by Amanda Smith
The ancient Chinese practice of Tai Chi combines slow, deliberate movements, meditation, and breathing exercises for an internal arts unlike any exercise class you’ve ever experienced – and just in time for the holidays.
As the end of the year rolls around, it becomes a time of family fun and excitement but also of extra commitments and stress. Tai Chi can be the perfect antidote to all of your holiday stress as this is one program where the routines were not designed to burn calories or raise your heart rate. Instead, Tai Chi can help your circulation, balance, and alignment, as well as restore your energy, known as chi.
The low-impact moving meditations include standing and balancing and are excellent fitness activities for beginners, those with health conditions, or anyone suffering from the perilous holiday stressors of Christmas time. The moves are really good for anyone anytime in fact, as the slow movements bring better balance and muscle control. The postures flow together without pause, making Tai Chi look like slow, graceful dances that keep your body in constant motion. You can take a class or do the exercises outdoors, on your own, or with a group.
The Benefits of Tai Chi
So sweet and gentle
This moving meditation is a very low-impact exercise that puts minimal stress on joints and muscles.
Strong muscles for any holiday heavy lifting (wrapping presents, cooking)
Core: You may not be doing moves like crunches, but you’ll be using your core muscles as you flow from move to move.
Arms: You’ll be surprised how familiar you become with arms by engaging in these gentle martial arts.
Legs: Tai Chi movements are done standing, so Tai Chi uses your leg muscles, but not in an intense way, again, just enough to help you become familiar with them.
Back: This is where Tai Chi really shines. use your whole body, including the muscles in your back.
Aerobic: No. These are moving meditations, not cardio workouts, but Tai Chi will open the lungs are improve airflow.
Overall strength: When you do tai chi, you’re building strength in a subtle way. Your body weight is all you need. It’s not about powering through muscular poses, but about engaging your whole body.
The stress of a change/increase in diet
If you have high blood pressure, it’s always important for you to watch your diet. The holidays are not without a major increase in food consumption, and many of your favorite indulgences, but luckily, some studies have shown that Tai Chi can help lower your blood pressure, while other research points to a drop in cholesterol levels as well. That helps lower your chances of heart disease and may even increase your fitness level. Tai chi can also be a great way to gently get you back into moving around if you have diabetes and have been inactive, both of which will surface when your body is taken from its routine and given extra challenges to process.
Inflammation occurs anytime the body is confronted with more stressors than it is equipped to handle. This can be anything from an increase in alcohol intake to not getting enough sleep, both of which are hallmarks of the holiday season. Make Tai Chi your point of solace in a busy holiday season where there’s always something to be stressed about.
Flexibility improves our range of motion
Being flexible keeps our joints, muscles – our entire body – healthy and allows us to be more active. Jim, a 56-year-old retired fireman, is a good example of how Tai Chi can improve flexibility. Because of an on-the-job injury, Jim couldn’t lift his arms any higher than his shoulders. Otherwise healthy, he experienced ongoing frustration. He couldn’t reach up to cupboards; he couldn’t paint his house; he couldn’t even reach a book on a shelf above his head. Jim had given up hope of ever returning to normal. Then, simply to get exercise, he took up Tai Chi. Within six months, normal flexibility had returned to his shoulder joints. His life changed. He could reach. What’s a better Christmas gift than that?
Merry merry mind control – it’s all in your head
The mind is the most important aspect of health. It’s a universally accepted fact that the mind controls the body. Surely you’ve heard of people overcoming disabilities because of their positive attitudes and strong minds? And Tai Chi, as one of the most powerful mind-body exercises, teaches the student to be aware of the intrinsic energy from which he or she can perceive greater self-control and empowerment.
A breath of fresh air
Yes. Classes can be held indoors or outdoors, making Tai Chi a perfect way to get some air during the hectic holiday season, especially as it opens the lungs.
What Else You Should Know
Cost: Yes. The costs are minimal. To learn the movements, it’s best to sign up for a class or follow a DVD.
Good for Beginners: Tai Chi is an excellent practice for beginners and is very accessible.
At Home: Yes. The moving meditations can be done at home.
For a Tai Chi center nearest you, please visit taoist.org/usa