Tai chi: Ancient practice – Modern therapy
We live in a world that reveres ‘newness’. We aspire to growth, progress and prosperity. Technology advances at an astonishing rate, and everything becomes faster, easier and stronger. We judge civilizations by their level of modernity.
We judge civilizations by their level of modernity and, since the Industrial Revolution, the West has led the way. Now, the East is rising. Yet the healing and nurturing practices of the Eastern old-world live on; amongst them, is Tai Chi and it’s now used as an alternative therapy for conditions as disparate as cerebral palsy and arthritis.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art, dating back some 600 years ago. Unlike explosive and physically demanding ‘external martial arts’ like karate, Tai Chi is an ‘internal martial art.’ It’s gentle, introspective, and promotes good health, wellbeing and calmness.
If you haven’t seen it in practice, Tai Chi is a series of slow movements with focused breathing patterns. Each action is simple, so people of all ages and physical abilities can practice them. The practitioner visualises each meditative movement whilst keeping their body relaxed.
At the same time, the mind is active, perceptive and watchful of the surroundings, harmonising the body, mind and spirit—as well as the ‘internal power’ or ‘life-giving energy’ known as the qi (sometime written as ch’i). With repeated practice, its practitioners report greater physical and mental health.
Science’s understanding of both the psychological and physiological effects of Tai Chi remains in its infancy, but academics from Harvard Medical School, The George Institute for International Health, the Oregon Research Institute revealed studies showing Tai Chi’s benefits.
It helps to reduce blood pressure, increases strength and flexibility (or slows their rate of deterioration through ageing), and even improves cardiovascular fitness.
The latter sounds surprising (and maybe even appealing) when we compare Tai Chi’s slowness to typical Western high intensity cardio exercises. Yet because Tai Chi routines are safe, achievable and adaptable for people of all abilities, it’s growing in its popularity as therapy for people with disabilities or conditions.
Tai Chi’s constant movements (like flowing, dipping, turning and twisting) give the body a thorough and holistic workout. People who’ve suffered strokes and people with Parkinson’s disease improve their sense of balance, reducing their risk to dangerous or fatal falls.
Arthritis and fibromyalgia sufferers report that Tai Chi helps to relieve pain and disability, and gives them a positive effect on their general outlook on life. And now, although somewhat rarer people with Cerebral Palsy, use Tai Chi as an alternative therapy to help improve their posture, gait, and mental composure.
Whilst it isn’t a miracle ‘cure-all,’ Tai Chi offers something for everyone, whatever your situation. Maybe you’re tired of the stresses of modern life and ‘progress.’ Maybe you have a disability, or maybe you want to try something new.
To help us all see a better future, it might just be worth looking back to the past, to 600 years ago, in ancient China.
Bio: Craig Francis is a writer whose family members’ disabilities piqued his interest in alternative therapies.