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Mental and Physical Health: Ai Chi’s Essential Role  
Mental and Physical Health: Ai Chi’s Essential Role
Mental and Physical Health: Ai Chi’s Essential Role
By Patricia Henry-Schneider, MS, LPC
Reprinted with Permission from the Aquatic Exercise Association, www.aeawave.com

Part One: An Overview

In Western medicine, there has been a growing interest in the role of the mind as it applies to

physical healing. At the same time, there is a growing recognition in psychotherapy of the

role of the body as it applies to psychological healing. Since I am interested in both physical

and mental health and am a Licensed Professional Counselor who is certified in EMDR (Eye

Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and in Ai Chi, I have come to see myself in an

integrative role. The word “confluence” comes from the Latin “confluere”, meaning to flow

together. This applies, literally, to the junction of rivers and, figuratively, to “an act or process

of merging.” That’s how I experience the integration of various health practices, in this case

Ai Chi and psychotherapy (specifically EMDR).

In an attempt to convey my overall perspective of health, I want to share a broader view that

embraces Ai Chi as a way of experiencing the mind/body connection while gently moving the

human organism toward health in a flowing and supportive environment. My growing

understanding of how Ai Chi fits into a larger theoretical overview of human development has

taken place over a number of years in a way that I could never have anticipated. That is what

I have come to recognize as synchronicity—in other words “meaningful coincidence” (coincidents).

To give you a sense of the timing of all of this, I go back to 1994 when I happened to see a

program on 20/20 featuring EMDR. At the time this was a relatively new type of

psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD. It involved rapid eye movements within

a model of adaptive information processing. Specifically in regard to post traumatic stress

disorder, this therapy helped clients to move from being stuck in the past to a place of

adaptive resolution in which they could integrate their thoughts about themselves, their

feelings, and their bodily sensations linked to past traumatic events. This all made sense to

me, and I said to myself, “That’s it.” So from that point on, I pursued training in EMDR, got

the appropriate supervision, and tried to spread the word about its effectiveness.

Let’s now fast forward a few years into the future. At the recommendation of my doctor, I

began swimming at our local warm water pool. That’s where the next synchronicity took

place. I crossed paths with a former co-worker who told me about an Ai Chi class. After

trying it out, I noticed that, among other things, it involved a lot of bilateral movements. Ideas

starting clicking in my mind because, by then I was much more versed in EMDR and knew

that it did not have to involve just rapid eye movements but instead could involve other forms

of bilateral stimulation. The more I practiced Ai Chi, the more I recognized the similarities. I

kept looking for a way to understand the connections so that I might explain how the two

modalities fit together.

Which brings us to the third piece of the puzzle—the theoretical underpinnings that bring it all

together. At an EMDR conference, I heard Daniel Siegel, MD, (a psychiatrist at UCLA) speak

about EMDR but offered a larger point of view. As I studied his works over the years, all of

the pieces started coming together in my mind. He defined mind as “a process that regulates

the flow of energy and information” and defined mental health to include qualities of being

flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. It became clearer how EMDR and Ai Chi

support and reinforce each other for the purpose of both physical and mental health. Siegel’s

way of looking at human development and mental health (and illness) is summarized in his

model of “interpersonal neurobiology.” He described nine areas of neural integration, and I

noticed that all of these areas are promoted by the practice of Ai Chi. Finally I had a

theoretical framework through which I could understand how EMDR and Ai Chi reinforce

each other for the overall healing of the individual and how this individual healing could “ripple

out” toward improving our relationships and beyond. I’m not saying that one has to

experience both. However, when one does, there is more complete movement toward

balance and integration, essential qualities of both physical and mental health.

Now, add in the knowledge brought to us by Masaru Emoto’s “Messages from Water.” This

shows us how we can affect the molecular structure of water by the kind of messages we

send to it. While doing Ai Chi, we are sending positive messages to the water both within our

bodies and all around us. Thus, we are changing ourselves for the better both physically and

mentally. If we are so inclined, we are also becoming more spiritually aware and developing

a sense of how it all fits together. So here we have it—the integration of mind, body, and

spirit for the sake of each of us and beyond. That sounds like a big goal. Why not?

Specifically as this relates to Ai Chi, as we practice the individual movements, we can

become those movements, and they can remind us literally and figuratively of how we want to

be. The more we practice, the more these patterns become part of who we are. David

Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD, speaks of the importance of breath work, and to quote him,

“Acting on thoughts affects body functions. Acting on body functions affects thoughts. Health

is an emerging property of their relationship.” Ai Chi involves breath work and acting on both

body functions and thoughts at the same time in a nurturing warm water environment.

Patricia Henry-Schneider MS, LPC is a psychotherapist certified in EMDR and a certified Ai

Chi presenter. She has encouraged movement toward wellness by including body, mind, and

spirit in the journey toward mental health. Creating a bridge between providers of aquatic

therapy and providers of mental health services has become her passion.