Do Tai Chi exercises reduce stress and improve mental health?Tai Chi isn't just for the elderly! No matter how old you are Tai Chi has amazing benefits for your physical and mental health. Click here to discover why you need to practice Tai Chi.Click To Tweet
Commonly practiced by seniors, Tai Chi is quickly becoming the “new yoga” among millennials. And for good reason.
Perhaps you work too much and find that you just don’t have time to go to the gym, a daily Tai Chi practice makes taking care of your physical health easier. Plus, the slow movements encourage mindfulness, meditation, and mental clarity.
Originating in Ancient China, Tai Chi is a renowned martial art developed by Chen Wangting around the year 1670. Even though it’s a form of martial art, Tai Chi does not necessarily have attacking movements.
Instead, it’s a practice that exercises your mind and body. Unlike other martial arts, it’s not a competitive sport either. In fact, people practice it for health and spiritual reasons.
Each and every one of us has life energy, otherwise known as “Chi” or “Qi.” According to the Tai Chi for Health Institute, one of the main purposes of Tai Chi is to help our life energy flow better throughout our entire being.
Our life energy is a powerful thing, and with constant practice, one will be able to reap the many benefits of practicing Tai Chi. It’s a powerful form of exercise to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
The Different Types of Tai Chi
There are three popular types or style of Tai Chi, and these are the Wu, Yang and the Tai Chih Chi. Both the Wu and the Yang types have two forms: the shorter form, and the longer, traditional form. For Wu, the shorter form has 24-36 movements.
On the other hand, the traditional form is comprised of 100 movements. This Wu style is gentle and doesn’t require one to bend the knees too much. As a result, it’s an ideal style for beginners to learn, as it doesn’t demand as much as the other styles.
For the Yang style, there are 24 movements in the shorter form, while there are 108 movements in the traditional form. This style may be difficult for some people, as it’s mostly composed of bending one’s knees.
Last but not least, the Tai Chih Chi style only has one form, and it has only 20 movements. The stance of this one is high, and the practitioner doesn’t get to shift the weight between the two legs.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that one style is better than the other, though. All have their differences and their perks. However, all in all, they help guide the practitioner and have soft, graceful and flowing movements.
Understanding The Chi or Qi
All the movements involved in Tai Chi directly affect the Qi. Since practitioners believe it’s a life force found within all living beings, it’s not something that can be seen without the help of Kirlian Photography. However, it is something that can be felt.
All kinds of cultures have similar beliefs in energy that permeates the living. This energy is what supposedly gives a body or a vessel life and movement. For instance, in Japan, it’s known as Ki, while it’s Prana in India.
To put it simply, the human body has a complex set of energy systems that intertwine with each other. When these energy systems are functioning the right way, then that becomes a basis on a person’s health as well.
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Tai Chi helps in restoring the amount of Qi a person has in their body. That is one of the many reasons why this ancient art is still being practiced by many people all over the world.
Who Should Practice Tai Chi?
To put it simply, anyone can do Tai Chi, as it is a slow-paced activity that doesn’t put a lot of stress on the muscles. However, the Mayo Clinic does say that middle-aged or older adults might especially appreciate this form of exercise.
Tai Chi is great for stress relief since it concentrates your mind on the present moment so that you’re not distracted by everything else.
Tai Chi is also relatively cheap and doesn’t really need equipment. Because of this, it can also be appealing to students who want to be healthy and fit, but don’t really have the necessary funds to go to a gym.
Of course, this can also apply to working adults who want to save some money. Tai Chi can be done anywhere – whether at home or in nature. It’s a great activity to do alone, but it can also be fun to do it as a group.
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However, it might not necessarily be an ideal exercise for pregnant women, or for those who have certain health ailments. It’s best to check with a doctor to make sure that Tai Chi is safe to do.
In some instances, there might just be some postures or techniques that should be avoided in order to prevent any injuries. If it can’t be entirely avoided, changing or tweaking the posture can also be a good idea.
Tai Chi v. Yoga
While these are never really thought of as being in the same category, maybe they should be.
Even though Tai Chi was created in China, and Yoga in India, they both serve very similar goals.
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For example, Bikram Yoga can be difficult for beginners due to the heat and intensity of the routine, but on the other hand, Vinyasa Yoga is probably comparable in intensity to Tai Chi.
You don’t have to choose one or the other though, they can work perfectly fine when paired together.
The Benefits Of Practicing Tai Chi
Taoists practice Tai Chi to achieve mental stillness, however, in the modern age, more and more people practice this exercise on a daily basis because of its remarkable benefits. Although it is a gentle and slow exercise, a long-term practice can help in improving a person’s overall health and wellbeing.
I am loving these 5-minute Tai Chi flows by Taiflow. They’re the perfect way to start every morning.
Here are some of the documented evidence that uncovers the benefits of daily Tai Chi.
#1. Tai Chi Develops Muscle Strength and Endurance
One study in Med Sports Science that investigated Tai Chi exercise found that the muscle strength and endurance of regular older Tai Chi practitioners are better than sedentary, non-practitioners.
Plus, according to Dr. Gloria Yeh, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Tai Chi can strengthen both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.
#2. Tai Chi Improves Flexibility and Balance
Being a slow-moving exercise, Tai Chi does not place any pressure on the joints, rather, it actually helps in stretching the muscles to increase flexibility. Several studies have also shown that Tai Chi can indeed help in improving posture and balance.
A study found that Tai Chi helped treat balance issues among Parkinson’s patients with more success than resistance training or regular stretching.
