blessing the world with the healing energy of Ai Chi.  Check out Ruth’s other video, Extension for Function, and stay tuned next month as Ruth is back with a new series – 10 Exercises in 10 Minutes. 

Author: Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation. He is also a training specialist and consultant with the Aquatic Exercise Association’s (AEA). Mark has been active in the fitness industry for 22 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, international presenter and a continuing education provider for AEA, AFAA & ACE.