The Tai Chi movements can be loosely described as shadow boxing or ‘shadow kung fu’ in slow motion. Regular practice can increase flexibility and strength, and improve cardiovascular fitness. The emphasis on correct posture means that Tai Chi can instil a greater awareness of the body and how it moves through space. Tai Chi is also prized as a form of meditation. By focusing exclusively on performing the body movements with grace and poise, the mind achieves a calm, empty clarity. It is also amazing to note that no equipment is needed for tai chi and it can be practiced anywhere, especially outside in nature!
Here are ways Tai Chi is good for your health:
- Anxiety: because Tai Chi is essentially meditation in motion, it promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements. Not only will the physical exercise boost your happy hormones endorphins, but the calming motions and deep breaths greatly reduce anxiety.
- Arthritis: The movements of tai chi keep the body fresh and allow the person to find a freer range of motion in the joints, greater flexibility, better balance- all of which help with the symptoms of arthritis.
- Balance and coordination: Tai Chi involves exercises that focus on postural orientation (positioning the trunk and head in alignment to each other as well as to the ground and to the visual field) and postural equilibrium (coordinating movement strategies to center and stabilize the body) both of which have been proven to improve balance and coordination
- Fatigue: Tai chi focuses on controlled motion and breath, which puts your mind and body into a relaxed but energized state. After a session of tai chi, people feel energized and relaxed.
- Joint stiffness: The gentle and flowing motions stretch muscles, ligaments, and promote the bodies natural lubrication for joint health.
- Muscle tension: Because Tai Chi is both strengthening and stretching, people who practice rarely feel very sore. There will be mild soreness, which is normal- but those who practice usually feel limber and relaxed.
- Poor posture: A large portion of tai chi focuses on slow and controlled movement that are meant to be perfected. Tai Chi is about correct form, even in the transitions. Because of this, many people note an improvement in posture after a few sessions.
- Stress: Tai Chi encourages one to look within and harness energy. It is a constant ebb and flow of both motion and controlled breathing, which calms participants. It is nearly impossible to be stressed after a session of Tai Chi!
Tai chi for medical conditions (Information from Harvard School of Public Health)
When combined with standard treatment, tai chi appears to be helpful for several medical conditions. For example:
Arthritis. In a 40-person study at Tufts University, presented in October 2008 at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. According to a Korean study published in December 2008 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight weeks of tai chi classes followed by eight weeks of home practice significantly improved flexibility and slowed the disease process in patients with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine.
Low bone density. A review of six controlled studies by Dr. Wayne and other Harvard researchers indicates that tai chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. A controlled study of tai chi in women with osteopenia (diminished bone density not as severe as osteoporosis) is under way at the Osher Research Center and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Breast cancer. Tai chi has shown potential for improving quality of life and functional capacity (the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities, such as work or exercise) in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For example, a 2008 study at the University of Rochester, published in Medicine and Sport Science, found that quality of life and functional capacity (including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility) improved in women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of tai chi, while declining in a control group that received only supportive therapy.
Heart disease. A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of tai chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.
Heart failure. In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of tai chi improved participants’ ability to walk and quality of life. It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure. A 150-patient controlled trial is under way.
Hypertension. In a review of 26 studies in English or Chinese published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008), Dr. Yeh reported that in 85% of trials, tai chi lowered blood pressure — with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
Parkinson’s disease. A 33-person pilot study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published in Gait and Posture (October 2008), found that people with mild to moderately severe Parkinson’s disease showed improved balance, walking ability, and overall well-being after 20 tai chi sessions.
Sleep problems. In a University of California, Los Angeles, study of 112 healthy older adults with moderate sleep complaints, 16 weeks of tai chi improved the quality and duration of sleep significantly more than standard sleep education. The study was published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Sleep.
Stroke. In 136 patients who’d had a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of tai chi improved standing balance more than a general exercise program that entailed breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints involved in sitting and walking. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.