Tai chi has a wealth of benefits for everyone, whether beginners, veterans or seniors.

What Harvard Medical School Says About Tai Chi

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!

Temolerase activity in DNA is associated with the aging process.

Researchers to Test Qi Gong in Aging Process among Traumatized Women

For the average person working 9 to 5, qi gong exercises have shown to relieve stress. But for women who suffer from chronic pyschological stress after a traumatizing experience, it may be extremely challenging to suppress the thoughts and emotions lingering from the event. 

Recently, researchers have been designing a study to test qi gong's effects on women suffering from traumatizing flash backs, such as those from abuse. 

In general, these women and others suffering from post-traumatic stress have shorter telomeres, which are DNA sequence present in the cell division process associated with aging. Each time a cell divides, some of the telomere is lost, and when the telomere becomes too short, the chromosome reaches a critical length and can no longer replicate. In essence, this means that a cell becomes "old" and dies.

Beyond individuals actually aging over the years, specific mentally disturbing instances can shorten telomeres. The exact biological mechanisms responsible for this are not fully understood, and researchers are aiming to reveal them in this new study. 

Slowing Down the Aging Process
For the study, researchers will recruit 240 Chinese women ages 18 and older who have been abused within the last three years. The study protocol is published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and is expected to produce monumental results

Researchers are hopeful that the study will unveil new information on telomerase activity and chronic psychological stress in women. The concept of health-promoting behaviors, the authors wrote, could slow down cellular aging, or in other words, the aging process.

The women will receive either a qi gong intervention or a wait-list control condition. The first group is set to have qi gong training sessions twice a week for six weeks, with a one-hour follow-up group qi gong exercise session once a week for four months. They will also practice the ancient technique for 30 minutes once a day for 5.5 months. 

The wait-list control group will receive qi gong training after the intervention group completes the program. 

Expectations
Investigators are expecting that traumatized women who practice qi gong will have higher levels of telomerase activity and perceived coping as well as lower levels of cytokines, stress and depressive symptoms. 

The World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide have been physically or sexually abused by their intimate partners at some time in their lives. It's time to figure out new methods to not only alleviate these symptoms, but prevent them. 

Imagining the details of an orange - its taste, texture, smell - is an example of mind-body imagery.

Imagery Mind-Body Technique

MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he visualized the whole Super Bowl before he even stepped foot on the field, where he would go on to lead the Green Bay Packers to victory in 2010. 

Tapping into the mind's eye is a powerful technique used by not just athletes, but everyone from CEOs to doctors to those recovering from an injury. 

People looking for a new mind-body technique may want to try imagery exercises, which uses creative exercises to picture scenarios that relax and heal. They can practiced on your own or with a facilitator guiding you, which is called guided imagery. 

Similar to Dahn Yoga exercises that can provide stretching, soothing and healing treatments, imagery is a mind-body therapy that's been shown to lower stress. 

A common relaxation practice is to visualize yourself in your "happy" place that puts your mind and body at ease. This may be at the beach with the waves washing calmly on shore, in a hammock feeling the warm breeze brush against your skin or at home in the couch listening to your favorite album. The trick is to incorporate all your senses. Although it's called imagery, conjure the sense of smell, taste, feel and hearing too. This will help transport you to another place, and temporarily relieve sensations of stress and tension. 

Another example is to imagine an orange in great detail – the smell, the shape, the texture of the peel. Then continue to imagine that you take a bite of the orange and feel the juice squirt into your mouth. Many people salivate while doing this – which underlines how your body can respond to what you are imagining.

Studies have indicated that the use of guided imagery noticeably improve stress levels, anxiety management and post-operative healing. It can also help lower blood pressure and other problems related to stress. It may be applied to reaching goals such as quitting smoking or losing weight.

The foundation to self-healing is methodically communicating the desired messages or behavioral changes to your subconscious mind in its language: imagery. Have you ever noticed that watching a powerful movie or gripping dream can seem to produce the same effect on your body as if it were happening in real life? The subconscious reacts to this feeling and can work wonders.

Just like Rodgers, you can tap into the power of visualization in the imagery mind-body therapy. 

Some children with autism respond aversely to gentle touches.

Qi Gong May Improve Tactile Problems for Kids With Autism

Some children with autism experience sensory challenges. The most common problem revolves around the sense of touch. What that means is that these children don't register pain normally or they register gentle touches in an unpleasant way.

"Touch is the master sense," Dr. Louisa Silva, who has a medical degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master's degree in public health from the Medical College of Wisconsin, explained to The Oregonian. "It's the one to coordinate the brain and the body and to give the brain and the child a sense of where they are physically in time and space. … When touch is abnormal, the other senses don't work together."

Silva believes that qi gong may be able to help children with autism. Qi gong, an ancient technique pronounced "CHEE-gung" could lessen this type of sensory challenge for youngsters with autism. Silva has co-authored 12 studies have been published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

With qi gong, children have learned to overcome their reluctance for this sense. One child in Silva's studies, for instance, used to shriek when someone would try to touch his chest. However, after several qi gong massage sessions, the same child learned how to lay quietly during the same touch. There is even a qi gong video that tracks this progression.

The treatment could also help parents who naturally reach, touch and play with their children. Sensory difficulties can get in the way of that. But qi gong might just be able to straighten out the problem. 

Qi gong is like a cousin of tai chai. Incorporating soft movements and tactile sensation, the practice has proven beneficial for people old and young.

Caring for a child with autism can be extremely taxing on the parents.

Mindful Meditation May Help Mothers of Kids With Autism

Caring for a child for disability is one of the most challenging, stressful things a parent can encounter. Since the conditions rarely disappear over time, it can lead to years of pent-up stress for mothers and fathers. 

