Tai chi

Tai chi is a Chinese exercise system which uses slow, smooth body movements to achieve a state of relaxation of both body and mind. It can help achieve astate of physical and mental relaxation while also strengthening the cardiovascular system.

As a very slow and gentle form of moving, tai chi has virtually no side effects. However, if a person has any doubts about joints, vertebrae, or heart, adoctor should be consulted.

Developed originally in China as a self-defense strategy, tai chi (the "supreme ultimate fist") is practiced in modern times primarily as a gentle exercise technique. Described as "meditation in motion," the tai chi practitioner performs a series of postures or bodily movements in a slow and graceful manner, with each movement flowing without pause to the next. According to Chineselegend, the technique was created by a Taoist monk who was inspired as he watched a crane and a snake do battle. Impressed by the snake's ability to subtly and swiftly avoid the bird's thrusts, he devised a series of self-defense techniques that don't involve force, but rather stresses evasion, causing theopponent's own momentum to work against him.

Tai chi is an ancient form of exercise that at one point had more than 100 separate movements or postures. Currently there are two popular versions of 18and 37 movements respectively. In China, 10 million people practice some typeof tai chi daily, making it one of the most popular forms of exercise in theworld. In the United States, tai chi is learned in classes in which students(or "players," as they are called in China) wear loose, comfortable clothingand either go barefoot or wear only socks or soft shoes. In China, tai chi is almost always practiced outdoors at dawn, and ideally near trees. Unlike other martial arts, tai chi is not competitive. Classes usually begin with a few minutes of standing meditation to calm the mind and gather energy. Following warm-up exercises, students are taught the basics of a particular form or posture. Learning forms is not easy, and it takes some time to master what looks like a simple position. Properly-done postures are done in a relaxed way with the circular and rhythmic movements of one position flowing seamlessly into the next.

While strict attention to body position is critical, proper breathing is considered to be equally important. Just as movements are slow and continuous andwithout strain, breathing should be effortless yet deep. Finally, both mental and physical balance is considered essential to tai chi. The experienced practitioner of tai chi maintains perfect body balance throughout the exerciseseries. Altogether, the five essential qualities of tai chi are:

  • Slowness (to develop awareness)
  • Lightness (to make movements flow)
  • Balance (to prevent body strain)
  • Calmness (to maintain continuity)
  • Clarity (to focus the mind)

Tai chi has both physical and mental benefits. If done regularly, it improvesmuscle tone, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Many older people findthat it boosts their energy, stamina, and agility, sharpens their reflexes, and gives an overall sense of well-being. The calming and meditative aspects of tai chi allow many to experience its ability to relieve stress. Some claimtai chi to be a healing therapy, and it is often used to support other treatments for chronic conditions; arthritis and digestive disorders are just two examples. Like yoga, tai chi has several different styles to suit the individual. It can eventually be done daily by an individual, and ultimately becomesa very personal endeavor. Most Westerners find it best to practice tai chi inthe same place and at the same time of day, and those who enjoy it most arethose who are not seeking major, dramatic breakthroughs, but rather who can take pleasure in small gains that accumulate over a long period of time.

Tai chi is a safe exercise system for people of all ages and fitness levels.Done properly, without any over-stretching, tai chi should not leave a personfeeling tired or sore. Besides its overall fitness benefits and stress reduction aspects, regular tai chi sessions are said to be especially helpful forseniors, as it lowers their blood pressure. The practice may help arthritis sufferers and patients recovering from an injury or heart problems. It also improves balance, and reduces the risk of falling, especially important for theelderly. Because of the low stress level of the exercises it is particularlyattractive form of exercise to seniors.

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