Why We Should All Practice Tai Chi
Tai Chi Chuan is a Chinese martial art that promotes healthy living and longevity. If you’ve ever walked by a park or outdoor recreation center, you’ve likely seen practitioners shaping the air with their prolonged, graceful gestures.
Although the popularization of Tai Chi occurred relatively recently, the methods are rooted in practices and principals that are thousands of years old.
The story of Tai Chi is rooted in nature and the circular nature of energy in our bodies. Chang San Feng, a Taoist monk, came up with the practices 108 movements after witnessing the battle between a snake and a bird. According to Tai Chi Master Jane Golden, “When performing Tai Chi, the lower body moves within a square based on the four directions and their diagonals, and the upper body moves in multi-planed circles. By moving in circles, Tai Chi can intercept aggression at many points.”
Tai Chi offers diverse and powerful health benefits, rooted in what Chinese medicine calls the three regulations: body, breath, and mind. The slow, intentional movements of Tai Chi provide a low intensity cardiovascular workout that can be practiced throughout our lifespan. During the practice, deep and rhythmic breathing calms and focuses the mind. Deeper awareness of Qi (life force) and Self are revealed over time with dedicated practice.
Strength and Flexibility
The smooth movements of Tai Chi are low impact, without jarring or rushed movements. Moving slowly gives the practitioner the opportunity to be conscious of alignment, posture, and balance.
Studies have shown that practicing three hours per week points to an increase in balance, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility. A meta-analysis study has shown that Tai Chi also increases the aerobic capacity of otherwise sedentary people, offering cardiovascular benefits.
Many postures in Tai Chi incorporate the smooth shifting of weight from one leg to another along with intentional arm movements. This coordination helps increase body awareness, and has been shown to increase balance. While this is important for everybody, it’s vital for older practitioners who can prevent injuries from falling and remain physically active.
Tai Chi invites forth the awareness of powerful energies called Qi, or life force. Qi can be likened to Prana in yoga. During Tai Chi, Qi flows through the 20 meridians of the body. The flow of Qi and the ensuing release of any stuck areas leads to greater vitality and a decrease in illness.
Breathing with relaxed awareness is an essential part of Tai Chi. The suggested breathing practice is deep diaphragmatic breathing. Inhaling helps students to gather energy; exhaling supports students in releasing excess energy. The sustained cycle of deep breathing delivers more oxygen to our blood, which increases our capacity for endurance. Deep breathing can also lead to stress reduction, lower blood pressure, and improved sleep.
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All schools of Tai Chi are based on a series of movements that the practitioner learns and memorizes. The complex sequence and the focus that is developed when practicing improves brain plasticity, and in some case leads to actual structural changes in the brain.
A primary goal of Tai Chi is for the practitioner to develop an inner stillness and meditation. This meditative state can also help reduce stress and anxiety. Research also shows that Tai Chi has additional psychological benefits including reduced depression, anxiety and stress; improved mood; reduced fear of falling; increased sense of self-efficacy; and an enhanced quality of life.
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Begin practicing Tai Chi with just five minutes of intentional movements a day. Get started with this video.
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