The improved balance and flexibility also result in the decrease in falling or stumbling. This is especially critical for older people. In fact, one research study found that participating in a 15-week Tai Chi program can actually decrease the risk of falling for elderly adults by as much as 47.5%!
#3. Tai Chi Reduces Chronic Pain
In 2017, Lady Gaga postponed the European leg of her world tour because she was reported to be suffering from a chronic illness called fibromyalgia or severe physical pain. The US National Institute of Health reported an estimated 5 million adults are suffering from the same painful condition. But do you know that a very recent study has found that Tai Chi works very well to relieve chronic plan and this illness?
Dr. Chenchen Wang, director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center, conducted a year-long study on fibromyalgia sufferers. In the end, they found that those who practiced Tai Chi for a longer period of time showed greater improvement than those who practiced on a shorter period as well as than those who did not practice Tai Chi.
Another condition where Tai Chi can be beneficial is in managing pain for patients with osteoarthritis. One research study found that a 12-week Tai Chi practice can be beneficial in improving symptoms and physical functions for osteoarthritis patients. The study even recommended that Tai Chi should be included in rehabilitation programs.
#4. Tai Chi Is Good for Bone Health
Osteoporosis which is a condition that causes the bones to be weak and brittle is a common concern for older adults. If not addressed, this can lead to back pain, a stooped posture and loss of height over time.
While Tai Chi has been found to aid in flexibility and strength, it has also been discovered to be effective for maintaining bone density. In a study conducted on post-menopausal women, the evidence of the effectiveness of Tai Chi compared to conventional exercise in increasing bone mass density exists enough to warrant further studies.
#5. Tai Chi Aids in Heart Health
It is common knowledge that exercise is good for the heart. Most people who are not very athletic choose brisk walking in order to improve their cardiovascular health. But what might surprise you is that Tai Chi practice has actually been found to be significantly better than brisk walking in enhancing aerobic fitness in elder women.
This is actually a very useful finding especially for people who do not have access to treadmills or those without the luxury to walk outside due to weather conditions, practicing Tai Chi daily can be a great alternative.
#6. Tai Chi Helps with Weight Loss
Tai Chi may not burn as many calories as sprinting, high-intensity interval training or swimming, however practicing this exercise can actually burn a considerable amount of calories.
According to Livestrong, a 125 person burns 120 calories in 30 minutes, while a 155-pound person burns 150 calories and a 185-pound person burns 178. In terms of calorie burning, a one-hour Tai Chi session is said to be equal to a one hour walk at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour.
If Tai Chi is practiced daily, that can be a considerable amount of pounds lost! And unlike other calorie burning exercises, practicing Tai Chi is not very demanding to the body. On the contrary, it is very relaxing and even stress relieving. Tai Chi can also improve your metabolism which results in more efficient calorie burning.
#7. Tai Chi Boosts the Immune System
The body’s immune system is very important in fighting diseases, but as you grow older, this ability also declines. There are many ways to boost the immune system like eating a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep, but scientists believe that one way to reenergize the immune system is through exercise, particularly Tai Chi.
A UCLA study reported that older individuals who took Tai Chi classes three times a week for a period of 16 weeks reported achieved a level of immunity two times greater than the non-Tai Chi practicing group. Practicing Tai Chi can boost immune systems! This is an exciting finding as it provides an alternative to vaccines.
#8. Tai Chi Improves Internal Organ Health
The unique flowing movement involved in practicing Tai Chi coupled with the deep diaphragm breathing massages the body’s internal organs, including the lungs, heart, liver kidneys and spleen. The slow movements actually compress the organs in a beneficial way.
This can aid in your overall health because the massaging action encourages the organs to detoxify and cleanse. Without this, your body can build up stagnation which can hinder the organs’ ability to function well.
Tai Chi also aids in circulation as specific movements pump bodily fluids including the blood, cerebrospinal fluid, lymph, and the fluids between your joints and cells. A stronger and smoother flow of your body fluids helps you to physically function better.
#9. Tai Chi Lowers Stress Levels and Anxiety
Unlike high-intensity exercises that can drain your energy and push your body to perform harder, Tai Chi requires you to engage in a series of slow, graceful movements. The unhurried actions can help you focus your thoughts and relax your mind and body. This is one of the reasons why Tai Chi is often referred to as “moving meditation”.
Practicing Tai Chi gives you the luxury to slow down and enjoy the calmness of the moment. A one hour Tai Chi session can be helpful to reboot your and recharge as well as letting go of the day’s stresses. Studies have even shown that it can also help in improving your mood and lessen depression.
Start Benefiting from a Daily Tai Chi Practice Today
While most findings are focused on older adults, it is never too early to practice Tai Chi.
This graceful art is such a beneficial form of exercise that it can be practiced by all ages, even children. The moves are not difficult and you do not need any special equipment or venue to start your practice.
Tai Chi is not an instant solution where you can reap the benefits after just one session, instead, make it a lifetime habit that can improve your well-being on the long term.
Printable Habit Tracker Templates
Want to start a daily Tai Chi practice? Awesome, get your printable habit tracker below, with spreads for 30 and 31 days.
Start practicing Tai Chi today to help reduce daily stresses, and benefit it from it long-term with your health as well.
What benefit of practicing Tai Chi most interests you?
More About Guest Contributor
Michael is currently living in Tokyo, and if he is not out wandering the backstreets of Shinjuku, then he’s likely got his nose in a book or his laptop. Kaiya is a community of people who all share an interest in the eastern arts. Everything from yoga and meditation, to philosophy and calligraphy. Check out our blog to join!