You may have spotted them in local parks. Or in community centers. Or even in your neighbor’s backyard. People doing leisurely, graceful movements that look like dancing in slow motion. These are practitioners of the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi. Over the last 30 years, Tai Chi has grown immensely in popularity throughout the rest of the world.
People of all ages have discovered the physical and mental benefits of practicing Tai Chi. It can help you achieve better balance, improve stability, relieve stress and boost cardiovascular function. The Chinese also believe Tai Chi can slow aging and prolong life. Your chiropractor recommends Tai Chi to some patients as it can improve strength and mobility of the spine. It also can help relieve join and muscle stiffness throughout the body. But talk to your chiropractor before stating Tai Chi or any other exercise program. Some help conditions may be aggravated by physical activity.
The Roots of Tai Chi
Although its origins remain shrouded in mystery, Tai Chi is believed to have been developed in China over a thousand years ago. There’s no definitive translation of the phrase Tai Chi. Among other things, it can mean “internal martial art” or “balance of opposing forces of nature.”
Tai chi is closely associated with qigong – an ancient Chinese system that includes meditative breathing and movement. Practitioners of Tai Chi seek to cultivate the universal energy known as qi (pronounced chee), which flows throughout our bodies. By practicing Tai Chi, you are unleashing this healing energy to its full potential.
While many people practice it for the health benefits, Tai Chi was developed as a martial art and is a potent self-defense system. However, because of its subtle nature, Tai Chi takes longer to learn as a self-defense system than hard style martial arts such as Karate and Tae Kwon Do. Tai Chi movements are often practiced slowly, but the techniques can be dramatically increased in speed for rapid defense. Tai Chi is one of the three internal styles of Chinese Kung Fu. It’s the softest in technique of the three. Pa Kau emphasizes more circular movements, and Hsing I is the most linear of the internal styles. When you use Tai Chi for self-defense, you seek to neutralize and redirect the qi of your attacker.
With consistent practice, you can see health benefits of Tai Chi relatively quickly. There are many different styles of Tai Chi, but almost all involve learning kata (a sequential set of forms or movements). Each movement within a kata usually has both a self-defense application and qi development strategy at its core. As you practices the kata, you use meditative breathing to assist in circulating qi energy in your body and focusing your mind. But there is much more to Tai Chi than kata. There are numerous techniques that can be practiced with a partner. Pushing hands is an exercise where two Tai Chi practitioners actually push hands against each other in an attempt to sense and become aware of their respective Chi energy, flexibility and tension.
Tai Chi Especially Benefits Older People
Tai Chi is a low impact activity, so your chance of injury is slim. This is one of the reasons why your chiropractor and other health professionals believe Tai Chi is an excellent activity for seniors. In a twelve month study of adults between the ages of 58 to 70 practicing Tai Chi, researchers discovered the study participants increased flexibility in their upper and lower backs and gained more muscle strength in their knees. [i]
And a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed: “Long term regular Tai Chi chuan exercise has favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness in older adults.”[ii]
Taking the Next Step
If you’re interested in learning Tai Chi, you can often find classes in community and recreational centers, colleges and extended education facilities. There are many excellent books and DVDs available on Tai Chi that can help you get started. But nothing matches having a qualified Tai Chi instructor. A good teachers can correct your posture and help you avoid placing unnecessary strain on your body. For more information about Tai Chi, visit the websites listed below.
Tai Chi Websites:
[i] 12-month Tai Chi training in the elderly: its effect on health fitness: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Volume 30(3), March 1998, pp 345-351
[ii] Balance control, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory fitness among older Tai Chi practitioners: Department of Sports Science and Physical Education, The Chinese University of Hong Kong/British Journal of Sports Medicine 2000;34:29-34