Tai chi is a special form of exercise originating in ancient China. The name, tai chi, translates as 'Supreme Ultimate Exercise' or 'Skill'. Initially it began as a martial arts practice, but developed into forms which the ordinary person can easily adapt as part of a daily routine. Tai chi exercises consist of flowing, relaxed physical movements coordinated with the breath. This effectively links the body and mind in an effort to maintain optimum health.
There are many reasons to practice tai chi. The continuous, graceful exercises soothe a stressed out mind and serve to strengthen the physical body. Circulation of the blood and fluids improves muscle tone and the ability to concentrate. The purpose of tai chi is to enhance energy levels without the use of external substances. One way to look at this is to compare waking up with a strong cup of coffee, as opposed to relying on your body's internal resources to start your day.
Tai chi exercises play out as an eye-pleasing dance in its elegance and grace. Performing them should bring satisfaction and joy. In this way one can look forward to it and find relief from daily stress. This is different than the rush, or massive energy surge, experienced in competitive sports or other rigorous exercises. Tai chi is appropriate for all age groups, and is very popular amongst seniors in China today.
Many forms of tai chi exist today and most emphasize the use of relatively easy motions. It doubles as a form of meditation to address issues of the mind. This makes it an excellent choice for those needing to unburden their minds from overthinking or anxious thoughts. A great time to practice is early morning, preferably before eating or after a light breakfast. However, there is really no bad time to practice, although it is not recommended right after a heavy meal.
The best way to get started is with a professional teacher. Usually, it is a group activity performed outside in a local park or outdoor setting. However, those options may not be viable for everyone. Luckily, there are simple, basic exercises which most people can safely perform on their own. Some are as easy as standing with the legs shoulder-width apart, as the arms swing slowly in large circles. Even 10 minutes a day of tai chi exercise can make a difference in someone's life.
The benefits will vary according to each individual. For example, an actice young person with a taxing office job, who experiences acute stress in the form of 'butterflies in the stomach,' needs to reduce her anxiety. While practicing tai chi, she may feel that unpleasant sensation in her center dissipate, as her fluid movements help disperse energy more evenly through her body. This benefit can spread into other areas of her life, allowing her to fall asleep more easily or naturally desiring more nutritious foods.
To further assist her in falling asleep at night, a short set of the right tai chi exercises, as part of a bed-time ritual, may prove useful. As mentioned, correct breathing, timed with the physical movements, is key to unlocking the full potential of this ancient art form. Perhaps motions which gently rock the body with a soothing, rhythmic pace can signal her mind to switch off, as her physical form prepares to slumber.
In other cases, tai chi may come in handy to help stave off unhealthy food cravings. Sometimes the lure of sweets is strong and a distraction may be in order. Many tai chi exercises do not require large spaces to practice, some can even be performed while sitting. Even while comfortably seated, movements which enlist only the arms and a concentration on the breath, just might be enough to get someone to override the desire for a not-so-good choice in snacks.
To find out more about which tai chi exercises are perfect you and your particular health issues, consult with your practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to learn more about integrating the practice into your daily life.
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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.