Introduction to Tai Chi

An exercise for all ages, this Eastern practice has been shown to help with blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis, insomnia and more.

| Feb. 13, 2009

  • Tai Chi
    Depression and diabetes are just a couple of the ailments that a tai chi practice can help you fight.

  • Tai Chi

Practitioners say that tai chi — a 600-year-old dancelike exercise derived from the martial arts — clears the mind, relaxes the body, and contributes to health and longevity. Tai chi originally came to the United States with the arrival of Chinese immigrants following the Civil War. And it’s become increasingly popular — both as a gentle form of meditative exercise, and as a way to cope with many illnesses.

What is Tai Chi?

Translated into English, tai chi variously means: “supreme boxing,” “the root of all motion,” and “optimal fist fighting.” It is considered a martial art, but unlike the more combative styles, tai chi is based on fluidity and circular movements. Tai chi masters say that this gentle dance develops the flexibility of child, the strength of a lumberjack and, eventually, the wisdom of a sage.

Tai chi embodies the Chinese idea that life is based on life energy, or chi. Many tai chi forms incorporate movement of the arms as though one is gently holding a big beach ball of chi. Based on the Chinese worldview, tai chi divides chi into two equal, opposite and complementary parts, yin and yang.  Tai chi incorporates the yin-yang unity of opposites in many ways, for example, during tai chi routines, the weight shifts repeatedly from one leg to the other and the arms move in opposite, yet complementary directions. Deep meditative breathing is also central to tai chi.

People new to tai chi often remark that masters of this art seem oddly ageless. They look like they might be anywhere from 30 years old to 80. It’s hard to tell. The Chinese say that tai chi is a major boon to health and longevity, which is why so many elderly people practice it. It’s also very gentle, so the elderly can practice it. 

Health Benefits of a Tai Chi Practice

But is tai chi really a boon to health? It has not been the subject of as much scientific research as meditation or yoga, but dozens of studies show that it provides major health benefits, especially for the elderly. A sampling of recent evidence:

Fall prevention. When the elderly fall, hip fracture is a major risk — one that’s possibly life-threatening. During the year after a hip fracture, 25 percent of people die. Among those who survive, only one-third ever regain their independence. And within a year of hip fracture, 20 percent of people must move to a nursing home, accounting for 180,000 U.S. nursing home placements per year. Tai chi improves balance and helps prevent falls. Australian researchers enrolled 351 people, average age 69, in weekly, one-hour tai chi training that lasted four months. Compared with a control group that did not study tai chi, those who did reported 33 percent fewer falls.

2/20/2009 8:08:00 AM

I found the article to be useless. You spent almost no time discussing tai chi. Retitle it "Health Benefits of Tai Chi."

Larry Weeks_1
2/17/2009 1:05:45 AM

I am a Tai Chi Instructor, the article on Tai Chi although very nice was not all that correct. It does have amazing health benefits as I can attest. But, the Tai Chi is not just some odd set of movements, most martial arts in China, and the east are practiced slowly at first and then with speed, as is Tai Chi. The name Tai Chi Chuan means "the grand ultimate fist" as it is built on Taoist principles of yin and yang. The aspect of it being martial is in the movements and always will be. In fact in China you are taught health, meditation and martial art all in one. Self defense is however not for everyone, some people will not resort to protecting themselves and abhor physical contact. I find this in many of my students in Canada. It is a shame that so much more can be learned and has to be turned aside because of that. However, the movements were originated from the wrestling forms of the animals almost 2000 years ago,much like the Kung Fu forms. Wushu is a serious study of body movement and meditation that results in very good health.


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