Tai Chi is originally patterned on the graceful, fluid, movements and actions of birds and animals. It is globally recognized as a way to improve overall coordination, balance, and agility and to alleviate stress. Sometimes, it is described as being comparable to “meditation in motion”, and certainly the gentle motions of this calming ancient healing art indeed appear like that.
Tai Chi is epitomized as a simplified version of calisthenics, which were refined both as a type of self-defense and a form of exercise. These days, most individuals who perform this technique use it as the latter: you can see groups of young and elderly people performing this activity in most urban parks on any sunny day. They are doing all they can to stay fit, flexible, and supple.
However, Tai Chi is not just totally a way to stay in shape. It is a type of ancient Chinese exercises that has become popular in a lot of countries in the West and has also been reported to provide health and medical benefits that go beyond most basic exercise plans.
Actually, the Australian Science Daily recently published a report stating that Tai Chi could have beneficial effects for people suffering from arthritis and has been shown to have “proven health benefits for musculoskeletal pain”. The George Institute for International Health conducted the study and according to its researchers, Tai Chi is an enjoyable, convenient, and inexpensive technique that has social and psychological benefits and supports this form of remedy for pain conditions.
A few years ago, a study performed in Oregon already demonstrated that this technique can help prevent falls among the elderly. The American Journal of Public Health published the study’s results, which showed that the exercise program was helpful in enhancing balance resulting in the reduction of falls, which was the leading cause of injury among older people. Earlier, it was shown to strengthen the immune systems of elderly people, and to promote restful sleep.
Tai Chi Beginnings
While no one knows when and how Tai Chi exactly originated, traditional folklore says that it began when an ancient Chinese sage watched a snake and crane fighting. In the 12th century, a former government official named Chang San Feng who was fascinated by the fight of these two animals started to create a series of motions based on the battle movements of the animals. He later on assimilated Taoist meditation and breathing techniques into the motions and this practice eventually became what we now know as Tai Chi.
Tai Chi today is also known as Tai Chi Chuan, and is a non-martial art system of stretching via a series of graceful stances which seem to effortlessly flow into each other. It is an ideal way to relieve stress and despite it having over a hundred possible movements the beautiful thing about this practice part is that anyone can perform it, regardless of flexibility, gender, or age.
Tai Chi has proven to be useful against a number of stress-related and medical conditions. The Mayo Clinic said that it can help:
• Alleviate stress
• Improve the function of the body on a daily basis
• Relieve episodes of chronic pain
• Improve levels of cardiovascular fitness
• Reduce blood pressure
• Boost coordination and balance in people of all ages
• Lower the risk of falls among older people
Some studies show that Tai Chai can also be helpful in lowering blood sugar levels.
Performing Tai Chi
Most people practice Tai Chi in parks and in the comfort of their homes. Some perform the technique in community centers, leisure clubs, and health centers. New practitioners should look for an instructor instead of learning the movements from a book, as it is usually hard to exactly see how one movement flows into the next. There are individuals who practice Qi Gong first before progressing to Tai Chi.
Although Tai Chi is considered a very safe exercise, people should still consult with their doctor first, especially if they suffer from a medical condition such as a heart or a joint problem. Knowing Tai Chi from the onset is best done under the supervision of a qualified teacher, although you can easily learn it on your own.
Remember the following tips if you’re searching for a Tai Chi class:
1. Visit several teachers. Select the instructor that best suits your style and not necessarily the one who came “highly recommended”.
2. Visit a class that charges only a small fee and/or offers a free sample course. If you’re not up to it, don’t be pressured into joining a class that offers ten courses.
3. You need to ask the instructor you are considering about his or her training – and observe their personality. An instructor who is capable but is unapproachable may be less desirable than a slightly less talented instructor with an easy-going and pleasant personality and an ardent devotion to teach his/her students.
4. If you have any major health problems or if your doctor recommends, choose a therapeutic Tai Chi instructor.
5. Choose a class that is near your place.
6. Keep in mind that classes for beginners are way different than classes for advanced ones. After a few months, you may want to move on, which is fine. Choose a class that’s more at your current level.
Taking It Easy
When you perform Tai Chi, always remember that there is always a risk of injury to your back and knees especially if you are out of shape or haven’t been exercising for a long time. When choosing clothes for you Tai Chi practice, you will not need to but special clothes that feel comfortable and that allow you to flex and stretch.
Potentially everyone can benefit from Tai Chi, from people who are extremely fit to people who suffer from mobility-related problems such as arthritis. Daily exercise can lead to several health benefits, from pain and stress relief to enhanced coordination, flexibility, and mobility. If you want to learn Tai Chi, search for a Tai Chi class or center or near your area.
Dominic Sembello is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist and the clinical director of Health Source Acupuncture in Linwood, NJ.