Tai Chi - Much More Than Just Exercise
So the BBC published an article about Tai Chi being beneficial for pain management of conditions like Fibromyalgia. I posted the article to my Facebook page. Here I thought I'd expand and write my own article on the multiple benefits I've seen throughout my years of practice and study.
I started to practice Tai Chi in the early 1990s. I'd tried a Yoga class and found myself at a class of 30 or so all being talked through the Sun Salutation by an instructor who assumed everyone knew what to do. I felt lost and completely inept as I was not a flexible as all the practiced yoga students.
My search for something fun and fulfilling took me to a Tai Chi Class. More than 20 years of practice and a teachers certificate later and here's just a little of what I've discovered:
Tai Chi teaches you body awareness - it encourages you to engage with your own body and feel how it moves and what it is capable of without the need to watch or see. There is something very special about practicing the form with your eyes shut. We are all certain we know our own bodies and recognise ourselves in the mirror, many of us fail to understand our own bodies and how they work.
Body awareness teaches you how to balance, over the years I've come to understand some of the basic fundamentals of Tai Chi are about learning to walk - walk with awareness. In learning how to walk (in a new way) an understanding of where the body's centre of balance is held in each moment is gained. If this is understood it becomes second nature to feel grounded and connected. This practice of balanced grounding has "saved me" many times - missing a few steps on the stairs and managing to land square footed without falling over or hurting myself; walking miles each day over uneven ground as I walked coast to coast without twisting an ankle or losing my footing.
When learning about balance and grounding through Tai Chi the legs bear weight in varying degrees as the slow moving forms are performed. this type of weight bearing, strengthens muscles and increases bone density. This makes Tai Chi an ideal exercise for the elderly and is increasingly used as part of "Falls prevention" programmes. Bone density and muscle strength are an important factor in fighting debilitating diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia and ME.
As Tai Chi movements are made through the centre of the body at a point known as the Dan Tien or Tan Den ( a couple of finger spaces below the navel and the same back into the body). All of the internal organs are gently massaged by the body's movements. This helps with the removal of toxins and organ health.
Although there is no specific "Tai Chi breathing" the slow pattern of breath that is timed to the speed the form is performed at, lung function is increased as the practitioner learns to have some control over the diaphragm. This in itself has the benefit of reducing episodes of hic-ups and reducing hyperventilation when panicking.
When learning Tai Chi, the repetitive practice of slow weight transfer, slow breathing, measured movement through the Dan Tien and precise hand placement (to name a few things you focus on) creates a state of mindfulness - fullness being the appropriate phrase as there is little time to think about other things. This mindfulness is stress reducing, blood pressure lowering and creates a feeling of being "present" - focussing on the "now". This makes Tai Chi an excellent anti-anxiety exercise, it has also been shown to help with PTSD symptoms as it helps the sufferer focus on only themselves in a calm and precise manner.
Years of practice, learning about my body from the inside, from within my mind, has created a calmness which I can only describe as being nothing but the mind, nothing but consciousness, where only what is going on within exists.
This leads me to conclude over 20 years after my first encounter with Tai Chi that adapted forms that are suitable for everyone can provide the perfect balance of physical and mental health benefits.