One of the reasons why Tai Chi is such a popular activity is because of the many health benefits of Tai Chi. You’ve likely seen people doing Tai Chi before, perhaps when you were walking through a park early in the morning. Imagine the birds are singing as the sun is beginning to rise. As you walk through the park, you notice a group of people doing some sort of exercise.
Quietly and as one, they gracefully bend and sway their bodies to an unheard rhythm. Some are making sweeping gestures and bending at the knees or waist. Others are more demure but just as focused. It’s mesmerizing to watch, and as you get closer you notice their wrists circulating as their hands perform intricate, delicate movements. Their feet take careful steps that resemble a kind of dance.
What you have stumbled upon is a morning practice of Tai Chi, or Tai Chi Chuon. It originated in China and is now practiced around the world. This ancient martial art is said to offer holistic health benefits that are great for the body, spirit and mind.
So, what exactly is Tai Chi, and what are the benefits of Tai Chi?
What is Tai Chi and Where Does it Originate From?
Tai Chi, also known as ‘shadow boxing’, is an ancient Chinese form of martial arts. It was originally developed as a form of self-defense.
According to Dr. Paul Lam at the Tai Chi for Health Institute, “Tai Chi is one of the best known martial arts of the Internal systems from ancient China. Based on Qigong and martial art techniques from thousands of years ago, Chen Wangting developed the Chen Style Tai Chi around 1670.”
Tai Chi is similar to yoga in that they are both non-competitive, low-impact exercises that are gentle on the body and relaxing for the mind. Tai Chi and yoga both consist of a series of stretches, and involve the art of combining movement with breathwork to create a kind of ‘moving meditation’. However, Tai Chi is a continuous flow of movement, unlike yoga, which often requires positions to be held for a few breath cycles.
One of the benefits of Tai Chi is that it is meditative in nature, which is great for your overall wellness.
There are 5 different styles of Tai Chi:
Health Benefits of Tai Chi
Tai Chi is, above all, a martial art. Martial arts are a set of training techniques designed for self-defence, not aggression. Unlike other sports, martial arts place a heavy emphasis on training the mind alongside the body. As such, the proposed benefits of Tai Chi extend beyond physical well-being.
Practicing Tai Chi can improve muscle strength and tone, as well as cardiovascular health, coordination, flexibility, and balance, and is an excellent way to incorporate some movement into your day.
Many practitioners of Tai Chi also credit the discipline for improvements in their mental and emotional health. The benefits of Tai Chi, therefore, go beyond just physical benefits.
Tai Chi can lower stress levels and is beneficial for decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression, due to the mindful aspects of Tai Chi. Among other things, mindfulness practices can improve your mood, which is probably why so many who practice choose the first thing in the morning; beginning the day with a bit of mindfulness sets the tone for the rest of the day, making it easier to handle stressful situations and other low points.
Who Can Benefit From Tai Chi?
Anyone looking to improve their physical and mental health can benefit from practicing Tai Chi.
Because of the ease of the movements and its gentle nature, many people with mobility issues will find Tai Chi a simple and effective exercise. The elderly especially has quite a bit to gain from Tai Chi, as it improves balance and can help reduce the risks of falling.
For people who are overweight, Tai Chi is a very easy introduction to the world of physical fitness. The 5 different styles of Tai Chi vary in difficulty and are therefore extremely customizable, and practitioners can advance at their own pace. It is also easier on the joints and cardiovascular system than weight lifting or running, a perfect set for someone who has been sedentary for a while.
Those struggling with their mental health might find that adding just 10 minutes of Tai Chi to their day can improve their mood by adding some structure to their day.
The Benefits of Tai Chi are Backed by Science
There are many studies out there supporting the proposed psychological and physiological health benefits linked to Tai Chi and its cousin, Qigong.
One paper in particular, published in 2011, looked at the results of a series of studies conducted in 13 different countries and found evidence that supports the theory that ‘meditative movements’ such as Tai Chi and yoga have numerous health benefits.
One notable outcome was that, despite the minimal amount of resistance and weight-bearing associated with Tai Chi, researchers reported a slowed loss of bone density in practitioners of Tai Chi.
Additionally, the benefits of Tai Chi seem to correlate positively with risk factors associated with falling. Compared to sedentary individuals, those who practiced Tai Chi had better gait speed, improved balance, heightened physical function and improved quality of life.
Patients involved in the study also reported decreased arthritic pain, decreased fibromyalgia symptoms and better sleep than people who lived a more sedentary lifestyle.
How To Start Practicing Tai Chi
Tai Chi may have originated in China, but it is now practiced around the world. Tai Chi doesn’t require any equipment or prior knowledge, so getting started is remarkably easy. You can even learn just by watching the group at the park.
Many senior centres and care facilities provide Tai Chi classes, as do local gyms and fitness centres. Since it can be done outdoors and at a distance, it’s even a Covid-friendly activity.
If there is a meditation centre in your community, ask if they lead Tai Chi and if you can drop in; just be sure to bring a donation along with you.
Dojo’s and other martial arts practicing centres often lead classes in Tai Chi. YouTube is, of course, another great resource for learning how to practice Tai Chi.
Tai Chi is more than just a physical practice; there is a spiritual and mindful component to this activity that is very interesting and worth learning about. If you’re interested in taking an in-depth look into the principles from which Tai Chi derives, The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan: A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice by Wong Kiew Kit is an excellent place to start.
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