THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF TAI CHI

Often regarded as the alternative to yoga, tai chi is a fluid, nearly effortless form of exercise that is designed to relax and cleanse the body and refresh the mind. All tai chi routines are targeted towards the development of, or obtainment of, stress reduction, muscular toning, flexibility, coordination, and balance.

The images of individuals flowing through “dance-like” movements and poses as they participate in a session of tai chi (pronounced tie-chee) are not only compelling, but calming as well. Tai chi has been described as meditation in motion because it promotes a high level of serenity through a Like many physical art forms, tai chi was originally developed in China as a form of self-defense. More specifically, tai chi is a form of exercise, both physical and mental, that has existed for over 2,000 years. Practiced often, tai chi can provide the individual with a whole host of physical and mental health benefits.

Tai chi, often times called tai chi chuan, is a noncompetitive, non-aggressive, self-paced routine of gentle physical exercise and stretching. To perform tai chi, an individual moves through a series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner. Each movement seamlessly flows into the next movement without pausing.

Virtually anyone, regardless of age or physical ability, can participate in tai chi as it does not require a high level of physical strength or agility. Instead, tai chi focuses on technique over strength or cardiovascular endurance. Several of the health benefits associated with the practice of tai chi are listed below:

  • Stress reduction, mental clarity and centering, and calmness
  • Increase flexibility in muscles, ligaments and tendons
  • Improved muscle strength and definition
  • Increased levels of energy, stamina and agility
  • Increased levels of mental well-being

There are several forms or styles of tai chi and over 100 possible movements and positions. You can simply determine a series of movements that you prefer and perform them regularly, or you can continue to learn additional movements and perform a routine with an increasing level of diversity. Although the intensity of tai chi varies depending on the form or style practiced (some forms of tai chi are more fast-paced), most forms focus on gentle movements and are suitable for almost anyone, regardless of age or physical capability.

 

All forms and styles of tai chi include rhythmic patterns of movement that are synchronized with the individual's breathing. Although tai chi is considered to be an incredibly safe form of exercise, it is always a good idea to talk with a medical professional prior to starting any new type of exercise routine. This is particularly true for individuals that have any health issues associated with their joints, spine or heart.

 

Benefits of Tai Chi

Similar to other forms of exercise that focus on, and center around, achieving a mind-body connection (i.e. yoga and Pilates), individuals can regularly perform a tai chi routine as an excellent way to reduce their stress, calm their mind, and center their thoughts. During the execution of a tai chi exercise routine, the individual will focus on, and perform, a series of movements while synchronizing their breathing to those movements.

 

This combination of exercises creates a whole mind-body state of relaxation and calmness. Stress, anxiety and muscular and mental tension will be significantly reduced, and the effects will benefit the individual for several hours after they have completed the session.

In addition, individuals that regularly practice tai chi will improve their overall levels of balance, coordination, flexibility, and joint range of motion.

Tai chi is a form of exercise that promotes a lifestyle conducive to good overall health, fitness and mental well-being. Tai chi is a generally safe, non-aggressive form of exercise that is suitable for individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

In fact, tai chi is an excellent form of exercise for older adults because the movements are low-impact and place a minimal level of stress on the muscles and joints. Tai chi is also beneficial for individuals with arthritis, and for individuals recovering from an injury.

Although tai chi has been practiced for over 2,000 years, the health benefits associated with tai chi have only been scientifically studied in more modern times. In a recent study, adults in their 60s and 70s who participated in a 60-minute tai chi class 3 times a week for 12 consecutive weeks were given a series of physical fitness tests to measure their balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. These tests were performed on the individuals prior to and immediately after their participation in the 12-week tai chi course.

According the to authors of the medical study, “statistically significant improvements were observed in all balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility measures after 6 weeks, and they increased further after 12 weeks.” In addition, the authors of the study concluded “that tai chi is a potent intervention that improved balance, upper and lower body muscular strength and endurance, and upper and lower body flexibility in older adults.”

Additional research has suggested that tai chi may offer several other health benefits beyond that of just stress reduction. These health benefits include the following:

• A reduction in anxiety, stress, tension and depression

• Improved balance and coordination

• A reduction in the number of falls due to a lack of strength, balance or range of motion

• Improved sleep quality (i.e. remaining asleep longer at night and feeling more alert during the day)

• A decrease in the rate of bone loss in women after menopause

• Lower blood pressure

• Improved cardiovascular fitness

• Reduction in chronic pain

• Improvement in everyday physical and mental functioning

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