Tai Chi is an art that embraces the mind, body, and spirit, and helps bring them into harmony with one another, and with nature (the environment around you) itself. While there is great depth to tai chi in knowledge and skill, it is very easy to learn, and you can get started even if you aren’t in tip-top shape or the best of health. Tai Chi is a low-impact, slow-motion exercise that you go (without pausing) through a series of motions. It’s continuous movement, and as you move, you breathe deeply and naturally, focusing your attention on how your body feels.
As such, it has aptly been called “Meditation in Motion”.
Tai Chi differs from other types of exercise. The movements are often circular and are never forced. The muscles are relaxed, not tensed, and the joints are neither fully extended nor bent. Connective tissues like ligaments are not stretched. Tai Chi doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness: muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Tai Chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people who may struggle otherwise and/or have disabilities or are recovering from an illness or other.
According to Harvard Medical School, some of the documented and well-studied benefits include:
- Muscle strength. In a study by Stanford and cited by Harvard, people who did tai chi improved more than 30% in lower-body strength and 25% in arm strength which was almost as much as those who participated in resistance training, and more than those assigned to brisk walking.
- Tai Chi boosts upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.
- Aerobic conditioning
Falling is a key concern as we age. A single bad fall can lead to longer term health and often serious implications. Tai Chi addresses the following:
- Balance: Tai chi improves balance and according to some studies reduces falls.
- Proprioception is how you sense the position of your body in space. It declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments.
- The fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear in part because of your increased balance and strength, but also confidence in yourself.
- If you do fall, Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover if a stumble does occur.
Also according to Harvard Medical School, when combined with standard medical treatment, tai chi appears to be helpful for managing several medical conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
- Helps manage issues caused by Parkinson’s disease
- Sleep problems
For more information on these conditions and the help Tai Chi may offer those afflicted with them, please see “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Healthy Mind” (2013) by Peter M Wayne, MD and Mark L. Fuerst.