Tai chi (pronounced tie-chee) is a technique that combines mind, body, and spirit that has been practiced in China for over 2,500 years. I asked Jody Victor® to tell us more about the benefits of this training.
Jody Victor®: Tai chi means “grand ultimate”, implying the balance of opposing forces of nature. Training in tai chi teaches awareness of one’s own balance, both physical and mental. Originally tai chi was practiced as a martial art. Today it’s practiced for its meditative and health benefits. Today instead of being considered a martial art tai chi is considered a meditative movement. Millions of people all over the world practice tai chi every day.
In Tai chi, you perform a series of slow, graceful, and controlled body movements called “forms”. Tai chi forms include stepping, shifting weight, and rotating throughout your session. Tai chi movements have been compared to those performed in yoga and ballet.
The word “chi” refers to the vital life energy that sustains health, relaxes breathing, and calms the mind. Chi courses throughout your body through specific pathways called meridians. The practice of Tai chi restores your energy balance. In traditional Chinese medicine, the human body is thought to be made up of the constant interaction of five elements (metal, water, fire, wood, and earth) and that these elements flow in an interrelated manner throughout all the organs. Health is achieved when the interactions between the five elements cause the flow of your chi (vital energy) throughout your whole body.
There are many health benefits from practicing Tai chi. In China, it is believed that Tai chi can delay aging and prolong life, increase flexibility and strengthen muscles and tendons, and help in the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, digestive disorders, skin diseases, depression, cancer, and many other illnesses. Unfortunately there is not a lot of scientific evidence to support these claims. However there is some evidence to support the positive effects of Tai chi on health, fitness, and balance. Tai chi is a low-impact form of exercise. Movements are slow and gentle, putting minimal stress on muscles and joints. The risk of injury is very low. One key principle of Tai chi is wu-wei (the action of non-action), which refers to going with the flow and not forcing things. Anyone of any age can do it anywhere, anytime.
BALANCE and FALLING Tai chi movements are slow and deliberate with shifts in body weight from one leg to the other in coordination with the upper body movements. In one study researchers compared men aged 65 who had more than ten years of Tai chi and no other involvement with other sports with similar-aged men who had not practiced Tai chi or any other physical activities. The Tai chi men performed better on tests of balance, flexibility, and cardio function. In another study, men and women aged 22 to 76 years with mild balance disorders who practiced Tai chi for eight weeks significantly improved on a standard balance test (Romberg test). In a large group of adults aged 70 and older researchers found that the frequency of fear of falling was reduced from 56 percent to 31 percent in those who practiced Tai chi regularly.
STRENGTH and ENDURANCE A study of adults in their 60s and 70s who practiced Tai chi three times a week for 12 weeks were given a battery of tests before and after the 12 weeks. Significant improvements were shown in balance, muscular strength, and endurance.
AEROBIC CAPACITY As we age aerobic capacity diminishes. One study found that individuals who practiced Tai chi for one year had higher aerobic capacity than sedentary individuals of the same age.
STRESS It has especially been a challenge for researchers to scientifically show a reduction in stress from practicing Tai chi. In one study the people who practiced Tai chi did report that mental control was one of the benefits of Tai chi for them. Researchers concluded that the breathing, movement, and mental concentration required in Tai chi may be just the distraction people need from a hectic lifestyle. Tai chi’s mind-body connection can give you inner peace and calm while strengthening your muscles, joints, heart, and lungs.
All the Best!