In my early 20s I had a job with a rather stressful commute. It wasn’t so much that the job was far away, it was more an issue of terrible gridlock, which you could argue was actually worse. Part of the problem was that we were all attempting to drive past a large train terminal which came with its own set of traffic nightmares. So there we all sat together each morning in our cars, waiting to move. One thing I will always remember about that drive was a woman I dubbed “The Tai Chi Lady”. While the whole world was rushing around her in trains and cars, she would stand on a green patch of grass at the train terminal, face the sunrise, and practice these amazingly graceful movements (in business attire, no less!).
I don’t know if she had just sat through the same gridlock we were all grappling with, or if she was preparing for the two hour long train ride to New York or D.C., but she was exponentially less stressed than everyone around her. Now, whether you want to practice your art in public is up to you, but the benefits of Tai Chi classes were demonstrated to me every morning around 7:30 am. The Tai Chi Lady was up and moving while we were all stuck in cars and she was breathing evenly while we were all huffing at the inconvenience. That’s when I realized she might be on to something.
So, what are the benefits of Tai Chi?
Fun For All Ages
The slow, low-impact and gentle movements of Tai Chi make it ideal for anyone dealing with health concerns like arthritis, minor sports injuries, or muscle stiffness. The fluid, easy movements make this an ideal form of fitness for older adults who are looking to stay fit without risking injury. Kids can also follow the movements of Tai Chi with a little guidance, and they can benefit from the structured class by learning discipline and healthy movement. Of course, always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine, no matter how easy it may seem. Once you have the green light from your physician, you can begin this fun, invigorating exercise practice.
A Heart Healthy Endeavor
Again, assuming your doctor is on board with you taking up the practice of Tai Chi, the benefits to your heart health can be outstanding. The slow, controlled movements have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and stress. There is emphasis placed on proper breathing which can help relieve tension and calm you down. Furthermore, even though the movements are low impact, there can still be a small cardio element to these workouts. In fact, many instructors may suggest that you begin your practice with a brisk, easy walk to get your heart rate up.
Exercise of any kind can help promote healthy circulation, and Tai Chi is no exception. Many people taking Tai Chi classes are there on the recommendation of their doctors to help reduce the risk of stroke or heart disease by increasing healthy circulation. Tai Chi is also an option available to those unable to participate in more vigorous exercises, so it is a good way to get your blood pumping, without some of the risks involved in high impact activities.
Tai Chi Increases Strength and Balance
Especially for older adults, avoiding trips and falls becomes more of a concern. Tai Chi can address overall strength and balance by focusing in on key elements. Bone strength and density can be improved by the regular exercise provided by Tai chi, and many of the poses also promote joint stability. A healthy skeleton with a good range of motion creates a stronger foundation, and can address balance and falling concerns.
Leg strength is also a big part of Tai Chi Classes. Every aspect of stronger legs is focused on such as flexibility, range of motion, and stability. When your legs feel stronger, you feel stronger. You can approach steps, inclines and hills with confidence, knowing that you have greater control, and fewer reasons to worry.
Increased Energy and Brighter Mood
Sometimes, people are reluctant to try a new exercise program because they are tired. It seems logical, because exercise is supposed to tire you out, and if you are already feeling exhausted, exercise would be too difficult. Believe it or not, just the opposite is true.
Engaging in healthy movement every day can help wake you up all over, and provide you with that energy boost you’ve been lacking. Especially with a gentle routine like Tai Chi, you are likely to feel motivated and positive afterwards. You are not running a marathon, or swimming a mile, so you are not going to feel like you did after a light and healthy workout.
Exercise also releases endorphins which are your brains natural “feel good” chemicals. Some gentle exercise like Tai Chi can help you work through some of those minor aches and pains that pop up throughout the day, while also giving you a boost in mood. After a workout, you feel accomplished, less stressed and more positive. You can use this to your advantage, and carry this brighter energy with you throughout the day.
Here is the bottom line, sometimes, people don’t want to give Tai Chi a shot, because it looks like it’s slow, and maybe even a little strange. Want to know a secret? Tai Chi is actually a martial art, just like Kung Fu or Karate. It is a centuries old form of self defense shown to be an effective strength training and combat exercise. It’s just that the movements are slowed down a little. Do not be fooled into thinking that what you are doing in a Tai Chi class somehow “doesn’t count” as exercise, because it absolutely does.