We all know that feeling of being overwhelmed by the break-neck speed of life, and the stresses and strains that are thrown at us in the process. If you are balancing a family with a career, the pace can be unrelenting, leaving us desperately seeking ways to put the brakes on and decompress.
There are many ways we can slow things down – and one of the best is by practising tai chi. This gentle practice – a traditional Chinese martial art – may be ancient, but it is the perfect antidote to the busyness of our modern-day lifestyles.
In my own life, practising tai chi has been a hugely rewarding experience. After several years of learning, studying and teaching tai chi in the UK, including a period training China, my father became terminally ill and passed away. Grief hit me at the same time as a long-term relationship ended – and I was trying to balance emotional turmoil with being a parent, holding down a 9-5 job and building up my business as a martial arts instructor. Tai chi was a huge help to me at this time, helping me to escape anxiety and stress, and find a sanctuary of calm.
Over my decade of teaching, I have witnessed both personally and in my students, that the practice of tai chi is like a loyal friend. No matter what else is happening in the craziness of your everyday life, tai chi is always there for you to lean on, to relax and revitalise you, keeping you fit and healthy in so many ways.
10 Ways Tai Chi Can Benefit Your Health
1. Meditation for those who can’t sit still
The practice of meditation has been enjoying its time in the spotlight recently – and rightly so. It is an immensely powerful practice that should be promoted across the spectrum of society, from schools to hospitals to workplaces, and beyond.
A problem that many people have, however, is that they feel that they can’t sit still for long enough to actually be able to meditate. Restlessness should not be an excuse to not practice stilling the mind, bringing a peace and calmness to your daily routine.
Tai chi is known as meditation in motion – the slow, purposeful movements should be done with mental focus and mindfulness. With the practice of tai chi comes the ability to let intrusive thoughts pass, as you learn to do in a more traditional, seated practice of meditation.
2. Pain Relief
Tai chi can help in the relief of many conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and migraines. According to results published in the New England Journal, in a trial of 66 people with fibromyalgia, half of the group took bi-weekly tai chi classes, while half went to health education and stretching classes. After the 12-week trial, those in the tai chi group reported feeling less pain, reduced depression and better sleep than the other group.
3. Improve Balance
A tai chi routine, or form, slowly and gently transitions from one posture to the next, building a strong and stable lower body, greatly improving balance. This is a skill which is crucial at any age, but particularly older people.
Age UK says that falls represent the most frequent and serious type of accident in people over 65. Furthermore, falls are the main cause of disability and leading cause of death from injury among the over 75s. It’s never too soon (or too late) to improve your balance and, with a little bit of time and dedication to Tai Chi practise, excellent results can be achieved.
4. Become More Flexible and Mobile
Healthcare professionals in the UK use the chair test, where a patient’s lower body strength, suppleness and flexibility is measured on how many times they are able to get into and out of a chair in 30 seconds, as a key indicator of mobility. Regular tai chi practice, where the entire musculoskeletal system is gently stretched and strengthened over time, will help immensely to improve your body’s ability to move fluidly and effectively.
5. Train Without Prejudice
Some exercise seems to be the preserve of the already fit and able, but tai chi can help people of all ages, sizes and abilities, even those with injuries.
For those who have always wanted to reap the rewards of learning a martial art and feel as though age, or perhaps injury, is holding them back, tai chi is a welcome respite. It offers the chance to learn an art steeped in martial arts tradition, with enormous health rewards.
Tai chi that it’s a fighting style that is based on principles of deflecting and yielding. It is quite possible with years of practice to defeat opponents who are bigger and stronger than yourself.
A good tai chi instructor should be able to lead a class so that those with an interest in the martial style can gain an understanding and practise of these elements. While a student interested in the health or meditative side of the art, can focus just on those aspects.
6. Boost the Brain
There is a growing body of evidence that supports the theory that regular Tai Chi practice increases the size of the brain. Repeating and memorising the moves, as well as names of the moves, is said to increase the cortical walls of the brain, an effect also linked to regular meditation. For this reason, Tai Chi is thought to be of benefit to sufferers of depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s.
7. Exercise Anytime, Anywhere
Why wait for your weekly class? You can literally do tai chi anytime, anywhere. This is why I have launched White Crane Online, to encourage the practise of tai chi at members’ own pace, from the comfort of their homes.
There is no need for special equipment to practise tai chi, all you need is loose clothing, flat soled footwear and a bit of space .
8. Feel a Sense of Community
There can be no doubt that, whatever your age, being part of a like-minded community greatly enriches our lives. When you add shared goals of improved health, fitness and wellbeing, being part of something bigger than yourself is hugely beneficial for motivation.
By carefully selecting and attending a local tai chi class, you can meet individuals who will become part of your journey in the art and beyond. In addition, by joining an online community with a shared passion, like White Crane Online, you can connect to a wider support network.
9. Soak Up Ancient Culture
Tai chi is an art steeped in history and culture, harking back to the Ming dynasty, and has evolved with Chinese society since that time. Studying it can go much further than simply moving slowly whilst you gently stretch and strengthen the body. As you learn the names and applications of all of the moves, you will also soak up stories from China’s past.
This creates a wonderful opportunity to live and breathe that history and help its transition through the ages. As well as ‘open hand’ tai chi forms, many clubs offer the opportunity to learn traditional weapons forms, such as the straight sword and fan.
10. Add Life to Your Years, and Years to Your Life
Tai chi creates increased chi (energy) levels, bringing good health and vitality to your mind, body and spirit. Regular practise will improve your health and wellbeing whatever your age. Because it is low impact, it complements other more vigorous sports and keeps you doing them for longer.
For older people, tai chi will make you feel physically younger, more active, more mentally engaged, less stressed and involved with a friendly community of like minded people. Literally adding years to your life, and life to your years.