Some doctors like to call it "medication in motion" because of its many benefits to the mind and body.
Head to a major urban park on a spring morning and you’ll likely encounter a group of people practicing tai chi. It’s a beautiful, soothing thing to watch. The participants appear to be intently focused on the sequence of movements, which are always slow, steady, and circular, without any strain on the body’s connective tissue.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that originated as a martial art and has been gaining popularity in North America. It combines low-impact exercise with meditation in a way that is highly effective at improving mental and physical health. Medical experts can’t say enough when it comes to singing tai chi’s praises. Here are a few reasons why you should give it a try:
It gets people in shape.
Tai chi may not come to mind when you first think of a ‘good’ workout, but Dr. Michael Irwin, professor of behavioral sciences and director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, says, “People who do tai chi achieve similar levels of fitness as those who walk or do other forms of physical therapy.” One study suggests that tai chi is on par with walking and jogging when it comes to lengthening one’s life.
It is accessible to all.It doesn’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair, recovering from surgery, or unable to participate in strenuous activity of any kind, it is possible to adapt tai chi’s movements to physical limitations. Harvard Health says it’s something you can start doing even if you’re not in good health or top shape.
It is ‘meditation in motion.’Meditation is renowned for its ability to create mental clarity and focus while reducing stress, but some people find it hard to sit still for a prolonged period of time. Tai chi has similar results to seated meditation while allowing one to move throughout the practice.
An article in TIME suggests that it’s this “mindful, meditative quality” that makes tai chi so effective. Unlike other forms of exercise, you cannot let your mind wander elsewhere while practicing tai chi. You must remain aware and present.
Fortunately, you don’t need a degree in Chinese philosophy to reap the benefits, but it is helpful to understand the basics of tai chi’s approach:
It is believed to “unblock and encourage the proper flow of qi, an energy force thought to flow through the body; and it promotes the balance of yin and yang, “opposing elements thought to make up the universe that need to be kept in harmony.” (via Harvard Health)