Tai chi, also known as “tai chi chuan,” is an ancient, kinesthetic art that originated in China as a form of self-defense, but is now widely used as an effective method for stress-reduction and overall health improvement. Tai chi is comprised of soft, smooth-flowing movements that fully engage both the mind and body.
Tai chi appeals to a variety of people, since it emphasizes success in individuality, rather than in competitiveness. The philosophy of tai chi invites everyone to engage in the practice at their own starting point, regardless of physical strength or talent. Consequently, this ancient Chinese practice attracts people of all age groups and levels of athletic ability. It also has an extensive following due to the fact that it requires no special equipment and can be practiced virtually anywhere.
Many people find significant stress relief in the practice of tai chi, since its graceful, flowing postures combined with intentional breathing movements promote mindfulness. This distracts the stressful mind from intrusive thoughts, clearing space for the meditative benefits of tai chi. The complementary mind-body approach of tai chi benefits one’s entire being through enriching the spiritual, physical, and mental aspects of the body, ultimately leading to greater happiness.
Tai chi incorporates more than one hundred different types of positions, with varying styles of movements. The majority of tai chi practices are slowly paced; however, some forms in practice are more quickly paced, allowing for deeper physical exertion.
When deciding to practice tai chi, enrolling in a live class with a reputable instructor will reap the most significant benefits. A trained instructor can educate his or her students on proper tai chi poses, balance, and breathing techniques. In addition, a knowledgeable tai chi instructor will be able to ensure that his or her students understand the philosophy of tai chi and how to put it into practice in the framework of daily life. While tai chi is not generally physically demanding, those with neck, back, or balance issues will need guidance from a qualified teacher. All of these benefits will most likely be met in a live, instructional situation, rather than through a DVD, book, or magazine.
While tai chi is an ancient practice, scientific studies regarding its benefits are promising, yet very limited. So far, the evidence offered regarding the advantages of practicing tai chi are: improvements in circulation and blood pressure; greater sleep quality; reduction in depression and anxiety; significant stress reduction, along with overall improvement in life satisfaction; increased agility, balance, and motor function; increased energy and overall vitality; and cardiovascular improvement in the elderly.
The benefits of tai chi continue to grow with regular practice. Most people enjoy the social experience of a group class; thus, the class is a benefit in its own right. The teachings of tai chi follow students outside of class, leading to stress reduction in many aspects of daily life. Students can call on the mindfulness and tranquility from the practice and apply it to stressful circumstances, such as a traffic jam, work deadline, or a testing situation. Tai chi is an excellent remedy to the stressors of modern life, and those who practice it will understand why it has withstood the test of time.