Maybe you’ve heard of Tai Chi and thought it was a fancy form of karate or yoga. Or maybe you’ve never even heard of it, but you would like some options on how to naturally relieve stress. Tai Chi is a form of martial arts that combines slow, gentle, controlled movements with mindful breathing. Not only is it wonderfully relaxing, but it is also anti-aging!
Twenty years ago I spent a summer attending classes at Donghai Daxue (Tunghai University) in Taiwan. Every morning on our way to breakfast, we would walk by a park where 30 or more people were practicing Tai Chi. Local Taiwanese performed these exercises every morning before going off to work or school. The movements were very controlled and beautiful, and it was amazing to see so many people moving synchronistically. At that time, I believe we were told they were doing Qi Gong. There are a lot of opinions as to the difference between Tai Chi and Qi Gong; the two terms are often used interchangeably. I think that one of the simplest definitions is that Tai Chi is an extension of Qi Gong. It still utilizes breath work and gentle movement, but it also incorporates some martial arts movement. But don’t be afraid! It is not a combative exercise; however, it might teach you some self-defense maneuvers.
What I love about Tai Chi is that you do not have to be an elite athlete to do it. Its gentle movements are very healing for those with joint problems, fatigue, or who are just very de-conditioned. This form of exercise strengthens muscles, improves balance and flexibility, and improves mental focus. Studies have shown that it is effective in lowering blood pressure, decreasing stress, and improving the quality of sleep. It can be performed standing or sitting. What is important is the focus of your mind and the coordination of your breath with every movement. It teaches people how to release the stress and emotions that get locked in the body which can lead to chronic disease and pain.
I highly recommend attending a Tai Chi class. It is always important to work with a certified instructor to make sure that you are performing each exercise correctly. It is also amazing to feel the synergy of working through each movement with a group of people. However, once you are comfortable with the principles of Tai Chi, you can purchase a DVD and perform the exercises right in the comfort of your own home. That way you don’t have to worry about your schedule conflicting with the Tai Chi class schedule, but you still get the healing and relaxing benefits!