Benefits of Tai Chi Chuan
Here are some of the benefits you may experience through your Tai Chi practice:
Tai Chi is an exercise system that simultaneously works at multiple levels. It exercises both the body and mind in a gently yet testing way that helps to improve overall wellbeing. Some of this is done to how Tai Chi practise integrates the body and mind to work in harmony.
Being relaxed is a core principle of Tai Chi so it is intentional within its practise.
The soft, gentle focus required to feel the flow of your movements in Tai Chi has a natural calming and relaxing effect on both the mind and body.
Paying attention to your movements means that other thoughts have to check out for a while too...which is usually a good thing.
Focus & Concentration
In Tai Chi, you will need to focus on both your body and mind as we learn and practise exercises and the Tai Chi form. Tai Chi asks for a simultaneous broad and narrow focus of attention - on the whole quality of your movement as well as on specific details of the movements. This helps to improve focus and concentration.
Because you pay attention in both body and mind, it is a safe and complete form of functional meditation.
A central principle of Tai Chi is that when you move, everything moves, when you're still, everything is still. In movement, you aim for co-ordination between all parts of your body (and your intentions). In this way, your levels of co-ordination are continuously developed and refined.
This aspect to Tai Chi is slightly more difficult to explain because it is based on a radically different philosophy. Most strength development programmes, especially those in the West, are based upon the exertion of force and strain - think weight training. Most external martial arts are similar. They also tend to isolate certain muscles, or small muscle groups to target the training of strength to more specific areas.
In Tai Chi, strength is achieved through the recruitment of large muscles groups, in particular our postural muscles to give proper structure and alignment of the body. This is done in a relaxed way which reduces tension and strain. Remarkably, this approach helps to develop what could be described as effortless strength. The muscle groups Tai Chi develops very well are anti-gravity and core muscles which is one of the reasons it is so beneficial for rehabiliation exercises and balance.
The efficacy of Tai Chi as a martial art come from the alignment and co-ordination of the whole body. This naturally means improving posture, but in a natural and relaxed way - never do we force certain postural positions, instead your correct posture is allowed to emerge through gentle guidance and correction.
Tai Chi is interesting in how it can promote flexibility without forceful stretching. By flexibility, I don't mean that required to be a top gymnast or Yoga master where they train to bend into almost unnatural positions. The flexibility in Tai Chi is one that promotes better range of functional movement - the kind of movement you do on a day-to-day basis and in many sports activities.
For example, when I spend a lot of time in the saddle riding my mountain bike, I get really stiff in the legs and lower back. Instead of using a typical warm down together with a stretching regime, I do a set of Tai Chi exercises which seems to dissolve this tension, leaving me feeling refreshed and invigorated. I also find that this helps recovery too.
In 2003, I acquired a Neuro-otological medical condition (a condition affecting my balance). Tai Chi was a key part of my rehabilitation which was recommended by all the specialists I got to see on my medical journey.
I am therefore personally aware of the benefits Tai Chi can bring to developing, or regaining our balance.
Studies indicate that Tai Chi can reduce falling risks in the elderly.
People who practise Tai Chi regularly say they feel invigorated by it and it boosts their energy levels. I feel this effect from my Tai Chi practise too, so much so that the more stress I am experiencing in my life, the more time I spend practising Tai Chi, especially if I'm feeling worn out!
Robust research studies on this don't seem to be in common supply so we have to go by people's experience and that this has been reported this is a beneficial effect for a long time.
I believe that it could be down to a number of things. For example:
- better natural breathing rhythm improves oxygen intake and improved circulation distributes this better around our body;
- relaxing the muscles reduces the amount of energy we're expending through reduced tension;
- softening and calming the mind also reduces energy expenditure;
- improved posture makes both our static posture and movement more efficient;
Don't get this confused with core-strength. They're completed different! In Tai Chi, stability is developed through movement and flexibility, like a tree that bends with the wind. So core-stability is about being fluid. Due to the development of alignment, co-ordination, posture, relaxation, and of course physical holding postures, Tai Chi develops core-stability.
You might wonder what Tai Chi has to do with resilience. Tai Chi is a challenge to learn and your learning will not be linear. You'll take a few steps forwards followed by what might feel like many more backwards. Beginners often have the frustrating experience of their body not doing what they want it to do and sometimes the body just decides to do something entirely different. You may find that you don't know your body very well and it takes time to develop this relationship.
Tai Chi helps to develop very good leg strength and core stability and sometimes you'll feel it during practise. Sometime students experience pain in the region of previous injuries and surprisingly muscles can scream a bit when the tension they're holding begins to release.
To overcome all these things and embody the patience needed to learn Tai Chi properly requires resilience.
Is Tai Chi a complete exercise?
No, it isn't. Whatever some people might say. It does not train our aerobic/cardiovascular capacity like higher intensity exercises. This is just one of the reasons I supplement my Tai Chi practise with mountain biking, for example.
Is Tai Chi safe?
Yes, providing it is practised correctly.