Crisis creates opportunity.

That’s one of the philosophies espoused by Zibin Guo and a mainstay of the Wheelchair/Adaptive Tai Chi for Veterans program, which he directs.

Funded by the Adaptive Sports Program of the United States Veterans Administration, the program integrates deep breathing with the gentle, flowing movements of tai chi chuan, a martial art known for its health benefits and meditation. Practicing it provides a suitable format for veterans with physical or emotional conditions that challenge mobility.

UC Foundation professor of medical anthropology in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Department of Social, Cultural and Justice Studies, Guo said the program is part of his academic quest to redefine the whole concept of disability by utilizing ancient wisdom to help modern people deal with contemporary challenges.

The tai chi program had always been face-to-face, but when COVID-19 reached Chattanooga, Guo faced a predicament: How do you hold this class when you can’t meet in-person? It turns out that contemporary challenges can be resolved in the virtual world.

“When COVID-19 hit, that became a really difficult time for a lot of veterans with PTSD and emotional distress. They needed this program, but they couldn’t do it face-to-face,” Guo said.

“So I thought about doing a virtual training course to provide instructors and health care providers with a model of using this virtual format to deliver the program to the veterans. It was the first time that we did this virtually, and I was quite surprised by how well it went.”

Guo and a team of seven instructors with Adaptive Tai Chi International, a Chattanooga-based nonprofit, constructed a 10-day national virtual training workshop held in late summer.

Guo and the Adaptive Tai Chi International instructors—Dr. William Johnson, Tag George, Beth Herring, Karen Wilson, Greg Schmidt, Robin George and Jami Lowery— put together 35 Zoom virtual training sessions. The focus was to offer health care providers various modalities of implementing wheelchair/adaptive tai chi to promote physical and psychological well-being.

Thirty-eight health care providers from 18 states participated and completed the training, including physical therapists, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, specialists from pain and mental health clinics and managers of whole health programs from VA medical centers.

“I was really moved by the seven tai chi instructors who sacrificed lots of time in putting these sessions together,” Guo said. “There was just a wonderful sense of volunteerism during a most difficult time. These people work hard trying to help others to overcome, especially veterans with psychological and physical disabilities. And we successfully completed a very significant event.”

With training under their belts, health care workers now can work with their own patients differently while face-to-face interaction is not advised.

“As it turns out, because a lot of veterans have physical disabilities, they love this kind of format,” Guo said. “They don’t have to worry about finding somebody to drive them. And some of them who cannot drive don’t want to ask for help. But now there is a virtual format.

“One gentleman with Parkinson’s Disease who had been participating in the adaptive tai chi program had stopped coming because of the deterioration of his disease. I sent him an email once we knew he could take virtual classes, and he was so happy and excited. This was perfect for him.”

The training team received overwhelmingly positive comments from many training participants, Guo said.  The encouraging feedback demonstrated the effectiveness of employing the virtual format to deliver programs and services, he said.

“This is a positive story showing off a program that UTC supports, but it’s more about the community efforts. Together, we created a nicely organized national training that will make a difference,.

“Coronavirus is a crisis, but crisis always creates opportunities. Before the crisis, no one thought about using a virtual format, but it has worked out great.”


Media Relations Contacts: Email UTC Media Relations or call 423-425-5119.

Chuck Wasserstrom is an executive staff writer in the UTC Office of Communications and Marketing.

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