Grasping the Sparrow's Tail

The Four Gates:  Ward Off, Roll Back, Press, Push

Tai Chi Chuan and Fighting Stress

(A short lesson presented to 5th and 6th grade students at the Health Fair 
at Chapman Elementary School in Chico, California, on October 18, 2002.)

Presented by Michael P. Garofalo

© Michael P. Garofalo, 2002, All Rights Reserved


Stress Management Skills

Ward Off

   Exercise, Sports, Physical Play
   Eating a Healthful Diet
   Balanced Life
   Wholesome Thinking
   Having Good and Close Friends


Roll Back

  Using Breathing Exercises
   Getting Enough Rest, Relaxation and Sleep
   Changing Your Outlook
   Helping Others, Caring for Pets
   Keeping a Sense of Humor




    Asking Questions and Being Informed
   Using a Time Management Plan
   Talking with Parents and Other Trusted Adults
   Keeping a Journal, Meditating, Creating
   Having an positive spiritual life






   Saying No to Drugs and Bad Health Practices
   Using Responsible Decision Making Skills
   Expressing Affection in Appropriate Ways
   Telling the Truth
   Tapping into the Tao (Spiritual Reality)



Breathe deeply, slowly, and with mindfulness.  
Relax the muscles of the body, and sink into the earth.  
Move slowly and gracefully.  
think about or visualize the stress reduction meanings of each move.  
Learn more about positive health practices.  
Play and exercise every day.   


Signs of stress may include:  being worried, anxious, tired, fearful, prone to illness, confused, 
can’t rest or sleep, jittery, can’t concentrate, high blood pressure, depression, nausea.  
To  reduce or eliminate stress:  use all the stress management skills.


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Teaching Today's Health.   By David J. Anspaugh and Gene Ezell.  Sixth Edition.   Boston,
Allyn and Bacon, 2001.  Chapter Six:  Mental Health and Stress Reduction.  

Violence Prevention: How to be Hip, Cool, and Violence Free
.  Blacklick, OH, Meeks 
Heit Publishing Co., 1995.  Stress management, Chapter 7.  

Grasping the Sparrow's Tail
.   A 5th - 6th Grade Lesson Plan by Michael P. Garofalo.    47K.  

Cloud Hands: Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung
.   300K+




Lesson Plan for Grasping the Sparrow's Tail



Michael P. Garofalo
October 10, 2002
CSU Chico, HCSV 260
Health Academy Lesson Plan


I.  Topic:


     Stress Reduction Through Tai Chi Chuan Exercise



II.  Objectives:


Students will be able to name some feelings associated with being under stress. 

Students will be able to perform the stress reduction exercise “Grasping Sparrow’s Tail” 
sequence of Tai Chi Chuan.

Students will be able state four ways to reduce stress: exercise, deep breathing, 
slowing down, and relaxation. 


III.  Content Outline


A.  Briefly Introduce the Topic of Stress

               1.  What are the symptoms of stress in how you feel?

               2.  What are the consequences of stress? 

               3.  Use flip chart page listing signs of stress from Dr. David B. Posen  in how you feel (headache,  
                    shaking, tired, restless, can’t sleep, tension, racing mind, worried, anxious, fearful, irritable,
                    compulsive, etc.) and the health consequences of stress (illness, diseases, mental breakdown,
4.  Four ways to reduce stress: exercise, relaxation methods, breathing techniques, and
                     slowing down.  Use flip chart page 2. 


B.  Teach the Grasping Sparrow’s Tail Exercise of Tai Chi Chuan

                 1.  Every expert on stress reduction encourages us to exercise to reduce stress. 
2.  Tai Chi Chuan is a soft style Chinese martial art and health exercise system.  We
                      are going to learn one Tai Chi exercise form today: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail.    

                 3.  Start with the Opening position:  standing, relaxed, slow breathing.  
                      Every expert on stress reduction tells us to use relaxation methods to reduce stress.
                      Having students tense and relax hands to feel the difference. 
4.  Move slowly into the Ward Off position.  Emphasize a relaxed posture, moving slowly,
                     bent knees, head up, eyes on wide focus, and slowly inhaling.   (See below VI. C. for
                     photographs of the positions.) 
                     Experts advise us to learn new breathing techniques to reduce stress.

