Tai Chi


Tai chi, an internal Chinese martial art, exercises both the mind and body in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Tai Chi focuses on slow, rhythmic, and meditative body movements designed to enhance relaxation, inner calm, and help the practitioners to find peace and calm..

What is tai chi and where does it come from?

Tai chi is a centuries-old Chinese martial art; according to some records, it can be dated back as far as 2,500 years. Tai chi descends from qigong, an ancient Chinese discipline that has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine. Tai chi involves a series of slow, flowing, and meditative body movements that were originally designed for self-defense and to promote inner peace and calm. Over time, people began to use it for health purposes as well. Deeply rooted in Chinese meditation, medicine, and martial arts, tai chi combines mental concentration with slow, controlled movements to focus the mind, challenge the body, and improve the flow of what the Chinese call ”qi” (also spelled ”chi”) — the life energy thought to sustain health and quiet the mind.

People practice tai chi by themselves or in groups. In the Chinese community, tai chi is often practiced in parks early in the morning. Although there are many different styles, all involve slow, relaxed, and graceful movements, each flowing into the next. When practicing tai chi, the body is in constant motion; being concentrated is very important, putting aside distracting thoughts, and breathing in a deep and relaxed, but focused manner.

What are the benefits of tai chi?

In China, it is believed that tai chi can delay aging, prolong life, increase flexibility, strengthen muscles and tendons, and help practitioners manage various diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, digestive disorders, depression, and cancer.

Balance and falling

Fall-related injuries are the leading cause of death from injury and disabilities among aged people. The slow tai chi movements are deliberate; with shifts of body weight from one leg to the other in coordination with upper body movements, tai chi challenges and improves balance and helps reduce fall frequency.

Strength and endurance

Tai chi is a potent intervention that improves muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. A study of older adults (aged from 60 years to 70 years), who practiced tai chi three times a week for 12 weeks, showed a significant increase of muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility at 6 weeks, and a further increase at 12 weeks.

Aerobic capacity

Aerobic capacity decreases as we age, but researchers have found that individuals who practice tai chi for one year had higher aerobic capacity than sedentary individuals around the same age. This suggests that tai chi may be an additional form of aerobic exercise.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia (FM) is one of the most common musculoskeletal disorders, and is associated with painful symptoms that frequently flair up. Unfortunately, the cause of this disease is still unclear, and there is no known cure. Studies have shown that patients’ FM symptoms and health-related quality of life significantly improved after practicing tai chi twice a week for six weeks.

Walking

Walking speed diminishes with age. One study suggested that individuals who practiced tai chi walked significantly more steps than individuals who did not. It has been clearly shown that walking is associated with a decreased risk of some chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes; we can also speculate that tai chi aids benefit in the treatment of these chronic diseases.

Stress

Although there is no study showing a reduction in stress from practicing tai chi, a clinical project did find that tai chi, in combination with mindfulness-based stress reduction as an educational program, improved well-being, calmness, relaxation, and sleep, and increased self-care and self-awareness in middle school aged boys and girls. The breathing, movement, and mental concentration required of individuals taking part in tai chi exercises may be a good solution for patients dealing with stress management issues.

Overweight and obesity

Tai chi is a good choice for people carrying extra weight. People who are overweight and obese often have knee and hip limitations, and tai chi is gentle enough to get these people moving. With regular practice, people will begin to burn calories and lose weight. It is also suggested that tai chi may also help deal with emotions that can trigger overeating.

Cautions when you practice

Tai chi is a low-impact exercise and is considered relatively safe. However, as with any practice, there are some cautions patients need to keep in mind:

  • Patients must not exercise beyond their capacity, if they do, they may risk sore muscles or sprains
  • Tai chi instructors often recommend that patients should not practice tai chi right after a meal, or when they are very tired, or if they have an active infection
  • If patients are pregnant, have a hernia, joint problems, back pain, fractures, or severe osteoporosis, their health care provider may advise them to modify or avoid certain postures in tai chi

tai chi

Sources: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/taichi/introduction.htm

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/tai-chi-health

http://www.medicinenet.com/tai_chi/article.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16010262

 

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