I hate exercise. I mean deeply hate it. The act of getting ready to work out feels so counter-intuitive to me. There are a million other things I’d rather be doing. Also, at my age, a lot of workouts genuinely hurt. I’ve gotten stiffer over the years. My flexibility has suffered.
However, I know I need regular exercise for my overall health. It had to be something simple. I wasn’t going to do it otherwise. Originally, I thought about yoga. But with two cats and two dogs in the house…getting on the floor does not work for me.
Then I found tai chi.
No matter your age, health, or level of hatred for the gym, tai chi fits smoothly into your life. If you haven’t considered adding the incredible benefits of this ancient movement to your daily routine, you absolutely should! It’s considered “exercise” but it’s so much more than that!
The History of Tai Chi
The concepts of this ancient art are found in Chinese history. The practice focuses on Qi (the energy that flows through your body) as well as yin and yang (your harmony with your surroundings and the universe at large).
It’s believed that a Taoist monk created this soft fighting style. He described tai chi as follows:
No matter your current fitness level, tai chi is a gentle, low-impact way to exercise that offers positive side effects to your entire body. There are even classes for those who are confined to a wheelchair.
Three Core Components of Tai Chi…
- Movement that includes all your major muscle groups.
- Breathing that improves circulation and transports more oxygen to your tissues.
- Meditation that promotes feelings of relaxation, clarity, and empowerment.
A typical class includes a warm up period, movement through the various forms taught by the instructor, and breathing (Qigong). Each class takes you through these elements to gently work the various parts of your body in tandem.
7 Powerful Benefits of Tai Chi
Improve your mood naturally. For those who suffer from stress, depression, or anxiety, tai chi is an effective way to lower the mental and physical toll they take on your body. Experts call it “meditation in motion” because it strengthens the mind-body connection.[i]
Exercise is always good for releasing “feel good” hormones – and tai chi is no exception! A study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry discovered that depression symptoms were improved for patients who added tai chi to their standard treatments.[ii]
Build core strength. If you’re unwilling or unable to lift weights, tai chi could be right for you. It’s shown to improve your core (abdomen and back), upper-body (arms and shoulders), and lower body (legs) strength without straining or overdoing it.
Improve flexibility, balance, coordination, and agility. The smooth, circular movements of tai chi gently warm your muscles and provide the benefit of mild aerobic exercise without the impact on your joints.
It’s also amazing for improving balance. The New England Journal of Medicine published their findings on patients with Parkinson’s who practiced tai chi. The participants had measurably improved gait and posture, while also experiencing fewer falls.[iii]
Clear your mind. Deep, natural breathing accompanies the slow-motion movements of tai chi. A constant flow of gentle energy and deep breathing helps to clear your mind, focus your thoughts, and calm your emotions.
While there are definite mystical elements to the ancient practice of tai chi, scientists point to the movements and breathing that promote mental clarity and relaxation.
Slow the aging process. Assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Peter M. Wayne, explains, “A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct [in addition] to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age.”[iv]
The National Institute on Aging determined that tai improved confidence, strength, and balance in older adults that resulted in a lower risk of injuries from falls.[v]
Encourage physical and emotional healing. Based on the same construct as acupuncture, tai chi works to remove “blocks” to your internal energies. Between the movements and the breathing, your mind and body are open, relaxed, and clear.
If you’ve suffered an injury, an emotional trauma, or simply feel “stuck,” the benefits of tai chi may be just the thing to jumpstart your healing. Researchers with Harvard Medical School found that patients recovering from heart failure experienced a better quality of life, improved mood, and better sleep when they practiced tai chi.[vi]
Manage chronic pain naturally. For the millions of Americans who suffer with chronic pain, exercise is not always an easy task to include. As a result, bodies already dealing with pain may become stiff and inflexible. The gentle movements of tai chi are unlike other forms of exercise such as walking, cycling, or using weights.[vii]
If you suffer from the chronic pain of fibromyalgia or arthritis, try tai chi to help manage the pain (without more pain), improve flexibility, and keep your muscles supple.
More Promise from Tai Chi
Initial results from several studies around the world have indicated that tai chi benefits may also be helpful in managing blood sugar (glucose) levels, improving immunity, easing the effects of substance abuse detoxification, reducing the side effects of dementia, and lowering systemic inflammation.[viii]
If you’re an elderly adult, pregnant, suffering from heart disease, or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, check with your doctor before beginning tai chi.
Most people who start tai chi do so for the physical benefits but quickly recognize the incredible mental and emotional benefits it offers as well.
You’re going to love the way this ancient exercise makes you feel. The benefits of tai chi are waiting for you…find a class near you or watch online classes in the privacy of your own home. There are hundreds of them on YouTube so one is sure to be right for you!
[i] UCLA Center for East-West Medicine: Tai Chi and Qigong for the Treatment and Prevention of Mental Disorders
[iv] Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: Effect of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis
[v] The New England Journal of Medicine: Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease