In our world today when we think of exercise, we often conjure images of spandex, water bottles, and complex machines designed to pull, push, and spin our way to better health. As a society, we are constantly being told to push harder, that “pain is weakness leaving the body,” or that no pain will result in no gain. These points are great for those who wish to attain a level of fitness consistent with more professional athletes, but what about the rest of us? For those of us who do not enjoy the pain associated with such kinds of physical prowess, what options are available to us? How do we maintain an acceptable level of physical fitness when there is no gym or we are unable to physically perform the acts we are told will make us more healthy?
In China, roughly 4,000 years ago, a style of self-defense was adapted to provide physical and mental fitness to those who would never know the inside of a gym. Tai Qi began as a form of boxing, which evolved into a softer, gentler study of movement which provided its practitioners with a more developed level of fitness, flexibility, balance, and mental clarity which would eventually capture the interest of an entire nation and spread globally.
Today, Tai Qi (Tai Chi, t’ai chi chuan) has become the answer many older patients use to fulfill the need for physical activity in their later years, providing a gentle and accessible way of achieving a level of fitness more consistent with vibrant longevity. The beauty of this form of exercise lies in its ability to adapt to the needs of a wide array of patient populations. Its movements can be performed dynamically with a considerable amount of force, or slowly and still have similar benefit. There are practitioners who engage in seated Tai Qi and never need to leave the comfort of their own chair while still maintaining blood flow and decreasing stress. Some instructors engage in visualization exercises where patients suffering paralysis use their minds to help their remember movement. A recent study directly attributed the use of Tai Qi to help alleviate the effects of fibromyalgia, highlighting the importance of slower, gentler movements over the more intense cardio-taxing exercise regimens previously prescribed. Other studies point to its efficacy in helping elderly patients maintain their physical balance and mental clarity.
After 4,000 years it would stand to reason that this form of exercise provides a great deal of benefit to its practitioners. Its movements are simple and easy to learn or adapt to pre-existing medical conditions from arthritis to paralysis. Some would attribute its success to the promoting of qi (internal energy) movement throughout the body while others would credit the increased blood flow without further damage to physical structures to its widespread acknowledgement of being a truly excellent way to stay in shape. No matter which argument you use to justify practicing Tai Qi you will still enjoy its effects.