I’d like to share my experience incorporating Qi Gong into my movement classes with seniors who have dementia.
I was teaching/leading a movement class at a dementia retirement living center while I was taking the Holden QiGong Teacher Training. I started weaving in QiGong wherever it felt like a fit. My class was very popular even with the staff.
My approach was to “meet them where they were at,” and not to expect them to move in the correct forms (as long as they weren’t hurting themselves). Because the participants were at a variety of levels of ability, everything I did was very gentle (all seated). Most of them mirrored my movement. Partly, this was because they had limited cognitive ability, and part of it was due to loss of hearing. But I also vocalized what I was doing so everyone could understand.
I learned a lot from working with these people. I learned to let go and flow with it more. I found that it was such a huge and wonderful experience for them to do ANY amount of movement with me. I shifted from seeing what they couldn’t do to seeing the beauty of what they could still do. I focused a lot more on interpersonal connection and engagement with them individually, and in small ways, recognizing that they really wanted to be seen as fully human and treated with kindness and playfulness. This brought out my fire element energy more too. I am predominantly water element, but my fire element loves to shine (playful, social, fun-loving). In this group, I found that the seniors I taught really enjoyed it when I became playful and more interactive with them.
I also have a background in other movement and dance modalities so these, plus Qi Gong, became blended with what I felt my senior students needed and enjoyed. I wove in lots of breath. I modeled taking a breath and pausing in between each flow. Many of them resonated with the simplest flowing movements.
Especially helpful was my choice of music. It’s well known that people with cognitive decline respond well to music, especially music from their generation. So, I am lucky to have a wide selection of music from the ‘40s through the ‘80s (and some more modern music too). I can’t overemphasize how important the music was to this age group. Even the staff loved my music! They lit up and it inspired them to move! I also used music to engage them in memory games. “Anyone recognize this song? What’s the name of that singer? Which instrument is that? Do any of you play an instrument?” Or, I’d mime playing the instrument we could hear being played at the moment in a particular song and ask if they could name it.
Eventually, the staff let me know that I was everyone’s favorite exercise person because I engaged the residents and adapted what I did in order to best suit their needs! Other exercise people had usually just gone in with set routines and expected the residents to follow along their way.
The Coronavirus Pandemic, unfortunately, put an end to this live, in-person teaching with my senior students and I miss it dearly. I have not yet been able to obtain approval from the retirement center’s administration to teach via live stream.
Advice for Practitioners:
One piece of advice that I have for practitioners teaching seniors with dementia is to experiment teaching from a seated position. It’s best to keep the movements simple. You can always incorporate more complex movements if you see they’re able to handle it, as long as they aren’t in danger of injury. It’s not important to aim for perfect form, just let them interpret and explore the movements in their own way. Remember that their Qi and inherent body wisdom will guide them.
The photo below is of myself and my dear friend, Kenyth, who at that time, was suffering from early cognitive decline. It was the movement I did with him in his last years of life that got me interested in working with others of the same population. And, by the way, he was my first movement teacher when I was in my early 20s at college where he was a professor. Amazing full circle (or spiral).
In the FLOW🍃
Certified Holden Qi Gong Instructor
Certified Kiloby Inquiries Facilitator