You know those groups of people in the park that move like they’re doing a slow-motion dance routine? They’re probably doing tai chi, & you should be doing it too.
According to the Mayo Clinic, tai chi can offer many mental & physical health benefits, including increased energy & stamina, improved mood & muscle strength, and a decrease in stress, anxiety & depression.
These benefits build up significantly in the long term, but even people who do it in the short term can receive these benefits for weeks afterward.
Tai chi’s benefits, including stress relief, are rooted in the core movements & meditations involved, which can be traced back centuries.
Originally developed as a martial art in ancient China, the slowed-down and deliberate movements that one performs when practicing tai chi are designed to promote focus & mindfulness, especially when combined with meditation.
The promotion of mindfulness, as reported by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at the University of Washington, is a key factor in stress reduction.
According to an article by CNN, that’s also a major reason why it’s become popular with millennials.
Speaking with CNN at his tai chi class, 28 year old Patrick York said “If I’m feeling agitated, [the tai chi class] is a good lesson for me to remember to slow down and tune in with my breath.
“I do tai chi to get back into myself and to my center because, throughout the week, the world will pull us in other directions.”
Dr. Michael Irwin, the director of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research center, has spoken at length on the reasons behind tai chi’s effectiveness.
He says, “We’re slowly moving, but we also have to be present in this moment…being present in the moment turns off these stories that we tell ourselves…” When we enter a state of self-criticism, stress pathways are activated.
When we stay in the moment, we’re not only able to stay calm; we’re also able to cut off the triggering of these pathways.
Even though young people have been taking a liking to tai chi recently, and can certainly benefit, seniors stand to especially gain from the practice.
The Journal of Sport and Health Science, in research it published concerning older participants, reported notable improvements in memory and cognition.
A study in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics provides further proof in the case of older, lonely adults.
As reported in the study, tai chi helped them combat their bodies’ production of NF-kB, a protein that gets triggered into activity by “stress activation of the sympathetic nervous system.”
Another study from the Psychiatric Clinic of North America showed that the practice helps people with chronic illnesses tackle stress associated with their illness.
JAMA Internal Medicine also published a study of its effect on those with chronic illness; they discovered a significant reduction in worry after 3-12 weeks, especially with sessions lasting over 30 minutes.
As those studies suggest, tai chi isn’t just available to the most limber amongst us. In their article about the martial art, the Mayo Clinic reassures people that age & fitness aren’t deal breakers since it has a low impact on muscles & joints.
Christina Heiser, writing for NBC, also notes that the low-impact aspect makes it perfect for people who participate in more intense, joint-stressing activities like running and dancing.
So now that you’ve seen the tip of the benefit iceberg that is tai chi, how do you feel? Are you ready to give it a whirl? There’s a lot of advice given to beginners, but here are a few things everyone agrees on:
Take a Class
- Sure, there are plenty of videos and books you can find about tai chi, but the Mayo Clinic suggests you find a qualified instructor that can teach you the proper, specific techniques in person. If you have a health club or gym near you, or a senior center, there’s a good chance they offer tai chi.
Choose Your Class Wisely
- While one can find a class fairly easily, instructor Dee Oglivy suggests you be discerning. There isn’t a central authority on tai chi, so there’s no commonly accepted standard of qualification.
The most effective gauge, according to her, is how long the instructor has studied the art.
“This is thousands of years’ worth of knowledge that can only be passed on by people who study this all their lives. After 28 years, I’m still a beginner.”
- Experiencing the outside world has benefits in and of itself; Research in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that study participants with major depressive disorder showed mood improvements after walking in nature.
Since many classes are offered outside, you might as well take advantage of the opportunity to boost your mood.
Make it Daily
- If you ask physical therapist Aideen Turner, consistent & constant movement is key. That’s why she suggests, for maximum benefits, that those doing tai chi practice for about 20 minutes a day & three days a week.
Along with regular practice, the Mayo Clinic also suggests doing it in the same place every day to develop a routine.
Since schedules can get hectic, though, they also say you’re fine as long as you get a few minutes in on a regular basis.
For those in stressful & confined situations like meetings or traffic, they suggest practicing the meditative, mindfulness-oriented aspects of tai chi without the actual movements.
- As mentioned before, the optimal benefits of tai chi emerge in the long term, and it is only with long-term practice that one can hope to come close to mastery.
As Oglivy puts it, “tai chi is complex. But that complexity is why it’s working in the long run, so don’t give up – just keep trying to pick up something.”
Whether you plan on starting a lifelong journey or just want to try it out, don’t wait to take that step. The benefits are proven & lasting, and a life with less stress is within your grasp.