exercise • safe movement • tai chi • overtraining
Tai Chi began as a martial art, but
these days itís most frequently practiced for its health
benefits and meditative properties. A technique that
integrates body, mind and spirit, itís been practiced
for centuries in China. It has become a popular exercise
for millions of Chinese people, especially older ones.
In the last 10 to 20 years, Tai Chi has caught on in the
U.S. From parks, community centers and senior-citizen
centers to health clubs and YMCA/YWCAs, itís hard to
find a place that doesnít offer classes. People all over
the world practice Tai Chi daily.
In Tai Chi, you perform a series of slow, graceful
and controlled body movements while your body remains
straight and upright. It includes stepping, shifting
weight and rotating. Throughout the session, you allow
your breathing to be deep yet relaxed. Its movements
have been compared to yoga and ballet.
Stories abound about the origins of Tai Chi.
According to one of the most popular legends, Tai Chiís
motions are based on those of a snake. The story goes
that a martial arts master was inspired by the mutual
movements of a snake and a crane in a lethal dance of
attack and evasion. The graceful and controlled way the
snake dodged and counterattacked became the basis for
Tai Chi is a low-impact activity. One key principle
(which comes from Taoism) is wu-wei, (or the action of
non-action), which refers to going with the flow ó not
Like acupuncture, Tai Chi is based on the concept of
chi .(pronounced chee), a vital force that courses
through your body through specific pathways or
meridians). The traditional explanation is that the
practice of Tai Chi improves health by breaking up
blockages in the flow of chi, thereby restoring balance.
Good health is considered a reflection of this type of
energy balance and harmony of the whole body while
blocked energy manifests in illness or disease. All
forms of traditional Chinese medicine aim to restore
balance and to conserve the body's chi or life vitality.
This health system includes the practices of
acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine and Tai Chi's
sister healing art, qigong (pronounced chee gong).
Modern researchers are finding amazing health
benefits from Tai Chi. Regular practice builds strength,
enhances both muscle tone and circulation and improves
balance, flexibility, posture, coordination and range of
motion. Some studies also show that Tai Chi can lower
blood pressure and heart rate as well as ease arthritis
pain. It can help prevent osteoporosis, making it
particularly beneficial to women. Tai Chi also can
reduce stress, improve concentration and increase
Unlike some other types of exercise, Tai Chi is
accessible to people of any age and condition ó
children, senior citizens, and even those with walkers.
Some modified forms of Tai Chi can be practiced by those
with limited mobility. In fact, Tai Chi is particularly
beneficial to the elderly and those with impaired motor
skills. Since Tai Chi emphasizes correct posture and
balance, the exercise may be a safer alternative for
women with frail bones. Moreover, you need no special
clothes or equipment and you can practice at home.
Medical science remains unclear about how Tai Chi
works. While several studies have documented the
benefits of Tai Chi, none has completely explained why
or how ó at least in the context of Western medicine.
But there are theories. While traditional practitioners
might attribute the health benefits to the free flow of
chi, Western-world scientific research into Tai Chi is
finding other possible explanations for its salutary
effects. For instance:
deep breathing promotes relaxation, stress reduction and
* focused attention not only relaxes the body and
mind, it helps cultivate mental alertness.
* the exercises strengthen muscles and bones (for
instance, as a weight-bearing exercise that requires you
to support your weight while standing, Tai Chi is a good
preventive measure for osteoporosis)
* and since most of the movements involve alternating
weight-bearing in the legs, Tai Chi helps you cultivate
Tai chi is
extremely effective in improving balance and posture,
and mind-body health. More benefits are listed below:
Muscle strength is important for supporting and
protecting joints, which will assist in
decreasing pain and deformity. Muscle strength
is also important for improving balance and the
ability to perform every day tasks (eg, getting
out of a chair).
- Flexibility exercises help to reduce pain and
stiffness associated with musculoskeletal
conditions. They also help minimise joint deformity,
and improve joint range of motion, which makes
movement easier, and more efficient.
- Aerobic fitness is important for overall health
and fitness of your heart, lungs, and muscles. Good
aerobic fitness will allow for more efficient and
easier performance of every day tasks such as
climbing stairs or walking to the shops.
- Tai chi movements emphasise the importance of
weight transference, which is an essential component
of good balance. Having good balance is important
for falls prevention. Tai chi also emphasises
correct posture, which also has benefits for falls
prevention, as well as decreased pain and stiffness
of joints and muscles.
- Your mind and body are intricately linked, and
the actions of one will impact on the other. Tai chi
enhances both mental and physical relaxation, which
is important in decreasing pain and stiffness, as
well as assisting in healing the body. Tai chi also
enhances clarity of the mind and improves mood,
which also has positive benefits for your body (eg,
a negative mood and pain have been shown to be
- Tai chi facilitates the flow of "qi" through
your body. Qi is the life energy that circulates
throughout the body, performing many functions to
maintain good health. Practicing tai chi helps to
strengthen your qi, therefore improving your health.
Chiropractic Association (ACA) has recommended tai chi
as a beneficial strength training exercise system for
those suffering from osteoporosis. The ACA said that
even those with severe osteoporosis who have suffered
fractures would benefit from tai chi exercise.