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updated on: August 08 2017

What is Tai Chi - info for beginners

Tai Chi is a traditional martial art that originated from China. The exact origins of Tai Chi are not clear. There are several versions of its origins.

One of the versions, which is the romantic one that traces back to as early as 12th century, has it that a Taoist priest named Chang San-Feng created a form of martial art that emphasizes on soft and relaxed movements. He combined Taoism philosophies, military strategies in the art form.

Another version indicated that retired general retreated to a simple farming life and created the Tai Chi movements for longevity and health maintenance. Subsequently, he taught the villagers the martial art to protect themselves.

Until today, Tai Chi has evolved into several major branches - Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu and Sun styles.



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How does Tai Chi look like or feel like to?

Tai Chi comprises of soft flowing movements. Each prescribed move continuously transitions to the next without interruption. The movements are low impact - therefore, the practice is ideal for all ages - old, middle-aged, young adults and children.

A skilled Tai Chi practitioner can move effectively through the use of proper body leverage and timing. Having the knowledge to combine the yin and yang of various movements of push, pull, yield, rise and lowering of the body allows the practitioner to move effectively in activities of daily living. The Tai Chi practitioner's improved movement gait will mitigate or balance out the potential injury risk of various daily living activities i.e. repetitive stress disorder of too much sitting, hunched over a computer screen, etc.

Apart from the physical aspects of the practice, Tai Chi emphasizes on mental elements. In order to practice Tai Chi effectively, one has to practice mindfulness. One has to forget about the excitement of daily activities instead, be present at the moment while performing the movements. With practice, one can maintain a state of calmness and still be fully aware of what's happening in the surroundings and also be aware of the happenings within oneself.

When being mindful about oneself, one will focus on breathing - being mindful of the path, rhythm of breathing. Similar to Qigong, it massages the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic mode).



What is an autonomic nervous system?

According to the definition in the dictionary, it is "the part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes."



By mental or emotional intent, a skilled Tai Chi practitioner can increase the efficiency of the control of the autonomic nervous system - better ability to control the contraction and expansion of tiny muscles of blood vessels to transport body fluids movement. Among some of the many health benefits, the practice is excellent for stress relieve, better vascular health - an overall better health.



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Tai Chi health benefits


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Physical health benefits


Tai Chi physical health benefits are numerous:

  •   healthier heart
  •   helps regulate blood flow better
  •   maintains healthier blood pressure
  •   improves muscular strength
  •   better balance - so, less falls - this is especially beneficial for older adults, who are susceptible to hip fractures
  •   boosts flexibility
  •   higher aerobic endurance


Mental health benefits


There is growing body evidence from scientific research that points to positive mental health benefits from practicing Tai Chi. Several studies have suggested Tai Chi is effective in reducing depression, anxiety, mood disturbances.

A medical research team from Boston University School of Medicine suggested a Tai Chi program helped to ease veteran's PTSD symptoms.

The regular mindfulness practice in Tai Chi also increases brain gray matter density. The repeated training exercises brain plasticity since our brain circuitry connections are sculpted via daily experiences and practices. So a Tai Chi practitioner's brain is growing ... will this help in delaying the onset of dementia?

What should you expect when practicing Tai Chi?


Tai Chi is not the magic pill. In order to get its benefits, one needs to invest time to practice it. However, the practitioner must be mindful and be aware and be mentally present while going through the motions.

  •  You cannot be judgemental including judging yourself.
  •  You should not rush through the motions to get to the end
  •  You should forget about the excitement of the day's activities and focus on the practice
  •  You should strive to improve

Unlike others, practising Tai Chi demands focus, requires one to be mentally present so to connect mind to body. Through continued long term practice, Tai Chi is beneficial to your health - physical and mental, better mood and focus, positive outlook towards your own quality of life.






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References:


  1. Interview with Sifu Sylvia Wong, President, Western Canada Chinese Martial Arts and Chinese Cultural Centre (www.westerncma.ca)
  2. Ryan Abbott, MD, JD, MTOM and Helen Lavretsky, MD, MS, Tai Chi and Qigong for the Treatment and Prevention of Mental Disorders, The Psychiatric clinics of North America, Mar 2013 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3917559/#!po=64.1414
  3. Karl Romain, 3 Ways Tai Chi Trains the Brain, the Blog, HuffPost, Aug 2014, available at http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5434837
  4. Porter Brown, Easing Ills through Tai Chi, New England Regional, Harvard Magazine, Jan - Feb 2010 available at http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/01/researchers-study-tai-chi-benefits
  5. Healthy Day News, Ancient art of Tai Chi may ease PTSD symptoms in veterans, Health News, UPI, Dec 2016, available at http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2016/12/08/Ancient-art-of-Tai-Chi-may-ease-PTSD-symptoms-in-veterans/4541481250362/
  6. Mayo Clinic Staff, Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress, Mayo Clinic, available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/tai-chi/art-20045184?pg=1
  7. Short Sharp Science, Mindfulness and meditation dampen down inflammation genes, New Scientist, June 2017, available at https://www.newscientist.com/article/2137595-mindfulness-and-meditation-dampen-down-inflammation-genes/
  8. What is Qigong-Introduction to Qigong, Qigong Institute website, 2017, available at https://www.qigonginstitute.org/category/5/what-is-qigong
  9. The health benefits of tai chi, Harvard Health Publication, May 2009, available at http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi
  10. Heid, Markham, Why Tai Chi is as good for you as CrossFit, TIME Health, April 2017 available at: http://time.com/4758683/tai-chi-exercise/
  11. Mortimer JA1, Ding D, Borenstein AR, DeCarli C, Guo Q, Wu Y, Zhao Q, Chu S., Changes in brain volume and cognition in a randomized trial of exercise and social interaction in a community-based sample of non-demented Chinese elders, J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;30(4):757-66. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2012-120079, available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22451320