How is Tai Chi Good for your Health?

This article was printed in the Nelson Daily News in March, 2009.

Dear Academy: How is it that Tai Chi is good for your health?
Sincerely, Stiff and Sore, Nelson, BC

Dear Stiff and Sore,

There is a saying in Chinese medicine that can be translated as something like ‘running water does not rot’. This means that things that remain in motion do not stagnate and decay. Quite simply, regular exercise that involves the whole body prevents or mitigates many of the diseases that stem from sedentary lifestyles.

Taijiquan is unusual as an exercise. Rather than being a struggle against weight or distance, fraught with exertion and effort, Taijiquan is done slowly and softly. While it is certainly work to undertake a full Taijiquan routine, the effort and striving is minimized in favor of looseness and calm.

It is in the realm of mental attitude where Taijiquan really stands apart. Non-striving is not merely an ideal of body movement, the real point of the practice is to achieve this within the mind, emotions and spirit.

It may be for this reason that Taijiquan is often called an ‘internal’ art. Rather than being only a practice of the flesh, it is an engagement of the whole of one’s being within a single exercise. Moving slowly and paying acute attention to the minute details of one’s balance and proprioception embed the conscious mind into an immediate experience. Over time one learns to be present in the moment and to be able to react to changes and pressures without struggle and distress.

Research in China has shown that regular practice of Taijiquan can lower levels of stress hormones; lessen falls in the elderly; reduce hypertension; improve immune responses and lower levels of excitation in the brain. Yet perhaps the greatest benefit from the practice is that it can impart a philosophical attitude that enables a smoother and calmer way of dealing with life.

by Kevin Wallbridge, instructor at the Academy.