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Beachside Qigong & Tai Chi

Top 5 Reasons to Practice Tai Chi

“Practice” tai chi is the key; not “try” tai chi. To take one class or even a month of classes isn’t enough for the alchemy of tai chi to settle into and affect the mindbody. Most people feel good after a session or two. Just like lifting weights to make muscles bigger, it takes a minimum of 6 weeks of regular practice for benefits to become visible. It is only the rare few who practice tai chi consistently that reap it’s full benefits.



Those who practice daily will attain the strength of a warrior, the flexibility of a child and the wisdom of a sage.


I read those words so many years ago I don’t even recall where now. But they have stuck with me as representing ”the healing promise of chi.” It’s a promise that is never broken. When we practice consistently, our bones grow stronger, our muscels become more pliable and our brains do not decline with age. Scientific medical research has proven this promise is indeed true. . . when we practice consistently we feel better.



#1 REASON to practice tai chi: PAIN REDUCTION

The medical evidence supporting the pain relieving effects of tai chi are so vast that Harvard coined the term “Moving Medication” to describe tai chi, a play on the more common tai chi phrase “Moving Meditation.” Both names accurately describe the effects of tai chi. In fact, it is in part the meditative effects of tai chi that create the pain relieving bio-chemistry associated with its practice. When we are relaxing into a meditative state, the body turns off stress hormones and turns on relaxing ones instead. This itself helps to decrease pain levels. When the mind is focused on the physical tasks of tai chi, the conscious perception of pain is also minimized.


A recent study on tai chi and fibromyalgia pain concluded with researchers claiming tai chi as an effective chronic pain therapy for fibromyalgia. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29563100/) The Department of Veteran’s Affairs hires tai chi instructors because of the vast research indicating tai chi helps reduce pain, anxiety and stress—the main ingredients in PTSD. I personally have converted to practicing Sun Style tai chi routines when my joints bother me. It doesn’t matter if my joints hurt from overuse/strain, barometric pressure changes or poor diet choices, whenever I practice Sun tai chi, my joints no longer hurt! That’s evidence enough for me!



#2 REASON to practice tai chi: BETTER BRAIN FUNCTION

Some people shy away from actually learning a tai chi routine for themselves and don’t realize that remembering the routine is part of how it helps improve brain function! If we want our brains to work into older age, we have to use them or lose them! It’s not terribly challenging to follow what a teacher is doing right in front of us - monkey see, monkey do. Being able to flow through a tai chi routine without following someone requires us to remember a complex sequence of movements in a specific pattern. When all we ever do is go to a few tai chi classes, our brains are busy absorbing all kinds of new information, but to get the long-lasting brain benefits, we have to learn tai chi for ourselves.


“From three to six extra years of cognitive function from practicing tai chi.” That’s what Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom concluded from her study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Practicing tai chi twice a week for 6 weeks gave study participants cognitive improvements associated with memory and functionality. Here’s a recent interview with Dr. Eckstrom about the benefits of practicing tai chi: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2023/11/06/1210507968/thai-chi-word-games-cognition-mentally-sharp-meditation-motion


A 2012 study at the University of South Florida, showed that participants over 70 years of age were able to grow new brain cells in the process of learning a simple tai chi routine. Before this study, it was thought impossible to grow new brain cells after 70. There are many indicators that tai chi boosts brain performance ranging from memory, to self-awareness, to mood and executive functions. Perhaps I’m just getting older. . . But in our society that means I should be getting dumber! Perhaps I’m just getting older or maybe it’s the years of tai chi practice but I do seem to be a better decision maker than just a few years ago. I’m definitely not what I’d call a “sage” but I feel as though I’ve grown wiser through the years, not smarter, but wiser. In fact, I now know that I know practically nothing! That to me, is wisdom!




