T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a gentle exercise program that is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Derived from the martial arts, T’ai Chi Ch’uan is composed of slow, deliberate movements, meditation, and deep breathing, which enhance physical health and emotional well-being.
As are many practices from the East, T’ai Chi Ch’uan is based on spiritual and philosophical ideas that advocate a need for balance in the body, mind, and spirit. Central to tai chi is the idea that Qi (Chi), or life energy, flows throughout the body. Qi must be able to move freely for good health. The principle of yin/yang is important, too. Yin and yang are opposite and complementary forces in the universe, in the same way as light and dark are. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is meant to harmonize these pairs of opposites. Finally, T’ai Chi Ch’uan imitates motion found in nature, such as the movements of animals, thereby uniting human beings with the natural world.
There are various perspectives on how tai chi works. Eastern philosophy holds that T’ai Chi Ch’uan unblocks the flow of qi. When qi flows properly, the body, mind, and spirit are in balance and health is maintained. Others believe that tai chi works in the same way as other mind-body therapies, and there is ample evidence that paying attention to the connection between the mind and the body can relieve stress, combat disease, and enhance physical well-being.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan has three major components — movement, meditation, and deep breathing.
- Movement — All of the major muscle groups and joints are needed for the slow, gentle movements in T’ai Chi Ch’uan. T’ai Chi Ch’uan improves balance, agility, strength, flexibility, stamina, muscle tone, and coordination. This low-impact, weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and can slow bone loss, thus preventing the development of osteoporosis.
- Meditation — Research shows that meditation soothes the mind, enhances concentration, reduces anxiety, and lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
- Deep breathing — Exhaling stale air and toxins from the lungs while inhaling a plenitude of fresh air increases lung capacity, stretches the muscles involved in breathing, and releases tension. It also enhances blood circulation to the brain, which boosts mental alertness. At the same time, the practice supplies the entire body with fresh oxygen and nutrients.
Western Medicine recognizes a multitude of benefits of practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan: increased oxygen intake and utilization (more efficient breathing, reduced blood pressure, slower declines in cardiovascular power, increased bone density, increased range of motion of the joints, greater leg and knee strength and flexibility, reduced levels of stress hormones during and after practice, an improved immune function, better posture and help alleviating repetitive stress injuries. Despite its ancient history, T’ai Chi Ch’uan has been studied scientifically only in recent years. Research suggests that T’ai Chi Ch’uan offers numerous other benefits beyond stress reduction, including: Reducing anxiety and depression, improving balance and coordination by strengthening important joint and muscle groups, releasing mental and physical tensions, improving sleep quality, slowing bone loss in women after menopause, pain relief for people with arthritis (especially knee arthritis/osteoarthritis), lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular fitness, countering/balancing a weak immune system, relieving chronic pain and stress or trauma related injuries, improving physical balance and functions within the body (digestion, blood circulation), increasing energy levels in general.