HNPP · Mental Health · Physical Health

HNPP and Tai Chi


I’ve heard on the HNPP grapevine, Tai Chi (太极拳) is supposed to be incredibly beneficial for people with nerve disorders. You may think it’s only for a certain generation but believe me the science proves otherwise.

According to a 2010 study published in the American journal of Chinese Medicine from the Department of Kinesiology at the Louisiana State University, Tai Chi actually increases the nerves’ ability and speed of sending signals back to the brain and spinal cord. While that might be useful for the scientists and the academicians, is it useful for us?

Disclaimer: Please ask your GP or medical practitioner before attempting any exercise included on this website.

The best way to put it to the test is to try out some of the leading workouts. One of the moderators and organisers of the annual HNPP conference, which takes place in the US, recommended the video below.

This is perfect for beginners, zero strain on the limbs and it gives you a good idea about how to do / remember the positions and movements.  It will then give you access to much more complex and challenging poses. The best thing is that no modifications are necessary! I’ve tried this personally. The first time I had to close the curtains to stop peering eyes out of sheer embarrassment. The second time, I did not give two hoots.

As you know, with our failing limbs, balance tends to go out the window. You can only be propped up by chair for so long, hence finding exercises that tackle that very problem are essential.

Something to keep an eye on

However, there are a few things to take into consideration even with the gentle pace of the movements.

  • Do not roll the knees, this could actually have an adverse effect. Make sure your hip is moving towards the different sides and plant your feet firmly on the ground.
  • Try and get some padding for your feet even if it’s something light as every time you press down it puts more strain on the calf.
  • Keeping a straight spinal posture is essential as you could end up hunching and hurting both the upper back and lower back.
  • A good tip that I’ve heard is to slightly lower the chin so you’re stretching the back of the top of your vertebra in the neck. This is mostly for people who can’t naturally keep their back straight.
  • Try really hard not to hunch or stretch the back too much backwards. The aim is to keep the axis of the spine in one place and completely straight.
  • Move the pressure downwards towards the legs in order to strengthen them without too much strain.
  • And finally do the movements slowly. Take your time, and enjoy the moment.

For those who want to try something a little less taxing, this video has been recommended by the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, in which they say that the more someone with PN learns to use their whole body for both exercise and simple daily tasks, the less pain they experience.

Once you’ve mastered these tips how about giving some of these videos a go? I particularly like this one as it is gentle and the instructor or Sifu explains every movement throughout. No Grand Canyon necessary.

This one is definitely only for slightly more advanced students and those who are having a good day. DO NOT ATTEMPT if you have any foot or wrist drop.

Disclaimer: Please ask your GP or medical practitioner before attempting any exercise included on this website.

With this, it’s important to keep an eye on your knees, especially as you can’t see the instructor’s. Hence I’m going to lay out the pose without the water (sorry folks!) The Sifu (master) also puts some good tips while the video continues to play, so watch the pointers. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to do the move above).

Make sure when you do the bend, your knees don’t track outwards. Keep them aligned going straight. Avoid doing a sumo squat.

tai 1

Here is the posture, Rise and Sink, out of the water:

tai 2

Similarly with the next move, make sure the knees don’t track outwards, and the bend is extremely slight. If you have hand splints and wrist drop, you don’t have to do the Anjali Mudra (hands in prayer) pose.

tai 3

It starts getting a little complicated from here on out so look away if you want to stop.

Bend the knees in the same direction to avoid unnecessary strain. Otherwise you’ll end up with one facing forward and the other on the side.

Similarly, with the Withdraw and Push pose, keep the knees in the same direction and bend only slightly.

tai 6

This goes without saying. If you have foot drop, you’d surely fall over doing this move so DON’T EVEN ATTEMPT THIS.

tai 7.png

The next move is rather complicated and should be done on a good day in terms of your health. It literally consists of turning back and forth, first to your left and then when you reach backwards, turn back right to the front.

Put the leg back on the side you’re supposed to turn, so that if you are turning left, use the left leg to spin around.

Posture nine will require watching the description and movement carefully, described as carrying a ‘silk worm’, moving it side to side but the footwork is similar in terms of keeping your knees in the same direction.

The last pose is actually a bit of a workout on the arms! Just holding a ‘ball’ up for several minutes can make the lactic acid start building.

tai 10.png

And I’m sure, after confusing your body into oblivion, it will be happy that it’s had a bit of a workout albeit a slow one.

4 thoughts on “HNPP and Tai Chi

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