All around the world you will see people practicing Tai Chi out doors. These people are outside the Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China. Photo by Craig Nagy creative commons.
As many of us reach our mature years, the thought of vigorous exercise becomes less inviting and sometimes even impractical. High intensity exercises can be damaging to fragile bones and may strain weak muscles. That’s why Tai Chi can be a much more agreeable alternative!
Tai Chi is often described as meditation in motion. It is a series of slow motion, low impact movements, often with artistic names such as “wave hands like clouds” or “swallow skimming the pond” that evoke the natural world. As you move you breathe deeply and naturally focusing your attention on body sensations. The movements are usually circular, never forced, and muscles are relaxed rather than tense. Joints are not fully extended or bent and connective tissues are not stretched. It can be easily adapted for anyone including those in wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.
Research from Harvard Medical School has shown that Tai Chi can improve balance and reduce risk of falls which is beneficial for an aging population. Another study showed evidence that it can increase bone density for women with thinning bones.
Other health benefits for Tai Chi are said to be :-
• reduction of stress, anxiety, depression and enhancement of mood
• increased aerobic capacity and muscle strength
• more energy and stamina
• enhanced flexibility, balance and agility
• lower blood pressure and improved heart health
• reduced inflammation
Because of the need for careful attention when doing Tai Chi, regular practice may be beneficial for people at risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that Tai Chi can assist people living with type 2 diabetes.
The goal of Tai Chi is to bring the mind and body back to a total state of relaxation and calm or in “total balance”, so it can function smoothly again. If you have limitations in your musculoskeletal system, have a serious illness or take medications which make you dizzy check with your doctor first. However, more than likely your doctor will encourage you to take up these gentle exercises. It may take a few months for the benefits to be felt but many have found it causes them to become more active in their daily life.
Always wear loose fitting clothes and comfortable shoes when you attend a class. Some centres allow a free trial session. Cost is around $20 per hour. The benefit of going to a live class is that the instructor can tell you if you are doing the movements properly. This could be beneficial especially when you first begin. It’s also a chance to meet new people! Later on when you become more seasoned you could buy or borrow a DVD of Tai Chi lessons from your local library. You could even go on YouTube (for free) to become acquainted with the movements to see what you’re getting into.
So why not give Tai Chi a try? With perseverance and practice it may give you the lift you need.