Tai Chi

Last month, Renee wrote about some positions practiced with yoga that are known to help with health issues. This month, I am adding to this by introducing the practice of Tai chi. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that has been practiced for many centuries. Created by a Taoist Monk named Zhang San Feng, it was originally developed for self defense, but also promotes body, mind and spirit balance. Tai chi is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. Each posture is performed in a slow and focused manner that flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion. It is thought that if one part of the body moves-the whole body moves. The idea is that for every force there is an opposite force. Yin and Yang, black and white, inhale and exhale, give and take and so forth.

Qigong is a practice that promotes health by balancing our life energy. According to Chinese medicine, all living things have a life force that flows throughout our bodies. Tai chi is a form of qigong. When performed, it uses both slow, gentle movements and breathing practices with that movement. There are many possible benefits to the practice of Tai chi. It is thought to improve our overall health, longevity, and internal strength.

Tai chi is different from yoga, which includes physical positions, breathing techniques and meditation. Tai chi has low impact and minimal stress on muscles and joints, which make it safe for those of all ages and abilities. It is thought to be very suitable for seniors that may not have recently participated in exercise programs. Tai chi is used to help reduce stress, decrease blood pressure and fall risks. There is no need for equipment, so the cost is minimal. There are classes available for groups or you may do Tai chi by yourself. Hult Center for Health offers various classes free to cancer survivors and $5 to the general public. Learn more here: http://www.hulthealthy.org/cancer-programs/programs/healthy-living-classes/

There are five different styles of Tai chi which date back from different periods in history and each has its own principles and lineage: The Chen style, Yang-style, Wu style (Hao), Wu-style, and the Sun-style dating from 1580 to 1932. Some focus on health, while others address self-defense or competition. Others claim that it promotes serenity and inner peace.

My purpose for practicing it is to improve health, balance and flexibility and to reduce falls. This has become somewhat more important to me since my fall last summer, which resulted in a fracture. The New England Journal of Medicine noted that Tai chi significantly improved gait and posture of Parkinson’s patients and reduced falls. Patients with chronic heart failure who regularly practiced Tai chi experienced better quality of life and mood in a research study at Harvard Medical School. Other research and studies have noticed improvement in blood sugars in diabetics and that the practice of Tai chi can have reduction in symptoms of joint pain in patients with fibromyalgia.

Whether we have any of these issues or not, the fact of the matter is that we all need to keep moving to prevent premature aging and to maintain our body’s mind and spirit in the best shape that we can achieve. We only have one body and one mind that God gave us; let’s try to keep it balanced.

Sue Lang, APN, CNM