By JudyAnne Bonafede
Tai Chi is a gentle form of exercise becoming that is practiced using a form of meditation and strengthening. A series of slow and synchronized movements with graceful names like Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail, White Crane Spreads Its Wings, and Needle at the Bottom of the Sea, tai chi resembles a slow-motion dance, consisting of various postures and gentle movements. According to Chinese philosophy, the postures improve the flow of chi, the vital life energy that sustains health and calms the mind.
Tai chi is different from other types of exercise. Movements are usually circular and not forced, muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. The movements can be adapted for anyone, from the most fit to those confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.
Research shows tai chi can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, enhance circulation, increase flexibility and balance, improve immune functioning, boost mental alertness, and reduce stress. An Australian study found it had the same effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones as brisk walking. Studies of older adults found that practicing tai chi weekly decreased their risk of falling.
According to Peter M. Wayne, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program there, “A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age.”
A tai chi class typically includes a warm up, consisting of easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, to help loosen muscles and joints and focus on breath and body. Qigong (or chi kung), which is breath or energy work, involves a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy while teaching you how to move efficiently with the least amount of effort.
Observing a class may be the best way to start tai chi. Talking to an instructor, getting feedback, and sharing the camaraderie of a group is also a good idea. It is always best to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program, particularly if you have a preexisting condition, or take medication that can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Chances are your doctor will encourage you to try this gentle form of exercise that is becoming so popular. Look for an experienced teacher who will accommodate individual health concerns or levels of coordination.
About the author:
JudyAnne Bonafede teaches tai chi at Jindo Marshall Arts in Tonawanda. To speak her or observe one of her classes call 870-2972. She encourages students to ask about Flex-fit and BlueCross Blue Shield Aqua Dollars and the two for one package which can be used by an individual or shared with a friend.