What is Ai Chi?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2020
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Ai Chi is a form of aquatic exercise which is designed to strengthen and tone the body while also promoting relaxation and a healthy mind-body relationship. This technique was developed in Japan in 1990s, and it is practiced all over the world; in North America in particular, Ai Chi is very popular. In order to practice Ai Chi, all that's really required is a pool. People who are interested in exploring Ai Chi may want to check with a local aquatic center to see if classes are offered.

Several exercise modalities are incorporated in Ai Chi. The first is Tai Chi, a movement discipline associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Tai Chi, practitioners move through a series of prescribed poses which encourage flexibility, contemplation, and good health. Tai Chi is widely practiced in many Asian communities, and it is suitable for people of all ages and physical conditions because of its gentleness.


Ai Chi is also inspired by Watsu, a form of massage therapy which is conducted in a warmed pool. Jun Konno, the developer of Ai Chi, claims that he was struck with the idea when seeing Watsu sessions in a pool. Watsu is a very gentle, flowing style of massage which uses water as a tool to reduce strain on the body during the massage session, allowing clients to bend more deeply. Many Watsu sessions encourage mindful contemplation and trust as the therapist and client move together through a series of exercises. Shiatsu and Qi Gong are also integrated into Ai Chi.

In an Ai Chi session, a single practitioner leads the class through a series of exercises in warm, shoulder-depth water. There are 16 poses in a full Ai Chi session which are designed to work various parts of the body. Throughout the session, a focus on breathing is heavily encouraged, with students breathing deeply and being mindful as they breathe.

Ai Chi has some clear benefits. Aquatic exercise is often recommended for people with limited mobility, because of the buoyancy; people can move more easily and comfortably in the water with stiff joints and injuries than they can on dry land. The poses are similar to those used in yoga and Tai Chi, and when performed on a regular basis, they certainly contribute to muscle tone. Mental health can also be benefited with regular Ai Chi sessions, and Ai Chi can help to reduce stress.


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