Tai chi is a noncompetitive martial art known for both its defense techniques and its health benefits. As an exercise, it comprises gentle physical exercise and stretching with mindfulness.
It has been shown to improve balance control, fitness, and flexibility, and to reduce the risk of falls in older people. It appears to reduce pain and the symptoms of depression.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that has evolved over centuries to become a means of alleviating stress and anxiety, a form of "meditation in motion." Advocates claim that it promotes serenity and inner peace.
The phrase "t'ai chi ch'uan" translates to "supreme ultimate fist" or "boundless fist". Tai Chi can be traced back to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries.
Tai Chi is considered to be safe for people of all ages as it does not put too much stress on the muscles and joints.
Types of tai chi
Tai chi appears to benefit people of all ages.
There are five different styles of tai chi, dating from different periods. Each has its own methods and principles, lineage, and date of origin.
- Chen-style, started between 1580 and 1660
- Yang-style, started between 1799 and 1872
- Wu- or Wu (Hao)-style, started between 1812 and 1880
- Wu-style, started between 1870 and 1942
- Sun-style, started between 1861 and 1932.
Some focus on health, while others stress competition or self-defense.
History of tai chi
The true origins of tai chi remain a mystery, but the concepts are rooted in Chinese history, in Taoism and Confucianism.
The founder of tai chi is believed to be Zhang Sanfeng, a 12th-century Taoist monk. Some stories claim that Zhang Sanfeng left his monastery to become a hermit, and that he created his own form of fighting based on softness.
Sanfeng is reported to have said:
"In every movement, every part of the body must be light and agile and strung together. The postures should be without breaks. Motion should be rooted in the feet, released through the legs, directed by the waist and expressed by the fingers. Substantial and insubstantial movements must be clearly differentiated."
The low-impact nature of tai chi means it is suitable for people of all ages.
Health benefits of tai chi
The benefits of tai chi are said to include the reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, and the enhancement of mood, both in both healthy people and in those with chronic conditions.
Some of the benefits claimed for tai chi include:
- Better mood, with lower levels of depression, stress, and anxiety
- Greater aerobic capacity and muscle strength
- More energy and stamina
- Enhanced flexibility, balance, and agility
- Lower blood pressure and improved heart health
- Reduced Inflammation
- Fewer falls.
Other benefits are said to include better sleep quality and an enhanced immune system.
Chronic heart failure
Research at Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that patients with chronic heart failure who regularly practiced tai chi experienced a better quality of life and mood, and that they slept better.
The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry has indicated that a weekly tai chi exercise class with a standard depression treatment for a group of older adults with depression could help to treat depressive symptoms.
There is evidence that tai chi can help improve cognitive function and reduce the effects of dementia. It has been shown to reduce inflammatory response in patients with breast cancer, which may, say researchers, have implications for breast cancer survivorship.
A study published in Annals showed that tai chi led to lower pain levels and fewer symptoms of depression.
A review of tai chi, published in the open access journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, concludes that tai chi can have positive psychological effects, but that more high quality, randomized trials are needed to confirm this.