Tai Chi Health Benefits
In the sporting circle it has long been acknowledged that Tai Chi is suitable for both men and women, old or young, weak or strong, and those suffering from chronic diseases due to the softness, slowness, coherence and harmony of the exercise.
The characteristic features in practicing Tai Chi are stillness, lightness, slowness, relaxation of the muscles of the whole body, and more importantly use of the mind and not force. The practitioner must be fully conscious of all the movements, that is all the movements are always controlled by the mind.
Some of the primary factors that affect our body’s ability to function well are:
Our Posture and Body Alignment
Our Ability to Relax
The movements in Tai Chi work on many levels, both obvious and hidden, but they strongly address the above factors. And, in the process of addressing these primary health functions Tai Chi also improves:
- Increased flexibility – Particularly in the often forgotten spine and spinal joints where maintenance of flexibility is very important.
- Full range of motion in a lot of your joints – Motion is lotion. Or as they say “use it or lose it!”
- Increased strength – Particularly of the leg muscles.
- Better balance – Resulting in fewer falls.
- Improved posture.
- Improved immune functioning – Mental stillness and reduced stress help immune functions, as does exercise.
- Improved, deeper breathing – Leading to increased oxygenation and vitality of all tissues and deeper relaxation.
- Reduced pain – Particularly in the shoulders, back, legs and knees.
- Increased vitality.
- Enhanced coordination.
- Improved motor skills.
- Decreased blood pressure.
- Decreased breathing and heart rates.
- Reduced stress.
- Increased relaxation.
- Increased concentration and mental focus.
- Improved memory.
- Increased sense of happiness and inner peace.
- Greater ability to ‘be in the moment’, to pull out of the craziness of everyday living.
Tai Chi is quite distinct from strenuous and energetic sports (such as long-distance running, ball games, swimming and others) that depend on strenuous activity of the muscles and high oxygen demands of the body.
Strenuous exercises arouse a series of physiological responses such as panting, quickening of heart rate and raising blood pressure, which are caused passively by adaptation and reflexation mechanisms of the body through the action of the vegetative nerve system. Such exercises are therefore hazardous to those who are aged or in poor health because of the decreased ability of the body to adapt, especially when the exercise is done excessively.
Tai Chi often keeps the body in a single weighted manner and increases the body’s circulation by using minimum force. Minimum force on the muscles prevents the muscles from breaking any blood circulation. Blood flow is therefore constant and it is delivered to all parts of the body. Maintaining focus also trains the central nervous system and stimulates it, so after the Tai Chi form practice one feels regenerated.
One of the most important principles within Tai Chi is relaxation (or song in Chinese). Without this our chi (or life-giving energy) is impeded and blocked, and the fluidity of movement cannot occur. When we move in a relaxed but confident manner, we save energy and we “flow”. (Relaxation is not a state of collapse, but rather a sense of being present in the body; alert but not tense and fearful).
Thus the body language of a Tai Chi practitioner is not aggressive or passive; it is in the middle of these two extremes – Yin and Yang.