The Benefits of Real Tai Chi
Although Tai Chi is a Martial Art, and was therefore developed for self-protection (and many people still practice it for this reason), the movements are normally practiced very slowly and carefully in order to develop precision, breath control, balance, co-ordination and internal power. By happy coincidence, this also makes Tai Chi an exceptionally useful type of gentle exercise which scientific studies around the world have proved to be of considerable benefit to the health and well-being of regular Tai Chi practitioners.
When performed correctly, Tai Chi can provide many benefits for practitioners, which include the following:
Benefits to Physical Health
1. Lowering of blood pressure and improved circulation. Tai Chi is recommended by the British Heart Foundation to people suffering from heart failure.
2. Improved balance and co-ordination. Tai Chi has been found to reduce the number of falls experienced by older people. This is the main reason for its recommendation by the Osteoporosis Society and by many physiotherapists. It is also weight-bearing exercise which would be expected to help to keep bones strong and healthy.
3. Improved flexibility of joints, which makes Tai Chi particularly helpful in the prevention and treatment of arthritis.
4. Improved posture due to the gentle bending of the knees and dropping of the tailbone, allowing the spine to settle into a natural, comfortable alignment and reducing pressure on the lumbar vertebrae. Tai Chi also encourages the release of tension in the muscles, particularly in the shoulders, neck and back. Many of our students have reported relief from back pain since taking up Tai Chi.
5. Tai Chi breathing increases lung capacity and calms the mind, which may explain why we have found it to be of benefit to people who previously experienced respiratory difficulties such as asthma.
Benefits to Mental Health and Well-being
1. Our students frequently report that they have gained inner confidence, alertness, self-awareness and improved self-esteem.
2. Deep relaxation and mental calm allow the world to be seen from a clearer and more balanced perspective.
3. As in any class in which people share a common interest, many friendships are forged in this non-judgemental environment and students tend to help each other towards mastery of this rich and challenging martial art.
4. Tai Chi Makes You More Brainy!
A recent study has confirmed that regular practice of Tai Chi three times a week improves memory and actually increases brain volume!
The researchers studied groups of older people. The Tai Chi group and a group taking part in lively discussions three times a week both experienced improvements in memory and increased brain volume while those doing neither experienced brain shrinkage over the same time period. The Tai Chi group showed the greatest improvements.
The results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and bring hope that Tai Chi may delay the onset of this condition.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who has risen to the mental challenge of learning Tai Chi Chuan, or to anyone who has had the privilege of teaching Tai Chi and watching students flourish and inspire each other.
Tai Chi provides a form of exercise and a field of study second to none, and this may be the whole reason for it's efficacy, though we strongly suspect that you are the additional magic ingredient in the recipe; which gives you the right to be big-headed!
Benefits of Tai Chi for Mums-to-be
Tai Chi Breathing in Childbirth
During the second stage of labour, as the baby makes its way down the birth canal, conventional wisdom in some hospitals would have you take a deep breath, hold it and push like crazy during each contraction and then relax and breathe normally until the next one. The result of this is a yo-yo effect on the baby, which goes down a little way and then slides back upwards so that the process takes forever and both mother and baby end up exhausted, distressed and more likely to need medical intervention. We also know of one lady who went permanently deaf in both ears as a result of the pressure generated in the head by such pushing.
Tai Chi breathing, on the other hand, can ease and speed up the process considerably. Keep the whole upper body relaxed at all times. As the contraction builds, breathe out slowly, pushing from the waist down. If you run out of breath, just top up the air in your lungs while maintaining the push with your muscles and then continue to breathe out with the push. When the contraction subsides, just continue to breathe normally but keep the internal muscular pressure on the baby so that it doesn't slip upwards while you rest. That way, with just a few pushes and minimal effort, your baby is likely to be out into the world.
(Of course every delivery is different and there are no guarantees with this, but it may increase the probability of a more comfortable and straightforward normal delivery. This advice is based on my personal experiences of delivering three babies, and those of several other mums who have since followed this advice).
Tai Chi in Pregnancy
From personal experience, we can recommend Tai Chi as a gentle form of exercise during pregnancy.Generally, if you can walk, you can do Tai Chi. As well as having a calming effect, enabling the mother to relax and enjoy the experience, it is great for improving circulation, helps to maintain stable blood pressure and is bliss for the lower back. The weight of a growing baby tends to pull on the spine and arch the back. Tai Chi posture counteracts this by dropping the tailbone, straightening the spine and relieving pressure on the lumbar vertebrae and surrounding muscles.
Three things to avoid during pregnancy when practicing any martial art:
1. High kicks. The ligaments soften during late pregnancy to allow the baby to be born. High kicks can over-strain ligaments in the groin area, leading to discomfort and limited mobility during and after the birth.
2. Fa jing. Release of explosive power, or shaking jing, is not recommended during pregnancy, for very obvious reasons.
3. Sparring, combat (San Shou) and competitive pushing hands or any other activity which could result in being pushed, hit or kicked in the abdominal area or chest.
All the best to mums-to-be everywhere, g