The Health Benefits of Tai Chi
The gentle, flowing movements of tai chi can build muscle and relieve stress. Find out how you can reap the benefits of this ancient Chinese practice.
Have you ever seen a tai chi class? The participants look like they’re moving in slow motion. But are they really getting fit by not moving fast?
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Yes! Those gentle, flowing movements have some hardcore benefits. Tim Sobo, licensed acupuncturist (LAc), explains how tai chi can help you find balance — both physical and mental.
Tai chi has been a pillar of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for centuries. Its movements are designed to energize and balance your body’s energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”). According to TCM principles, when your qi is balanced, your body can function at its best.
Even if you’re not worried about your qi at the moment, tai chi can help you meet your exercise goals. Tai chi’s slow, purposeful movements require strength and coordination that can challenge all fitness levels.
“When you practice tai chi, you’re not trying to see how fast you can move,” Sobo explains. “Your goal is to make the moves flow together. You move your whole body as a unit. And since strength and balance are required, tai chi is great for your muscles and bones.”
If you’ve never tried tai chi, there’s no need to be intimidated.
“Fitness level doesn’t matter,” Sobo says. “You can modify anything. Do the moves within your limits. Whether you’re 16 or 85, you can do it at your fitness level.”
There are different types of tai chi, each with their own series of exercises. Find one that appeals to you and run (or move slowly) with it. They range from doing five poses to more than 100. And because it’s low impact, people of nearly any age can practice tai chi.
“Think of tai chi as a form of dance,” Sobo explains. “You can learn dance steps within a few days. But you can spend a lifetime mastering the dance. Once you’ve learned the tai chi moves, aim to get better at them each day. Do them more smoothly and go deeper into them.”
Sobo says your goal should be to move so slowly and smoothly that you could balance a plate on your head. Beginners may not want to use their grandmother’s heirloom china. But even if you can’t do this, don’t stress. Tai chi is an art form, where you do the best you can. It’s not a competition.
Speaking of stress, try some tai chi the next time you’re feeling the pressure of daily life. You may find that it gives you the quiet and calm you need.
To successfully practice tai chi, you have to think about your breathing and movements. You enter a state of mindfulness, where you forget about whatever is bugging you.
“Tai chi’s movements require you to focus on breathing and movement together. It’s like meditation in motion,” Sobo says. “You’re focused on what you’re doing rather than on everything else going on in your life. The practice of being mindful is a great stress reliever.”
There are hundreds of studies on tai chi. Researchers have found that it can help with many health concerns, including:
You don’t need special equipment or expertise to start doing tai chi. Here’s how to make it part of your life:
You can do tai chi as often as you want. The more you do it, the quicker you’ll learn the routine. If you have any health conditions or pain, talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
“Since it’s not weight training or long-distance running, many people can safely do 20 minutes of tai chi every day,” Sobo says. “Your body doesn’t need a day to recover. You should not feel any sharp pain when you’re practicing tai chi. Go to your comfort level. Over time, you’ll notice improvements in your health.”