Balance without rigidity, grasping without attachment, yielding without collapsing, action without effort, and movement without tension. All of these abilities can be developed in the mind and body.
These are actually simple skills, but it’s the unique methods of physical conditioning which makes Tai Chi so powerful. The body must become pliable like a young tree. The mind must be focused and non-reactive. While much of the health literature relating to Taijiquan has measured its affect on chronic diseases, everybody can benefit from becoming more relaxed and resilient.
The gentle nature of Taiji movements make it suitable not only for the elderly and rehabilitation clients, but also appropriate for active recovery, athletic warm-ups, cool-downs, and a lunchtime break at corporate office. The circular motions allow the joints to move through a comfortable range of motion. This increases the flow of blood and lymph, calms the nervous system, softens the sinews and loosens muscles. Deep breathing practices stretch the lungs and chest, rising lung capacity, oxygen distribution and carbon dioxide excretion. Respiratory efficiency treats pulmonary illness but also stimulates blood flow to the brain, increasing cognition. Exercises that involve manipulating body weight increase bone mineral density and therefor reduce the risk and symptoms of osteoporosis. Taiji uses all the major muscle groups, working often neglected muscles in the hips, back and core. Meditation exercises similar to Taiji have been shown to reduce depression and anxiety – a growing concern in the modern world.
Science has helped to illustrate the benefits of Taiji on a variety of some of the most common conditions. But a short list includes: hypertension, heart disease, asthma, insulin sensitivity, insomnia, chronic pain and all types of arthritis. Participants have also shown improvements in balance, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, flexibility, digestive discomfort and alertness. Patients who rehabilitate with Taiji recover faster from strokes, cancer/chemotherapy and many types of surgery.
A study involving the Arthritis Foundation and over 300 participants found a reduction in pain, fatigue and stiffness in all types of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. Similar research using a twelve-week Taiji program have demonstrated weight loss, boosted immune response and quickened glucose metabolism leading to reduced inflammation in patients with diabetes or prediabetes. Many of us experience similar conditions everyday to a lesser degree. Hence, Taiji promises a significant benefit for most people.
However, it is important to exercise caution before relegating Taiji to the category of health alone. Truly, the tradition penetrates much deeper. Many separate elements sum to a dramatic increase in wellbeing. Developing the characteristic skills from Taiji leads to the health outcomes as a necessary consequence. The main goal is to unify yin and yang, connect human beings to the natural world, and bring balance to the mind and body.
Chenchen, W., Schmid, C. H., Rones, R., Kalish, R., Yinh, J., Goldenberg, D. L., & … McAlindon, T. (2010). A Randomized Trial of Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia. New England Journal Of Medicine, 363(8), 743-754. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0912611
Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Peter M. Wayne, PhD. 2013, Harvard health publications.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (Oct, 2013). Traditional chinese medicine. Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/chinesemed.htm?lang=en
University of North Carolina School of Medicine. (2010, November 8). Tai Chi relieves arthritis pain, improves reach, balance, well-being, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 6, 2015 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101107202140.htm