Tai Chi

Tai chi does not mean oriental wisdom or something exotic. It is the wisdom of your own senses, your own mind and body together as one process - Chungliang Al Huang

Tai Chi

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When Linda Huang moved from China to the U.S. about 18 years ago, she suspected she’d have to do a lot of outreach and education to get non-Asians interested in tai chi, which she had been practicing since her teenage years. She didn’t. “I was impressed how many people have been studying tai chi since the 1970s and 1980s,” says Huang, who directs the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association in Herndon, Virginia. Interest has only grown since, she says, judging from the association’s inquiries from people seeking teaching certifications and class recommendations, as well as health clubs looking for instructors to hire. What’s the big appeal?

Tai chi 101

Tai chi, an ancient Chinese practice with several more modern (but still centuries-old) styles, is defined by its combination of movements, meditation and deep breathing. “That’s where people, over time, get health benefits … because while you do the movements, you have to learn how to control your thoughts and adjust your breathing,” Huang says. You can learn tai chi at an increasing number of facilities (ATCQA has a locator), and practice it anywhere. You just need a little space and comfortable clothing. Like meditation, five minutes is better than none, though the more often and consistently you practice, the more physical and mental improvements you’ll see. Here’s why you should get started:

You're old.

The stereotype that tai chi is only for older adults is false, but is based in strong science on its health advantages for seniors. “It does have very good benefits for those diseases usually associated with older people,” Huang says. For example, a 2017 review of 10 studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that tai chi may reduce the rate of falls among older adults by as much as 50 percent. Other research has linked the practice with boosted immunity and improved brain power among seniors, as well as improvements in conditions that are more common in older age like high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoarthritis.

You're young.

While few studies have looked at tai chi’s benefits for healthy, young populations, there’s no reason to believe its effects wouldn’t translate – particularly when it comes to the emotional benefits, says Peter Wayne, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder and director of the Tree of Life Tai Chi Center in Sommerville, Massachusetts. “A lot of young people who are attracted to meditation as a concept … just can’t sit still,” he says. “Tai chi offers meditation or mindfulness on wheels.” Some schools and community programs are offering tai chi for children, which may help with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and even violence prevention, small studies suggest.

You're an athlete.

Professional golfers, basketball players and dancers have turned to tai chi for good reason: It can be a great cross-training activity to help prevent and recover from injury, says Wayne, who co-authored the book “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.” “This emphasis on moderation and effort is implicit in the yin yang symbol of tai chi – you don’t give it 120 percent all of the time,” he says. Indeed, Huang isn’t aware of any research indicating potential harms. “It’s very slow, very gentle – you can hardly get hurt.” Still, if you’re considering it as a treatment for any condition or injury, run it by your doctor first, she says.

You need a mood boost.

Just try feeling blue when you’re standing tall and your arms are outstretched in a victorious pose toward the sun. It’s not easy, Wayne points out, and could help explain why tai chi has proven mental health benefits. “The shapes we take greatly affect our mood,” he says. One randomized trial of Chinese-American adults with mild to moderate depression, for example, found that a 12-week tai chi program improved symptoms significantly more than an education intervention or none at all. Even some Veteran’s Health Administration facilities use tai chi and other integrative therapies in routine care for veterans with PTSD, depression and other conditions.

You're in pain.

Tai chi may seem too simple, too ancient, too non-technical to be a sufficient solution for a problem as complicated and pervasive as chronic pain. But the evidence is stacking up. Consider a study just out this year in BMJ finding that tai chi was just as, if not more, effective in treating fibromyalgia than aerobic exercise. Other research supports tai chi as an effective way to find relief from neck and back pain, as well as arthritis and Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Such mind-body interventions, Wayne says, “are not just fixing the foot or shoulder or range of motion or blood pressure, but they’re more like an ecological intervention that involves … the whole system.”

Source: Anna Medaris Miller, 5 Reasons You – Yes You – Should Try Tai Chi Right Now, US News & World report, May 3, 2018.

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Last Updated : Friday, December 11, 2020