                5.  Move slowly into the Roll Back position.  Emphasize exhaling slowly, moving
                     slowly, relaxed posture. 

                    Experts encourage us to slow down and simplify our lives to reduce stress.

                6.  Move slowly into the Press position.  Emphasize inhaling slowing, moving slowly,
                     bend knees, head up, sinking into the earth and relaxing. 
                7.  Moving slowing into the Push position.  Emphasize exhaling slowing, moving slowly,
                     bending the knees, head up, staying relaxed, pushing from the legs.                  


 IV.  Learning Opportunity


A.   Position students for lesson.

Have students line up in two rows of five students per row.  Have them stand about four feet
apart.   Have them stand with feet about shoulder width apart with their arms at their sides. 
Ask them to relax and listen.  Check positions before beginning. 

B.  Briefly Introduce the Topic of Stress

Open up flip chart page 1.  During your life you will hear your friends, parents, and teachers talk about 
being stressed, or feeling stressed, or having to deal with a lot of stress.  What are the signs or symptoms 
of stress in how you feel?   What are the consequences of stress?  Encourage students to remember two 
symptoms.  Use less than four minutes on this segment.  Ask a number of students for responses – they 
can read from the chart. 


C.  Briefly Introduce the Ways to Fight Off or Reduce Stress

Using the flip chart (page 2) as a prompt, talk briefly about the four ways to reduce stress: 
daily exercise, relaxation techniques, slow deep breathing, and slowing down

Briefly mention that the Tai Chi symbol means “balance.”  Talk briefly about how Tai Chi Chuan is a 1,000 
year old martial art, a soft and slow fighting style, can be used to fight off stress.  Tell them that today they 
will be learning one exercise set from the Yang style Tai Chi Chuan form called Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail. 


D.  Teach students how to do the Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail Exercise

In the standing position have them tense hands, hold, then relax hands.  How do your hands feel?

Emphasize that staying relaxed (sung – sinking into the earth) is very important when doing Tai Chi Chuan.


Follow the outline plan and teach the exercise sequence:  Opening, Ward Off with right hand, Roll Back, 
Press, and Push.  Demonstrate the exercise and have students imitate your postures.  Repeat three or four 
times.  Talk as you do the exercise form and reinforce the ideas of moving slowly, breathing deeply 
and slowly, staying relaxed, and enjoying the exercise
.  Repeat the exercise beginning with Ward Off 
with the left had.  Repeat three or four times.   Then have the students do the exercise as you watch and move
among the students.  Move the best student performer to the front right so that others can follow him/her as 
you circulate amongst them and correct postures.   Repeat over and over the breathing, relaxation, slow 
down themes.   Ask them to breath calmly, at their comfort levels, with their mouth slightly open and tongue 
on top of the mouth.  Gently breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.   Have them stand and 
relax between sets of the exercise. 


If time permits, talk about Tai Chi Chuan forms: some take 30 minutes to do, all done slowly, names for all 
the positions and moves, ancient tradition in China .  Demonstrate a fast form version of  GST, to give 
them a sense of the martial arts style use of the form.


This mini-lesson was designed for 5th and 6th grade students for one 25 minute teaching session.  With more
time over a number of days, more could be taught about stress reduction and how Tai Chi Chuan and
other exercise forms and stress reduction techniques could be used to improve the health of students.   


V.  Space and Resources


1.  Use a flip chart prepared before the class begins. 

2.  Any relatively quiet outdoor setting is preferred, but an indoor setting is also fine.  The exercises can 
be done on any dry surface.   The exercises are gentle and slow, and all healthy students can participate. 
Very little space is required for the movements of each student.  Have them stand at an arms-width apart. 
Loose casual clothing is best for the teacher and students.  Ordinary flat soled shoes are needed. 



