Tai Chi. When you think of this, what comes to mind? Maybe you see older folks practicing a slow, smooth, and gentle series of forms and movements. In that, you would be right. Do you also think about the many different health benefits you can realize? Improved balance. Lower blood pressure. Pain reduction. Some of the practitioners this author has met and worked with report a drastic change in their Type 2 diabetes. One fellow told me that, after 2 years of practice, his doctor was able to take him off of his insulin. Do not, I repeat, do NOT adjust any medications without FIRST talking about it thoroughly with your doctor.
Tai Chi has been around for more than 1,000 years. There are lots of “expert” opinions as to when, how, and why it was developed, but those are not the intent of this article. What we are looking at are some of the widely reported benefits which practitioners have reported and doctors have documented. In this article there will also be some of the benefits which this author has found.
Reviewing the study materials and reports shows that more and more researchers in the West are looking at this ancient practice. Song, Lee, Lam, and Bae have conducted studies and found that Tai Chi does help in pain reduction.
Very quickly, this study was a 12 week study of 72 women with osteoarthritis. At the end of the study the following results were documents:
35% Less pain
29% Improved mobility/Less stiffness
29% Increase in simple motor tasks, such as climbing stairs, improvement in balance, and muscular strength/stamina
One does not have to be a senior citizen to worry about falls. Many military Veterans have vestibular and other balance issues. First, keep in mind that we check our own balance by three systems in our body. One is through the feet. We sense and feel what is going on above the feet by the changing pressure. By this, we can adjust our feet slightly to keep from falling. A second method by which we keep from falling on our faces is visual. We see whether we are falling or not. Don’t believe me? Close your eyes and walk across your kitchen heel to toe. A bit harder, isn’t it? The final way is through the vestibular system (VS). The VS is a minute pocket of liquid located inside the bone structure of our skull. The relative motion of the fluid in the VS tells our brain where we are. If we are tilting back or to one side, the VS tells us about it.
There you have a quick review and basic understanding of our physical balance. Many people have come to a point in life where they have damage to one or more of these three measures. I and thousands upon thousands of other Veterans have to deal with injuries to the VS. While in treatment at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA we were given an opportunity to take Tai Chi. My own results speak for themselves. While I was falling at home and out and about before Tai Chi, I am now stable in my balance and more aware of what my body is doing. In this, I can corroborate the results of several studies since 1990.
The National Institute on Aging sponsored a study that found a 47.5% reduction in falls. One test, which used mechanical balance training devices for one group, found that Tai Chi was more beneficial in retraining the balance capabilities of participants.
Aerobic capacity is also improved. Oregon Research Institute found that test participants watched over the course of 1 year actually saw increases in aerobic health and capacity. Another study conducted by the Division for Research Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard Medical School confirmed this finding. Their study covered a 12 week span and found that the measured distance one can walk in 6 minutes was increased.
Due to Tai Chi’s slow movements quite relaxing. Following from this is a decrease in both blood pressure and stress levels. Even practicing the slow, deep breathing methods of this art will lower , relieve anxiety, and clear the mind. How can it do this? The deep breathing technique floods the blood with oxygen. On the inhale, if you are paying attention to the rate of your heartbeat, you will feel it slowing down. As your system responds to the slower heart rate and greater levels of oxygen your fight-or-flight response will deactivate.
As a Veteran with multiple issues, I can attest to these results and more. I apply what I continue to learn through practicing Tai Chi in my jiujitsu and kickboxing. My results have been very encouraging. In relation to the stresses of facing anxieties, this practice proves to be a miracle in controlling stress responses and other similar reactions. Reactions which the VA would have me believe are not fixable.
Tai Chi, it has been around longer than the other marital arts. It continues for very, very good reasons. First, talk to your doctor about it. Then, do some research to find a qualified and capable instructor.