Tai chi is one of the examples of gentle exercises recommended by the National Institute of Mental Health that may be helpful in coping with stress.
I am very pleased to see that tai chi as a form of exercise and stress reliever is growing in popularity in the U.S. Tai chi, an ancient Chinese tradition, is a noncompetitive martial art known for both its defense techniques and its health benefits.
Tai chi (tie chee) comprises gentle physical exercises and stretching with mindfulness, and has been shown to improve balance control, fitness and flexibility, and to increase energy, endurance and agility. Originating in China, it has evolved over centuries to become a means of alleviating stress and anxiety.
Tai chi movements are easy to learn, don’t require any equipment; lessons are inexpensive, can be done alone and in groups, at home or outside of home, and even from a chair. As with any form of exercise, it is recommended that you check with your physician first.
The Mayo Clinic also mentions that, tai chi is a gentle way to fight stress, and, “Although more research is needed, preliminary evidence suggests that tai chi may offer numerous benefits beyond stress reduction, including:
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Reducing falls in older adults
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving overall feelings of well-being
- Relieving chronic pain”
To study the complete list of potential benefits reported by Mayo Clinic and to read more about tai chi on Mayo Clinic’s website, click here.
Based on my personal experience, I highly recommend tai chi. I was a permanent resident of China for a number of years and regularly did tai chi in neighborhood parks with the ladies and men gathered. The movements are gentle, slow and graceful, and I felt good after each session. I didn’t need any special outfit, just loose fitting top and bottom and comfortable flat shoes.
People in China do tai chi alone or in groups generally in the mornings outdoors shortly after sunrise. When done in groups, there is customarily a leader who brings recorded music. Depending on the group, their routines would vary to incorporate movements with accessories, such as wands with ribbons, swords, or fans.
I was first attracted by the beauty of the tai chi movements and the focused look of serenity of the people’s faces; and subsequently I developed an admiration and appreciation of the spirit and camaraderie among the women. Although my language skills were minimal, I was always welcomed in groups and someone (usually many) would be more than willing to guide my movements.
Joining with the groups each morning, I felt a strong bond of sisterhood, and it was the same in every city I visited and did tai chi in the park. I recognized that I may never achieve the same level of spirituality as the Chinese who have been doing tai chi for generations.
Nevertheless, in addition to feeling energized and positive after tai chi, another positive outcome for me as a foreigner at that time was the social connection with my adopted home. Since returning to America, I continue to strive to incorporate tai chi into my daily routine.
You could probably learn tai chi from videos, but I suggest you begin by taking classes from a master to ensure that you understand the movements, their purpose and how to be aware of the mindfulness aspect. Moreover, you should be prepared to do tai chi regularly if you wish to gain the benefits listed above.
Tai chi classes are sometimes offered in health clubs, wellness centers, YWCA/YMCAs, community colleges and senior centers. Check your local resources. Note that many centers have combined Qigong (breathing exercises and meditation) with tai chi, “to provide a more complete program for your mind, body and spirit,” according to Marie Conrad, see below.
Marie Conrad, pictured above, is a certified Medical Qigong Master and Tai Chi Kung instructor. She leads a class at the Greater Palm Bay Senior Center, Palm Bay, Florida weekly, as well as at other local fitness centers. (She can be reached at TheChiWiz@gmail.com)
I look forward to meeting some of you in a tai chi class.