#3 REASON to practice tai chi: STRESS LESS/SLEEP BETTER

Stress is the cause of almost all dis-ease be it mental or physical symptoms. Stress reduction is key to staying healthy. Most stress reduction advocates promote meditation to relieve stress. Meditation does work, when someone can actually make themselves sit down and meditate it does work to calm the mind and spirit. I, like some others, couldn’t do it when I first tried. That’s where tai chi came in for me - I needed to move while I meditated to reduce my stress and fear. It worked. Now I can actually do seated styles of meditation but if sitting Zazen was all I ever knew of meditating to reduce stress, I would have been dead of stress-related illness years ago.


Tai chi is moving meditation. Research over decades now shows that tai chi practitioners are less stressed and happier and more resilient because of that. Learning to move with relaxed muscles, teaches us how to move and stay relaxed in daily life, even when things are frustrating. Less stress = better sleep and there are loads of studies that show tai chi improves sleep quality. Here’s one of them published in the scientific journal Nature and Science of Sleep: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5118018/


I used to say I was blessed with the gift of sleep. I practically never have an issue falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. Now I wonder if that’s just because I’ve been practicing tai chi every day for almost 30 years. . .



#4 REASON to practice tai chi: FEWER FALLS

Centers on Aging statistics about falling over the age of 65 are daunting. 80% of people over 65 fall. Thankfully that first fall only seriously affects about 35% of people, sending them to a doctor. Hopefully there won’t be a second fall because the first one was enough to inspire preventative maintenance. The startling part of the statistic is that for those over 65 who do experience a second fall, most of them wind up in the hospital with as much as 50% now being in a life-threatening situation because of the fall. They could die as a result of that second fall. WOW! That’s no joke! And neither are the statistics on how well practicing tai chi prevents people, of all ages, from falling!

There is hope! All the great Western medical researchers from Harvard Health, to Mayo Clinic and many more, have concluded that practicing tai chi helps to prevent people from falling! Personally, I know practicing tai chi helps improve gait awareness and smooth, fluid walking in day to day life. When I had to learn how to walk again from shattering my lower right leg, my physical therapy ended once I could stand up and scuffle around a little with a cane. Thankfully, I went home to daily tai chi practice that I had established years prior to the injury. Without that, I might very well still be walking with a cane today. The daily range of motion exercises incorporated in tai chi, has restored my ankles, knees, hips and even shoulders and hands from various life injuries. Practicing tai chi = fewer falls & more complete recovery. Here’s a summary of the world’s largest study on fall prevention for further evidence: https://taichiforhealthinstitute.org/the-worlds-largest-fall-prevention-study-2007/


#5 REASON to practice tai chi: MOOD ELEVATION

We often expect life to be stressful. In reality, life is usually only stressful because of the way we view it, our perceptions dictate our stress levels. By accomplishing simple movements with ease as we do in tai chi practice, our self esteem grows and we feel better about ourselves. If we continue to practice daily, we build a habit of feeling good every day. Many studies have shown that those who practice tai chi, especially with a group, respond that they are happier because of it.


Feel good chemicals are released when we slow down, relax and breathe deeply. This alone helps counteract the stress hormones of adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol that affect weight gain and retention as well as fear/stress levels. To always be in a flight or fight biological state day in and day out takes a long - term toll on our happiness levels. No wonder our hyper-caffeinated Red Bull society is reaching epidemic proportions of anxiety and depression! The bio-chemical companant of mood elevation from tai chi is only part of how it works. There’s also the human company, face to face interactions that typically take place outdoors. This social aspect of tai chi practice is so potent to healing us that Harvard Health has named it one of the 8 ways tai chi heals those who practice. Mood matters! Personally, I always feel better once I’ve gotten in my personal practice session for the day. That’s why I do it first thing! Feeling good is a priority for me.


CONCLUSION

Science only understands part of how tai chi helps us feel better and live longer lives. It is utterly fascinating that slowing down, becoming aware of the breath, noticing the specific movements of the body. . . These simple things help us live healthier, longer and happier lives. Reading about it does not. Only practicing tai chi gives us these many benefits. So from where I picked it up, I leave you with these wise words again:


If you practice tai chi regularly, you will attain the strength of a warrior, the flexibility of a child and the wisdom of a sage.


I invite you to test this promise for yourself to see if it holds true. ☯️

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