Tai Chi Chuan is a type of martial arts that is very gentle in practice. It involves a combination of breathing deeply from the
diaphragm and dancelike poses that flow easily from one pose to another. Despite being slow and gentle, it provides a decidedly strenuous workout for people of many age groups. There have been recent studies that have shown that practicing Tai Chi can improve balance, strength in legs, pulse rate, cardiovascular endurance, immune system, cardiovascular endurance, muscular flexibility, sleep patterns, focus and concentration, ability to multitask in cognitive tests and, enhance self-esteem and overall happiness.
In one very interesting study done last year, the actual brains of seniors who had been doing Tai Chi for a few years were compared side-by-side with the brains of people of the same age who had been sedentary. The brains of the tai chi practitioners revealed greater connectivity as well as other measures of brain health, particularly in regions for decision-making and attentiveness than the subjects that had never practiced Tai Chi.
Dr. Chenchen Wang at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and the Director of The Center for Complementary & Integrative Medicine explained that basically Tai Chi “can improve physical as well as psychosocial health” overall.
The Three Fundamental Components of Tai Chi
When practitioners of Tai Chi are performing it properly, these three components are all working together:
In doing Tai Chi, people feel the ground under their feet, sinking their full weight into the ground beneath them. While doing this they seek to maintain good physical alignment, which promotes balance and stability. Their movements gently flow from one to the other while shifting their body weight from being on the right leg to the left as a way to balance the feeling of being empty and full.
These movements comprise what are referred to as b>forms, or routines. Some of the movements are named after different animals or birds, like “White Crane Spreads Its Wings”. In the simpler forms of Tai Chi there are 13 different movements, however more complex forms of Tai Chi can have several dozen different movements.
While doing the slow gentle Tai Chi movements, participants need to have a calm yet alert mind and this is maintained by focusing on the inner-self.
As the flow of movement proceeds, participants inhale an abundance of fresh air into their lungs and exhale stale air along with toxins. This stretches all the muscles used in breathing while releasing tension. This is how the entire body can be provided with fresh nutrients from the oxygen being inhaled deeply into the lungs.
Dr. Li, who has studied the benefits of this form of activity, says, “Our work suggests that doing Tai Ji Chuan (another form of Tai Chi) produces far better results when compared to doing low-impact activities like stretching”.
The Y.M.C.A. and other centers in your community and nationwide routinely offer affordable classes in Tai Chi, according to Dr. Li. You can locate a program close to you by going to www.americantaichi.net, the website for the American Tai Chi & Qigong Association.