Why is Tai Chi so healthy?
If you’ve heard of Tai Chi then chances are you’ve heard about its’ health benefits. In fact I would venture to say that you’ve probably heard more about it being healthy than you have about it being a martial art.
The truth is Tai Chi Chuan is and always was a martial art. This is not to say that it should only be practiced as a martial art but that to gain all of its’ health benefits it should be practiced in its’ entirety. However there are those who may have physical limitations due to age, illness or other restrictions that can only do so much in terms of martial practice. These people can still however practice Tai Chi. But do they still benefit from it? The answer is yes.
Tai Chi is known and scientifically proven to relieve Stress, Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. It is said to improve conditions of Alzheimers, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinsons. It also reduces bone loss, increasing leg and lower body strength, enhances mental capability and concentration and promotes faster recovery from strokes and heart attacks. The list goes on and on. How can it help with all of these conditions?
First, let us just say that Tai Chi is a multi-faceted art that is not only physical exercise but mental and spiritual as well. On the physical side Tai Chi uses the legs and waist to generate movement. Over time the stances get lower and the range of motion in the waist becomes greater. This builds the leg muscles and stabilizer muscles increasing ones balance and decreasing the risk of falls. The turning of the waist massages the internal organs and increases the supply of nutrient carrying blood to these areas. When practiced correctly Tai Chi instills a good supportive posture for the skeletal system and the stances put an added weight on the system causing the bones to increase the white blood cell production, thus increasing immunity. When moving in Tai Chi the whole body moves, this includes all the major joints of the body. This lubricates the joints keeping them mobile. If not used the joints become “rusty” like the hinges of an unused door. Also since the whole body is moving the muscles and ligaments are exercised and stretched, increasing the flow of blood and oxygen. The breathing becomes deep increasing respiratory and pulmonary functions. This list too, goes on and on.
As I mentioned earlier the mind is also exercised. Each movement is intentional and with purpose increasing focus. I will use an example I read not too long ago. Very often we as humans move on auto pilot. If you were to reach for a pen you would barely use a portion of your brain to reach out and absently grab the pen. However if you were carrying a heavy, awkward item like a TV for example through a doorway your mind would be engaged in every single movement and you would use your whole body to achieve the task. Now imagine using the whole body and the same focused mental intent to pick up the pen, only in a relaxed coordinated manner. This is how concentration and focus are magnified. The movements of the Tai Chi form are done like this. Memorizing the techniques and movements also works and exercises the mind. The deep breathing sends much needed oxygen to the brain. Once the forms are learned the mind is then used to direct the internal energy of the body. The mind although at peace is never inactive. Once again I could go on and on…
I also mentioned Tai Chi was good for the spirit. While practicing Tai Chi we return to a natural state. Our breathing is in the lower abdomen like that of a baby, relaxed. Our movements are not forced but natural, our minds clear. This brings us back to the way we were meant to be before life imposed its’ bad habits upon us. When we enter this state we are thus returning to nature. We become more spiritual. This spirituality is not religious in nature although it can be for each person what they wish. The spirituality I speak of is in accordance with nature and an appreciation of life. One gains a deeper understanding of oneself and a connection to our inner selves while at the same time connecting to the world around us, experiencing oneness. Although many times we learn in a classroom it is good to practice outside if possible to breathe the fresh air and absorb the light of the sun and the energy of the earth.
Tai Chi Chuan practice gives the practitioner an all around good feeling which we all know is one the major keys to health and happiness. The positivity it instills is enough by itself to fight many of the common ailments we face today. The answer to the question of “Why is Tai Chi so healthy” is an extensive one which I have generalized here and only touched upon. Those who practice understand, if not in medical or scientific terms but in terms of how they feel. Nothing pleases me more than when a student leaves class and sincerely thanks me and says “I feel so good.”