THE BENEFITS OF TAI CHI
I decided to take a tai chi class at the YMCA. I wanted to learn a few new exercises that I
could do with my physical therapy patients. I learned that not only could it improve their
overall strength , balance and range of motion, but it can also lower their stress levels
and blood pressure, while improving their lung function and circulation. There have
been studies that show tai chi can reduce a senior citizen’s fall risk since it improves the
ability to sense the position of one’s body in space which declines with age.
Tai chi originated as an ancient martial art in China. It is a practice that involves a series
of slow gentle movements named for animal actions-for example “white crane spreads
its wings” in a meditative state of mind, with controlled breathing. Movements are never
forced. The muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or
bent, and connective tissues are not stretched stretched. Tai chi is said to unblock Qi
(the energy force) and encourage the proper flow of energy. Tai chi is said to also
promote the balance of the body’s opposite Yin and Yang elements.
Choose loose-fitting clothes that don’t restrict your range of motion. You need shoes
that won’t slip and can provide enough support to help you balance, but have soles thin
enough to allow you to feel the ground. Running shoes, designed to propel you forward,
are usually unsuitable.
While in the class, I had to modify some of the movements that involved balancing on
one leg due to the strain it put on my “old knees”. Tai chi can be easily adapted for
anyone, from the most fit people to those confined to wheelchairs or recovering from
If you have a limiting musculoskeletal problem or medical condition — or if you take
medications that can make you dizzy or lightheaded — check with your doctor or
physical therapist before starting tai chi. Given its excellent safety record, chances are
that you will be encouraged to try it.
Consider observing and taking a class. Taking a class may be the best way to learn tai
chi. Seeing a teacher in action, getting feedback, and experiencing the camaraderie of a
group are all pluses. Contact your local senior center, recreation or community center to
inquire if they offer tai chi. For those with difficulty leaving the home, there are plenty of
videos to watch on YouTube or available for purchase.
Tai chi can be part of a multifaceted exercise regime. Performing different types of
exercises weekly (aerobic, weight lifting, dance, yoga, tai chi) along with following a
healthy eating plan will energize your life!