When Two Flow as One

Ai Chi Ne as Bodywork

By Ruth Sova

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2005.

Born out of necessity, ai chi ne combines elements of movement reeducation, touch, and focused breath to assist clients in their therapeutic process. Just like traditional bodywork, ai chi ne creates an immediate energy connection between client and practitioner, but with one big difference — although it can be modified for land use, ai chi ne is done in the water.

The Beginnings

Created by Jun Konno from Yokohama, Japan, the breath-focused relaxation program known as ai chi came to the United States in 1996. With its broad postures and slow movements, ai chi is done alone, standing in a wide martial arts stance in chest-depth water. It is a flowing progression coordinated with the breath to elicit a parasympathetic response.

As ai chi therapists began working with clients who had balance deficits, fear, or cognitive delays, they found it was most effective to hold the client’s hands while working in the water. This allowed clients the freedom to create the ai chi postures and more readily follow the breathing patterns. Over time, this variation of ai chi involving touch eventually developed into ai chi ne.

Balance and More

It takes two people to implement ai chi ne — as “ne” (pronounced knee) means “two” in Japanese. Ai chi ne has many of the same patterns as its parent modality, but is expanded and modified for the client, especially those unable to participate in ai chi alone because of physical or cognitive issues.

Ai chi ne also gives clients an avenue to take advantage of the balancing and healing aspects of touch. By holding hands, the ai chi ne practitioner offers the client a minimal assist through gentle touch while aiding in range of motion (ROM), balance, stabilization skills, and general repatterning and reeducation of the neuromuscular system.

When it comes to balance, ai chi ne looks to build trust and confidence. The assistance it affords allows people with balance deficits (cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, etc.) to gain the ai chi benefits in spite of their inability to perform ai chi independently. The touch of the practitioner in ai chi ne offers additional benefits, such as reduced fear of falling, because of the gentle stability and support it provides. This, in turn, creates greater self-confidence and trust in one’s own body.

“Moving in sync with another person ... strengthens neural connections that improve sensitivity to other people and enhances the ability to respond to them appropriately,” writes John J. Ratey, M.D., in A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain. Because ai chi ne requires clients to move in sync with the practitioner, it assists in calming and improving their psycho/social skills. Other outcomes include enhanced self-image, self-confidence, and a sense of accomplishment and belonging to the process.

In Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood, Ratey says exercise that integrates both the body and mind engages the brain more readily than meditation alone. Many studies have shown that the greatest yield of nerve growth factors happens when the body engages in complex movement patterns. Ai chi ne combines complex movement patterns with breathing techniques that keep the mind focused on the work the body is doing.

The clinical benefits of ai chi ne are significant. Clients who could benefit from improved endurance, weight shifting, weight transfer, reaching, balance, coordination, rotation and turning skills, reaction time, and active ROM should consider ai chi ne.

The Bonus — Benefits Derived From Touch

The benefit of the simple touch offered through ai chi ne is powerful. That is why it is such a natural for bodywork professionals.

As with the touch of massage, practitioners must step into the client’s energetic field with a positive intention (i.e., “My intention is to leave Sue with a sense of wellness”) and the practitioners mind must be “in the moment.”

There are several similarities between ai chi ne and other forms of land-based bodywork, including: the energetic field connection, hands-on work, breath work, connecting and touching, guiding with tactile direction, gentle touch, neutral spinal alignment, flowing movement, and relaxation response. In ai chi ne, however, the client participates more actively, no massage actually occurs, both the client and practitioner are standing, and active ROM assists in functional ROM.


The simplicity and ease of ai chi ne makes it applicable for a wide variety of clients and conditions — yet, its neurological complexity makes it continue to work beyond the scope of many therapeutic techniques.