Ai Chi is a water-based total body strengthening and relaxation progression that bridges East and West philosophies, and integrates mental, physical, and spiritual energy. It combines Tai-Chi concepts with Shiatsu and Watsu techniques, and is performed standing in shoulder-depth water using a combination of deep breathing and slow, broad movements of the arms, legs, and torso. The Ai Chi progression moves from simple breathing, to the incorporation of upper-extremity, trunk, lower-extremity, and finally total body involvement.
Ai Chi was created to help aquatic practitioners (including aquatic exercise instructors, personal trainers, and aquatic therapy and rehabilitation practitioners) and students enjoy the water in a flowing yet powerful progression. It is an efficient exercise program that increases oxygen and caloric consumption through correct form and positioning in the water, a perfect relaxation technique for highly stressed, over-challenged clients, and is ideal for creating improved range of motion and mobility.
Jun Konno, ATRIC, creator of Ai Chi, is one of Japan’s foremost swimming and fitness consultants and the President of Aqua Dynamics Institute (Japanese chapter of AEA). Since 1986, he has worked to promote aquatics in Japan and is Chairman of the Executive Committee for Japan’s National Aquatic Conference.
Benefits of Ai Chi
Flexibility and core (abdominal) strength are the benefits most mentioned by aquatic exercise instructors. The trunk stabilization/balance and pain management benefits of the program are the two most frequently cited by aquatic therapists. Clients’ comments include: “a soothing experience,” “mind and body relaxation,” and “a symphony for my body.” Such benefits increase with practice. As a person becomes more familiar with the program, relaxation will be improved, with a focus on the smallest movement of the hand, wrist, or eyes, and improved mental alertness.
Water lessens edema in the joints, which allows clients to improve range of motion and mobility. The soft, round flowing motions strengthen core muscles while providing a soothing experience, and the flowing movements of Ai Chi can increase metabolism and blood circulation. Studies show that simply breathing while submersed to the shoulder in water can increase oxygen consumption from 7 to 25 percent. This, in turn, increases caloric consumption.
Potential Benefits of Ai Chi
-Improved flexibility, range of motion, and general mobility
-Improved metabolism and caloric consumption
-Better blood circulation
-Re-vitalized energy circulation along important accupoint meridians
-Renewal of vital organs
-Improved liver efficiency
-Decreased stress, insomnia, depression, anger, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion: the water and music can help to free the body of stress and to encourage a state of relaxed awareness
-Increased mental alertness
-Creates “design sense” (a feeling that you’re doing what the body was designed to do) and therefore, improves kinesthetic sense (our perception of how we move)
Physical Movement Principles
Roundness, continuity, naturalness, and slowness. Slowness allows reflection and self-observation. It is an excellent approach to teaching movement, especially if a person is fearful of changing movement patterns. Clients need to challenge habitual movement patterns through continual self-assessment. There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Willow does not break under weight of snow.” Stiff or inflexible branches, bones, and psyches will break, yet the pliant willow will not. Pliant bones, connective tissues, and psyches won’t break: Ai Chi can help to make one pliant.
Movements must flow (not forceful in the beginning of a move but of equal force throughout the move). Work towards continuity with a continual flow between exercise movements. Flowing movements integrate mental, physical, and spiritual energy. Ai Chi is flowing, soft, round movements executed with a profound inwardly directed focus. It requires a non-judgmental attention to self.
Move with the water (muscles and joints will relax and eyes become partly closed). Move naturally until the motions flow easily, with no straining. Ai Chi should be done slowly, gently, and quietly. By eliminating all other thoughts, you’ll achieve a unity of movement and consciousness. Awareness of the mind’s presence in the various parts of the body is taught through the techniques of Ai Chi. With that training, we can acquire greater degrees of health, fitness, and longevity than through physical training alone.
Repetition. Deep relaxation can only occur when you feel stable in the water and confident in your ability to follow the progression: repetition allows us to do this. The repetition in Ai Chi is for relaxation, not for evaluating success or failure. The challenge for those who are addicted to outward movement is a change in perspective. Jonathan Miller, famous English physician and writer, said, “In living things all restlessness is directed toward the achievement of tranquility.” In Ai Chi, the focus is on tranquility, rather than the precision and rigidity of traditional exercise.
Pelvic mechanics and alignment. Correct alignment is crucial. Twists created by the trunk stability movements are neutralizing, cleansing, and organic. They improve digestion and remove sluggishness, and are effective in relieving backaches, headaches, and stiffness in the shoulders and neck. After Ai Chi positioning is taught, natural, continual movement and slowness are taught, and then breathing is incorporated.
Ai Chi Can Assist with the Following Health Conditions
Chronic disorders and other diseases such as pain management:
-Cancer (especially mastectomy)
-Multiple Sclerosis MS
-Cerebral Palsy CP
-Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
-Congestive Heart Failure
-Stress-related Cardiac Arrhythmias
-Mitral Valve Prolapse
-Hypertension and Migraine Headaches
-Type II Diabetes
-Type I Diabetes
-Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
-Anxiety and Depressive Disorders
-Stress-Related Dysthrthmias, and Violence
Musculoskeletal or orthopedic disturbances:
-Low Back Pain
-Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (or any repetitive stress syndrome)
-Musculoskeletal injuries and surgeries
-Accident and Fall Prevention
-Cerebral Vascular Accidents CVA (strokes)
-Traumatic Brain Injury
Water temperature recommended for Ai Chi is 86ºF to 92ºF. Lower water temperatures can be used after an adequate warmup or with varied breathing patterns such as in the ashtanga yogic technique. If clients become chilled, stop the program. Blood and oxygen must be moving to the extremities to allow for full ROM. If the client is chilled, blood will be shunted to the vital organs (not the extremities) and muscles will tense. This is not conducive to relaxation and the full ROM Ai Chi movements.
Space requirements are about 25 square feet per person in water that is 12 to 18 inches lower than the person’s height.
Because of the different levels and depths of Ai Chi, any practitioner can use the program. The best practitioners will be those who understand the bodymind: the body, its disease processes, and the mind are connected.
Jun Konno, creator of Ai Chi, states
Aqua Dynamics Institute