VI.  Student Materials



A.  Flip chart page showing the symptoms of stress as defined by Dr. David B. Posen.


Symptoms of Stress


Source:  Staying Afloat When the Water Gets Rough.  By Dr. David B. Posen.  New York, Key 
Porter Books, 1998.  See also Dr. Posen’s website on Stress Management: 

Physical symptoms:

Clenching jaw, grinding teeth, facial twitching
Chest pain or tightness, palpitations, shortness of breath or air hunger
Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, indigestion, cramps, diarrhea, constipation
Shaking, trembling, tremor of hands, clenched fists
Agitated, restlessness, feeling hyper
Sleep disturbances (trouble falling asleep, disrupted sleep and/or early wakening)
Fatigue, weakness, appetite loss
Loss of interest in sex
Frequent colds, flu or respiratory infections
Increases in pre-existing conditions such as migraines, colitis, ulcer, asthma

Mental symptoms:

Decrease in concentration and increased forgetfulness
Loss of decisiveness
Decrease in sense of humour
Mind racing, drawing blanks or confusion
Emotional symptoms:
Anxious, tense or nervous
Depressed, sad or unhappy
Fear, worry, pessimism
Irritable, impatient, angry, frustrated
Apathy, indifference, loss of motivation

Behavioural symptoms:

Fidgeting, pacing, restlessness
Compuslive smoking, drinking, overeating
Nail biting, foot tapping, jiggling knees
Blaming, yelling, swearing
Crying, weeping, feeling on the verge of tears.”


B.  Flip chart page listing four methods of stress reduction found in the
      Grasping Sparrow’s Tail Exercise


Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail
Ward Off     Roll Back   Press    Push

Four Ways to Fight Off Stress

Deep Gentle Breathing
Moving Slowly and Staying Calm
Being Relaxed




C.  Two page handout for students. 


This handout was developed by using the stress reduction techniques recommended in:

Violence Prevention: How to be Hip, Cool, and Violence Free.  Blacklick, OH, Meeks 
Heit Publishing Co., 1995.  Stress management, Chapter 7.  

Each student was given a copy of the handout. 



VII.   Bibliography

There are dozens of videotapes that show the Yang style Tai Chi Chuan form; either the short 
form or long form versions.  All videotapes of the Yang style form, the most popular in the United 
States, will show the Grasping Sparrow’s Tail sequence many times since it occurs most often
in the Yang style form.  These videotapes are now widely available in video rental stores and 
public libraries.  Teaches unfamiliar with Tai Chi Chuan should view one of these videotapes.

Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness.   By Will Johnson.   
, Shambhala, c 2000.   137 pages.  ISBN:  1507625182. 

Cloud Hands: The Gentle Mind-Body Arts of Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung.
By Michael P. Garofalo.   300K+.

The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan: A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice
By Wong Kiew Kit.  Rockport, MA, Element Books, Inc., c 1996.   ISBN:  1852307927.  317 pages. 

The Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung.  By Michael P. Garofalo.   100K+.

Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail
,  By Michael P. Garofalo, 47K+  

The Health Benefits of Tai Chi.   By Howard Chuck and Steve Masley.  2002.

Staying Afloat When the Water Gets Rough. 
By Dr. David B. Posen.  New York, Key Porter 
Books, 1998.  See also Dr. Posen’s website on Stress Management:  

Stress Management and Emotional Wellness Links

The Tai Chi Book:  Beginning and Enjoying a Lifetime of Practice
.  By Robert Chuckrow, Ph.D..   
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, YMAA Publication Center, c 1998.   209 pages.  
ISBN:  1886969647.  

Tai Chi for Health
.   By Dr. Keith Jeffery.

Ten Sure-Fire Methods for Reducing Stress
.   By Scott Fagan. Health Website:

The Thirteen Postures of Tai Chi Chuan.   By Michael P. Garofalo.  40K+  
The first four postures of the thirteen are the four (Grasping the Sparrow's Tail) discussed in this lesson.

Valley Spirit Tai Chi Chuan Club    Red Bluff, California

Violence Prevention: How to be Hip, Cool, and Violence Free
.  Blacklick, OH, Meeks 
Heit Publishing Co., 1995.  Stress management, Chapter 7.   A committee of health educators, 
physicians, and experts prepared this book.  

Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Short Form, Simplified 24 Movements, Peking Version

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
.   By Robert Sapolsky.  W. H. Freeman & Co., 1994. 






Michael P. Garofalo's E-Mail

Red Bluff, Tehama County, Northern California
Close to the Cities of Chico, Orland, Corning, Los Molinos, Anderson and Redding CA
Valley Spirit Tai Chi Chuan Club


© Michael P. Garofalo, 2002, All Rights Reserved




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