Often described as "meditation in motion", Tai Chi has caught on in parks, gyms and community centers across America. Its slow, flowing, balanced movements may look like some kind of dance, but with its focus on breathing and flowing gestures it is a powerful form of exercise. The slow graceful movements of Tai Chi work to enhance relaxation skills, mental focus and physical alignment while building leg strength, endurance and stability.
Although the roots of Tai Chi are found in Chinese martial arts, today it is gentle and non-aggressive and used largely for therapeutic purposes. The series of movements, called "forms", are based on shifting body weight while performing light, controlled motions. These motion flow rhythmically together into one long, graceful gesture and give Tai Chi a dance-like quality. Each Tai Chi form is designed to gently work the muscles, focus concentration and, according to Chinese philosophy, improve the flow of "qi" (pronounced "chee") or the vital life energy that maintains health and calms the spirit.
In traditional Chinese Medicine, Tai Chi is believed to balance the flow of qi in mind and body which helps to cure illnesses and maintain health. Although most Western doctors question the concept of qi, Tai Chi has been found to be beneficial for people with a variety of musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis. And due to its gentle nature, it is a good workout for people of all ages, helping to improve flexibility and build muscle strength gradually. These same qualities make Tai Chi a useful tool in physical therapy also.
One of the goals of therapy-oriented Tai Chi is the enhancement of balance and body awareness, also known as proprioception. Recent research with older adults indicates that Tai Chi is one of the safest and most effective methods of doing this. As falls are of particular concern for people with osteoporosis, reducing this risk is particularly beneficial and makes Tai Chi an excellent choice for treatment. The weight bearing characteristics of Tai Chi exercises can potentially stimulate bone growth and strengthen connective tissue, another important benefit for people with osteoporosis. The movements involved with Tai Chi are less jarring than a low-impact exercise class; making Tai Chi a good choice for people with arthritis as well.
A Tai Chi exercise program can be done at various intensity levels and modified to fit into a busy lifestyle. To perform Tai Chi correctly, take time to find an instructor trained to monitor posture and movement to ensure safety, especially if you have risk factors such as osteoporosis or arthritis.
Tai Chi for Arthritis classes are offered at Health Park in St. Joseph. Daily practice is encouraged with the aid of the written materials that are included with enrollment in the class. A medical release from a physician is required for participation.
For more information, to obtain a medical release form, or to register for the next class cycle of Tai Chi for Arthritis, call (269) 428-2799.