Tai Chi incorporates breath, movement, and mental focus into a moving meditation. The practice began as a martial art in ancient China and evolved into the beneficial form of exercise people know today.
Tai Chi exercises are performed slowly. They strengthen the muscles and joints with minimal impact. The low to no impact nature of Tai Chi makes it suitable for most people and all ages. This meditative movement practice started thousands of years ago in China and is now used as a holistic method of health care by more than 250 million around the world. Tai Chi unites and brings balance to mind, body, and soul and has a wealth of health benefits for anyone choosing to practice it.
There is a variety of forms of Tai Chi; each has evolved its own style and tenets.
Some of the better known Tai Chi styles include:
- Chen style
- Sun style
- Yang style
Learning Tai Chi
Tai Chi can be practiced almost anywhere. The practitioner’s body and a few feet of space are the only equipment required. The movements of Tai Chi consist of 13 core poses, which flow gracefully from one form to the next while practitioners breathe deeply, and remain intently focused on their movements.
Tai Chi means “ultimate fist” and many describe it as a moving meditation. Many of the movements have names, which relate to nature in some way. People practice Tai Chi alone or in groups.
It is best to learn Tai Chi from a certified instructor. Determine why you would like to learn Tai Chi and allow your reasons to inform your choice of learning setting and instructor. Once you have selected a teacher and setting, practice Tai Chi consistently to gain the benefits of the practice.
While the benefits of Tai Chi practice may be experienced in 12 weeks or less, a consistent practice of six months or longer, ensures the experience of prolonged health benefits. Tai Chi is also a practice, which evolves as the student’s knowledge base grows.
Within the variety of available styles of Tai Chi, a common structure exists. Each class begins with a warm-up to heat the body and prepare for the slow yet intense stretches and strengthening exercises. Following the warm-up, the instructor demonstrates and guides the class through each of the moves to be practiced.
There could be a sequence of a few moves or hundreds depending on the style being taught and the achievement levels of the practitioners in the class. During the breath work or qi gong portion of the class, students breathe deeply while linking their breath to slow gentle movements. Qi gong means life energy, during this part of class students are literally working with their vital energy, strengthening and directing it.
Tai Chi or Tai Chi Chuan, as it is traditionally known, offers many health benefits to practitioners:
- Improvements in flexibility, agility and balance
- Improved muscle strength and definition
- Less stress and lowered anxiety levels
- Expanded aerobic capacity
- Greater energy and endurance:
- Better sleep quality
- Strengthened immune system
- Decreases in cholesterol levels and lowered blood pressure
- Decreased joint pain
- Alleviate symptoms of congestive heart failure
- Increased overall sense of well-being in older adults
- Decreased instances of falls in older adults
Since Tai Chi strengthens the immune and central nervous systems, it may be employed to prevent as well as offer therapeutic relief to a variety of ailments:
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Chronic Pain
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Viral Infections
- Sleep Problems
Studies to discern the benefits of Tai Chi continue. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has fostered studies analyzing the effect of Tai Chi on:
- Postmenopausal bone loss
- Post cancer patients
- Incidents of depression in elderly patients
- Fibromyalgia related symptoms, fatigue, muscle pain and insomnia
- Osteoarthritis in the knee
- Chronic heart failure patients
- Rheumatoid arthritis patients
Excellent Workout For The Elderly
The broad range of benefits associated with practicing Tai Chi makes it a highly recommended activity for the ill and the elderly.
Many practitioner’s start their day with an early morning Tai Chi practice in open air settings, like parks or their own yards. They allow nature to inspire them as they build positive energy and cultivate a sense of well-being and stillness from their surroundings.
Research continues to support Tai Chi’s effectiveness as a preventative and complementary treatment for systemic and chronic illness. It may be easily incorporated into patients’ lives with few contraindications to prevent its use.