Dr Pamela Kircher
In an effort to answer many enquiries about our training workshops, Dr Pamela Kircher, the president of the Tai Chi Association of America, writes an article explaining how we facilitate these workshops. Her view represents that of the Master Trainers.
MY PERSPECTIVE AS A MASTER
TRAINER ON FACILITATING INSTRUCTORS’ WORKSHOPS
Pam Kircher MD
Most people who take the Tai Chi for Arthritis and Tai Chi for Diabetes classes are people who have never taken Tai Chi and who are older individuals who would probably never have taken a Tai Chi course if it were not this very gentle course that was specially developed for people who are older and/or who have chronic health conditions. They are looking for something that fits into their lifestyle with their physical limitations, that gets quick results in terms of health benefits, and that is taught in a manner that allows them to feel positive about themselves as they learn Tai Chi. They frequently have very significant physical limitations when they begin a Tai Chi for Arthritis course and these limitations must definitely be taken into account if they are to have a safe, positive experience that encourages them to continue to practice Tai Chi.
Hence, my goals in an Instructors’ workshop are to train instructors who are skilled not only at Tai Chi but also at working with this unique population. Because of the goals of the workshop, both skilled Tai Chi instructors and also physical therapists and other health care professionals are invited to participate in the instructors’ workshops.
As a facilitator of trainings, I have found that the big challenge with traditional instructors is to help them understand what it is like to have arthritis and/or diabetes and the physical and psychological limitations that people have when they enter their classes. Precautions are a huge part of the program and it is difficult for someone who is very physically fit and who has never worked with people with chronic illness to appreciate the need for those “extreme” precautions. For example, at a recent instructors’ training, a participant who is also a rheumatologist gave a demonstration about how fully a person with severe arthritis would be able to participate in the warm-up exercises. It was very eye opening to the class to understand that level of disability.
Equally challenging as a facilitator is introducing physical therapists and health care professionals to Tai Chi forms and Tai Chi principles. That group of people really understand chronic illness and its limitations and are very aware of precautions, but they need a lot of attention placed on Tai Chi itself. Teaching the form to them is considerably more challenging than it is to people with a strong Tai Chi background. Giving them an appreciation of the rich and varied background of Tai chi and its important principles is also a challenge. These participants usually need to practice the form for awhile before they feel comfortable teaching it to anyone. It is quite useful if they can “buddy up” with someone in their area that is in the workshop as well. Using the video and practicing with a buddy usually builds their skill and confidence rather quickly so that they will be ready to teach in a few months.
It is unusual to find someone who has both the long time Tai Chi instructor experience and the background of working with people with chronic illness. Hence, it is to be expected that in a workshop, the facilitator will be bringing everyone “up to speed.” Both aspects of the program are equally important and should be equally honored. I believe that Dr. Lam’s program has been so successful because both aspects of teaching Tai Chi for Arthritis have been equally honored. When a workshop is composed of both participants who have been long-time Tai Chi instructors and participants with a background of working with people with arthritis and/or diabetes, there often develops among the group an appreciation of the knowledge and experience that each participant brings to the workshop. Conversations during the breaks and meal times are quite rich and supportive friendships often develop. If someone with more medical background can team up with a local buddy with a longer Tai Chi background, they are often of great support to each other as they begin to become instructors in their area. As a facilitator, I certainly encourage the development of those practice teams during the weekend so that they will be ready to practice together when the weekend is complete.
Honoring the skills of the seasoned Tai Chi instructor and the wisdom of the health care practitioner in an instructors’ workshop while supporting each participant in learning the basics of the Tai Chi for Arthritis and Tai Chi for Diabetes programs certainly requires awareness, focus, tact, and dedication on my part!