by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
Tai chi is a gentle and effective way to reduce everyday stress while becoming stronger and more flexible. Originally developed as a method of self-defense, tai chi has transformed over the years to a gentle, graceful, form of exercise accompanied by deep, purposeful breathing. It promotes tranquility of the mind and body through slow, flowing movements and is a self-paced system of exercise with many variations and styles. Some styles place greater importance on health while others stress the martial art aspect of tai chi. Regardless of style, tai chi focuses on the grace of bodily movement and attention to form.
This ancient Chinese practice brings with it many health benefits when learned correctly and practiced regularly. Tai chi helps increase aerobic capacity, energy, muscle strength, balance, and stamina. It can enhance quality of sleep while bolstering the immune system, and even lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The movements are easy on the joints and may help reduce the fall risks in older adults. Another huge benefit is that due to its low impact and gentleness it is, more often than not, safe for all ages and fitness levels. It is also inexpensive, can be done alone or in a group, requires no particular equipment, and may be done indoors or out.
While tai chi is gentle and relatively easy to learn, consider finding a qualified instructor from your local fitness center, health club or senior center as opposed to buying a DVD on the subject. An instructor can teach you the correct positions and how to breathe correctly. Also, if you have specific injuries, balance or coordination issues, an instructor can teach variations on positions in order to practice tai chi more safely. There are numerous benefits to this practice, especially when done consistently. If possible, try practicing tai chi each day at the same time and same place. Developing a routine will help you master the movements and achieve a greater sense of overall calm. If your schedule is unpredictable, remember to practice the mind-body concepts without the movements when you are in stressful situations. Tai chi, in its many forms, is a wonderful, holistic way to release mental and physical stress.