Tai chi—you’ve probably heard of it and even seen it before, but you may not know exactly what it is.
So, what is “Tai Chi”?
Tai chi is literally translated from Chinese as “the ultimate force.” It descends from qigong, which means “exercise of energy.” Qi (pronounced as chee) translates as life force energy. The study of tai chi is about moving energy throughout the body.
You can often see tai chi taking place in parks, nature, and even rooftops in urban areas.
You’ve likely seen tai chi being practiced, even if it was in a movie scene. (For example, at the end of the Julia Roberts movie, Notting Hill, there is a tai chi class taking place in the park.)
To see what tai chi looks like in action, click the video of Tai Chi master, Dr. Paul Lan, who trained me. He is regarded as one of the top four tai chi experts in the world.
Health Benefits of Tai Chi
Improved strength and balance are two major benefits of doing tai chi. However, people with certain medical conditions or illnesses may experience additional health benefits specific to their circumstance.
- Strengthen muscles and improve flexibility
- The movements are slow and continuous, which challenges the muscles. Range of motion increases as well, as you encourage joints and muscles to move in ways that are different from everyday activity.
- One of the tai chi principles is maintaining good balance. With the small stepping and slow continuous movement, balance improves over time. If fact, one Center for Life Balance student said that after one month of classes he’s noticed improved balance.
- Blood pressure
- Both the physical and mental aspect of tai chi has been proven to reduce blood pressure.
- Pain reduction, specifically joint pain
- The gradual, flowing motions help the body reduce inflammation and improve muscle and joint health.
- Stress reduction
- This is a movement meditation, so the mind and body are both removed from everyday activity.
- Tai chi involves a lot of focus, movement meditation and intentional breathing, and the practice of tai chi is frequently recommended for emotional and mental well-being.
Tai Chi and Senior Health
Tai chi has been proven to help with health issues that seniors often experience. Examples include:
- Tai chi, with its range-of-motion-focused, slow, gentle, continuous movements, increases body awareness, and helps develop a better sense of balance. This can help reduce the risk for falls.
- Muscle strengthening
- As people age, muscle mass reduces. Tai chi can help build muscle mass—not like lifting weights, but maintaining and building endurance.
- Bone density
- Tai chi movements “pull” on the body, which helps build bone density in a very safe way.
- Pain reduction
- Arthritis and other chronic pain are proven to be improved via tai chi. In fact, we offer a specific “Tai Chi for Arthritis” class at the Center for Life Balance that is endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation.
Fibromyalgia and Pain Patients
Fibromyalgia patients can also benefit from tai chi. Fibromyalgia is one of many health conditions that is marked by chronic pain that can be helped by tai chi. The “Tai Chi for Arthritis” class is truly focused on pain relief so individuals with other types of pain can benefit.
Emotional and Mental Stress
Individuals who have emotional and mental stress can also find a special benefit from tai chi. People tell me that when they practice tai chi, it helps them remove themselves from their stresses and worries while they practice, and they find their anxiety really drops during and after the class.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What should I wear?
A: Loose fitting clothing and comfortable shoes.
Q: Will I be sore, or can I get hurt during class?
A: Because of the nature of tai chi, the risk of injury is extremely low. You may experience very mild soreness at first since your muscles will be used in ways they’re not used to.
Q: Will I feel “behind” when I come to my first class?
A: Tai chi is non-competitive and people move at their own paces.
As a Deaconess Cross Pointe social work therapist and certified tai chi instructor, I see first-hand the benefits that tai chi can offer. I’ve been practicing tai chi several years, and recently became certified as an instructor through the Tai Chi for Health Institute. Tai chi is something I’m really passionate about and would encourage you to consider.