Back in the late 14th, early 15th centuries in China lived a guy called Chang San Feng. He was a monk, and an exponent of Taoism, YiJing and Kung Fu. One day he thought it would a great idea to combine all his favourite bits and pieces of these to create his own form of meditation come yoga come martial art. The result was Tai Chi.

Loosely translated, Tai Chi can be taken to mean One and/or Supreme Ultimate Fist. Both are relevant to the concept of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is very much about balanced, energetic but controlled hand and arm movements done in slow motion. Correct breathing and posture are both important to the art of doing Tai Chi correctly. This facilitates the flow of Chi energy through the body.

All Tai Chai movements are done slowly, with great control, deliberation, and internal focus. This allows you to improve the connections between your body and your environment. This connection with body and environment is integral to Tai Chi. If you become disconnected during a session, don’t lose focus. Continue to perform the movements, listening to the instructions, and work on overcoming the distraction.

The mind is important in Tai Chi. It needs to be highly focused so as to perform the various moves properly. There is also a lot of internal focus required to increase energy flow within, promote harmony between internal systems, and enhance internal serenity.   The stretching, bending and reaching movements of Tai Chi combined with this emphasis on tranquillity, calmness, and internal harmony are excellent for relieving anxiety, tension and stress.

Tai Chi is also about physical balance as much as it’s about internal balance. The movements require a controlled shifting of balance, which helps to strengthen tendons and ligaments in hips, knees and ankles. It also improves balance, alignment and motor control.   It’s very similar to the types of exercises athletes do to strengthen their core and improve balance but with Tai Chi, these exercises are slow, smooth and more relaxed. The principles though remain the same.

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At its most basic level, Tai Chi combines exercise and martial art movements. However, whilst they may be based on combative martial art movements, Tai Chi movements by contrast are soft, gentle and flowing. They are carried out in a much more relaxed fashion, slowly, smoothly, and with controlled force. Every movement is connected to the one before it, and to the one coming after it.

Movements always start from the spine.   From there the momentum flows smoothly to the waist, down the legs to the feet before returning up the body to the arms, hands and lastly the fingers. Power conversely moves from the feet up through the legs, torso to the shoulders and then out to the hands and fingers.

Shoulders are always carried in a dropped position to eliminate tension. Propped shoulders are tense shoulders and tension is not a part of Tai Chi. Likewise, the position of the knees is also important. They should remain bent throughout a session. Height too must stay level without moving up and down whilst the head is carried as if suspended in mid-air. The chest is depressed and the back raised but neither position should be the result of forceful exertion. Rather, they should naturally and easily fall into these positions and remain that way without effort. If you are doing the Cheng type of Tai Chi, wrists are held straight to form a lady’s hand. This is one of the basic features of the Cheng style as it cultivates the flow of energy within the body.

Breathing is focused on your dantian or Qi Focus Flow Centres (energy centres). There is one in your brain, one in your chest and one in your lower torso. But never exert force over your breathing. As you get better at Tai Chi, breathing in time with your movements will come naturally and easily.

Tai Chi has many health benefits.   More and more practitioners are recommending it to fibromyalgia patients for example because its calming and meditative effects combined with the smooth gentle non-intrusive strengthening exercises are ideal for this health disorder. Indeed Tai Chi’s calming, stress reducing aspects have made it one of the most popular alternatives to other ancient techniques like Yoga.   This, coupled with the way the controlled movements improve muscle strength as well as enhance flexibility and balance, make it idea for people of all ages and fitness levels. With or without a health disorder!

Here are few of the ways it can improve overall health and fitness according to research:

Improving Balance In The Elderly

Tai Chi is great for improving balance and co-ordination, which makes it ideal for the elderly or indeed for anyone who has problems with balance and co-ordination. This study found that Tai chi could reduce the risk of falls in the elderly and another study found that quality of sleep also improved.

Parkinson’s Disease

Other studies have looked at the effectiveness of Tai chi for helping people with Parkinson’s disease:

Joint Disorders

Tai Chi’s slow gentle movements should never cause pain or discomfort. In fact, should you experience either, you must tell your instructor who can then modify the movements to suit. This makes it ideal for people with joint inflammations like arthritis, fibromyalgia and various autoimmune diseases that affect the joints. The precisely controlled movements keep the joints moving whilst also strengthening connective tendons, ligaments and muscle around joints, and improving bone flexibility.

Fibromyalgia –

Arthritis –

Multiple Sclerosis

This study looked at existing research into Tai chi for multiple sclerosis sufferers and found that the evidence indicates there are significant benefits to be had, notably in the areas of balance and improvements in quality of life.

Stress And Anxiety

The following studies looked at how effectively Tai Chi and another ancient Chinese practise Qigong could promote relaxation and reduce stress and found evidence that it helps considerably with anxiety, depression and high blood pressure:

Hypertension, Headache, And Insomnia

Tai chi was shown to be beneficial for patients with headaches, hypertension and insomnia by reducing clinical symptoms and improving quality of life.

Other Health Research

Both Tai chi and Quigong have a positive effect on things like immune function and vaccine-response, endorphin levels, baroreflex sensitivity as well as reducing inflammation markers like C-reactive protein, cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone.

Symptomatic heart failure:

For more information about the research into the many ways Tai chi benefits a range of health conditions, you can check this review of the existing documentation.

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