In a time when Western medicine is the go-to treatment for nearly every illness, Harvard Medical School has a lot of enlightening things to say about tai chi, a holistic practice that has been used for thousands of years.
"Tai chi is often described as 'meditation in motion,' but it might well be called 'medication in motion,'" said the school's website.
This low-impact, slow-motion exercise, which originated in China as a martial art, offers value in treating and even preventing a number of health problems, including pain, stiffness, sleep disorders and shingles.
In a three-month study, people with osteoarthritis reported reduced less joint pain and stiffness than when they started, compared to patients in a control group. What's more, tai chi can enhance sleep. Oregon researchers found that tai chi participants had improved sleep quality and length. The benefits have been compared to those gained through sleep-inducing drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy, according to WebMD.
"A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age," Peter Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School's Osher Research Center, said on the school's website.
A Breakdown of Tai Chi
Typically, a tai chi class includes three parts.
First, students will start with warm-ups and easy motions, such as shoulder circles. In this movement, one turns the head from side to side or back and forth to loosen the muscles and joints while focusing on breath.
The second part revolves around instruction and practice of tai chi forms. For tai chi for beginners, forms mean a set of movements. Short forms may include a dozen movements while long forms could include hundreds. Depending on the class, different styles require smaller or larger movements. In the beginning, slower movement are usually recommended.
Lastly, qi gong, which translates into "energy work," consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing combined with movement.
A great thing about tai chi is that even if you aren't in top shape or the best health you can practice it. With balance improvements, arthritis exercises and enhanced flexibility, tai chi benefits the elderly as well as young beginners. There's a reason this ancient practice is still around today – find out what it can do for you!