Growing your ability to manage stress is integral to optimal emotional health. But what works for one person might not work for another. It takes a little trial and error to find a de-stress tool that you enjoy and look forward to, that’s easily accessible and physically attainable. Yoga might not be your thing. Meditation might seem too still for your liking.
Tai chi might be the answer.
Tai chi is a low-impact, slow-motion set of movements that flow into one another. It’s a centuries-old eastern traditional martial art with a debatable history among scholars. Exactly who invented it and how it evolved aren’t entirely certain. But one thing is for sure: Tai chi is a powerful form of exercise that is considered safe for many. It’s associated with numerous health benefits. In fact, Harvard Medical School has called it “medication in motion.”
Health Benefits of Tai Chi
This systematic review showed that tai chi is associated with improved sleep and a decrease in insomnia for both healthy individuals and those with chronic illness. Nine randomized trials reported that practicing tai chi for 1.5 to 3 hours each week for a duration of 6 to 24 weeks significantly improved sleep quality. But the benefits don’t end there. This study found that tai chi can positively affect health and wellbeing in a variety of areas, including:
- Enhanced aerobic capacity, muscle strength and balance.
- Reduced risks associated with cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus (including decreased body mass index and decreased blood glucose, dyslipidemia, endothelial dysfunction and depression.
- Improvements in quality of life, exercise, self-efficacy and mood.
- Reduction in depression, anxiety symptoms, anger and tension.
Perhaps the best part of all, tai chi is considered a safe intervention for almost any population, including patients s/p Acute MI, patients with congestive heart failure and stroke, and the elderly.
So what are you waiting for? Get your tai chi on with these newbie tips.
- Try an online program, such as The Tai Chi for Beginners Program available through Energy Arts.
- See what your community has to offer — look for outdoor tai chi groups and classes in your neck of the woods.
- Supplement your classes with a good instructional book to help you practice and improve, such as the “Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind.“
Things to Keep in Mind
1. Expect a challenge
Learning tai chi requires more than memorizing the movements. The tai chi beginner might practice for years before reaching a more advanced level. Although the movements themselves appear easy, the practice of flexibility and softness can be more challenging than it looks.
2. Withhold self judgment
Bruce Frantiz, a Western expert on two forms of tai chi, recommends learning the movements and practicing through them all, even if that means not doing them perfectly. He also suggests practicing a few movements that feel the most natural to you to gain confidence in your ability and advises the beginner not to be too hard on themselves if they find it difficult to practice at home. One class a week is a good place to start to develop a regular routine.
3. Don’t be surprised by a surge of emotions
As the tai chi beginner first experiences the stillness and softness in the movements, they can expect some uncomfortable feelings to arise, similar to those felt in meditation, as they begin to grow awareness surrounding the tension and stress of an overactive nervous system.
Your Turn: Have you ever tried tai chi? What was the experience like?