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What is Tai Chi and How Can It Benefit Our Health?

By Charles Hopkins Published 11/27/2007 | Alternative Medicine
Tai Chi is originally derived from martial arts. It is a non-combat, self-paced series of physical movements incorporated breathing and relaxation techniques. Because the movements are low impact with minimal pressure on the muscles and joints, Tai Chi is well suited to older people.

Through the graceful movements, Tai Chi fosters a calm and tranquil mind that connects the body with the universe, the heaven and the earth. It can be applied therapeutically to those who constantly suffer anxiety, stress, insomnia, or tension. Many studies have shown that regular practice of Tai Chi can support, unblock, and redirect the flow of "chi", the vital energy, and blood, to enhance our overall health and well-being.

With the focus on the interactions among the mind, body, and spirit, and with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health, Tai Chi is especially good for people with chronic diseases, such as arthritis, high blood pressure, fatigue, balance and coordination problems, or even cancer. Since its movements are not strenuous, practicing Tai Chi does not require any special flexibility or physical strength.

The history of Tai Chi is difficult to sort out and the true origins of Tai Chi are unclear but many scholars believe its roots can be traced back to 200 B.C. with the practice of yoga in ancient India. It was not until the 13th century that a series of movements were created by a reputed Taoist monk, Chang Sang Feng. Those movements became the base from which subsequent styles would be developed. Tai Chi later evolved into many different styles and practices through time. The Chen style and the Yang style are the most famous styles among them. The Yang style was modified from the Chen style and is the most commonly practiced form today.

Tai Chi masters usually prefer to practice Tai Chi in the early morning when the air is abundant and fresh. In China, it is common to see people gather in the park to practice Tai Chi in the early morning. According to the Chinese, the slow movement with breathing technique will cause the flow of "chi" to occur in a smooth and balanced manner. The circulation of this "chi" in the body helps unblock the stagnation in the meridians, hence, reduce tension or pain and improve physical alignment while building strength, endurance, and stability of the legs. For these reasons, many people practice Tai Chi to relieve stress and body ache. In addition, some studies show that Tai Chi practice can establish greater balance and flexibility and improve heart and blood vessel function in both healthy people and those with heart conditions. Combined with modern therapeutic principles to create an exercise plan feasible to those people, Tai Chi can be used to treat a wide range of health problems -- from arthritis to heart disease.

The most common form practiced today, the Yang style, includes the following forms:

Long form

The long form consists of 108 movements divided into three stages. Those movements represent the basic principles of Tai Chi: balance, concentration, alignment, flexibility, strength, internal calmness, and smooth breathing rhythms, etc.

Short Form

The short form is a simplified version of the long form, including only 24 movements. It is less physically demanding than the long form, thus, more appealing to beginners, especially to older people. When done properly, the short form benefits the health as much as the long form. Therefore, the short form has become quite popular and is now practiced all over the world.

Sword Form

The sword form is composed of about 32 movements divided into four stages. Its graceful movements focus more on the positions of the hands when you hold the sword as if it becomes part of your fingers.

Push Hands

The push hands form is when two partners practice together that incorporates the movements of Tai Chi into a defensive and offensive aspect of martial arts. It teaches students not to resist force with force; instead, use the body to yield to force and redirect it. This form is more appealing to younger adults.

In conclusion, Tai Chi is a form of martial arts, with slow and gentle movements. Regular practice of Tai Chi can enhance our physical and emotional health, improve chronic illness, prevent diseases, relieve stress level, increase energy, and improve quality of sleep. The key to reap the full benefits of Tai Chi is to practice continuously. Its various styles are available for people of all ages and it is generally safe for people of all levels of fitness.