Recently, a new study offered mindfulness programs and "positive psychology" to help mothers of children with autism and other mental-development disability. After weeks of treatment, the meditation showed to reduce their stress, anxiety and depression. 

"There are literally decades of studies that have described the high levels of stress and distress, anxiety and depressive symptoms that moms and dads of children with developmental disabilities suffer, and I didn't want to describe anymore, I wanted to do something about it," Elizabeth Dykens, study leader and an associate director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, explained to Reuters. 

While such families often focus on the disabled child, Dykens wanted to make life a little easier for the caregiver. In fact, improving the mental health of parents is likely to make them better caregivers, which in turn could enhance the child's development. 

Large bodies of previous research have demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction therapies are effective at lowering symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. But most of those interventions were child-oriented. 

"So this is really for parents – it was for their mental health and well-being, for their own adult development," said Dykens.

For the study, 243 participants of children with autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities were randomly assigned into groups that would receive either mindfulness training or a positive psychology program named Positive Adult Development. Whereas mindfulness hones attention at the present moment while incorporating deep breathing and gentle movements like yoga poses, qi gong and meditation, PAD was more focused on thoughts and practicing gratitude. 

Dykens pointed out that both methods would counteract anger, disappointment, guilt or sadness that families often face while dealing with their kids' challenging problems. 

At the beginning, about 85 percent of mothers had substantial levels of stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent suffered from anxiety disorders. Yet by the end of the six weeks, both groups displayed significant reductions in stress, depression and anxiety levels. 

Mothers in the mindfulness group had better improvements in anxiety and sleep and well-being compared to the women in the PAD group. 

The study underpins that even the hardest of life's situations have a light at the end of the tunnel, and with meditation, yoga or Dahn Yoga exercises, people can work through them one by one. 

Qi gong is considered a cousin of Tai Chi.

5 Fast Things to Know About Qi Gong

Qi Gong is a type of study of Qi (energy or life force) that was developed more than 3,000 years ago in China. But as the relentless go-go-go culture continues to stack up, people all around the world are turning to this ancient technique to relieve stress. Here are six basic things to know about qi gong. 

1. Qi gong combines several motions and breathing exercises
The Chinese practice blends breathing techniques, posture and movement to circulate the life force throughout the body and filter out toxins.

2. The basic Qi gong stance is called Hugging the Tree
To do this, stand in the basic Qi gong stance with your knees bent comfortably. Raise your arms up in front as if holding a huge Qi ball (like a beach ball) at the level of your heart. As you angle your palms toward yourself, with your elbows pointing down to the ground and shoulders relaxed, tuck your chin. Some people like to think they have a cord attached at the apex of their head tugging their spine upward. Remain standing while you do deep dantian breathing. 

3. Focus on dantian 
Since breathing is a large part of qi gong, dantian is something that new practitioners will want to understand. Dantian means "elixir field" or a place to store energy, and it can be found in one's center. Thus, abdominal breathing is important. Anatomically, dantian is located in the lower abdomen between the navel and the pubic bone. Qi gong experts believe this is not only a source of power for physical energy and sexual vitality but also a corresponding point of physical functions such as digestion and reproduction.  

4. Everyone can benefit from qi gong
Unlike certain martial arts like Kung Fu, Qi gong can be practiced by people of all ages and abilities. Children may learn to channel their energy and develop heightened concentration with qi gong; office workers can reduce stress and anxiety; and seniors may utilize gentle motions to help relieve problems like arthritis and a limited range of motion. Similar benefits may be found in the Korean practice of Dahn Yoga.

5. There is a difference between Qi gong, Tai Chi and Kung Fu
Although subtle to the outside eye, there is a difference between these three practices. Tai Chi is a soft or internal martial art whereas Kung Fu is considered a hard or external martial art that is heavily based on self-defense training. On the other hand, Qi gong can be considered a cousin of Tai Chi, combining slow, easy motions with controlled breathing.

Yoga could help ease spring allergy symptoms.

Dahn Yoga May Be Able to Help Your Allergies

With the warm weather comes allergies, and pollen is the main offender. Each year millions of Americans deal with seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, which not is only bothersome, but can disrupt one's sleep patterns, concentration and mood. However, to fight this off, yoga can help ease your allergy symptoms through stress reduction.

When you're stressed out, your body release hormones and chemicals including histamine, the powerful chemical that lead to allergy symptoms. So, the more stress, the nastier the allergies.

"Allergies are worsened by a stress reaction, which causes physiological responses, including the release of stress hormones and histamine, and triggers inflammation," Dr. Jeff Migdow, director of Prana Yoga Teacher Training through the Open Center in New York, told YogaJournal. "Relaxation diminishes fight-or-flight response, and thereby reduces allergic symptoms."

Yoga and meditation can de-stress your immune system. Despite a stuffy nose, soothing breathing techniques help nurture an inner calm that pushes anxiety out of the mind. With that being said, some forms of yoga are better than others for those suffering from allergies. You might want to steer clear of Bikram yoga or Ashtanga yoga where there is heat.

Dahn Yoga, on the other hand, is a great alternative.

The first part of a Dahn Yoga class consists of stretching exercises that boost circulation throughout your body. Afterward, practitioners engage in brain wave vibration, a dynamic meditation that activates the natural healing powers of your brain. Then it's time for Jigam, also called deep energy meditation, where the gentle postures serve to break down stress. Yoga experts advise that in the breathing of allergy sufferers, there should be a greater emphasis placed on exhalation. A short inhalation followed by a longer one has a calming impact. 

Moreover, yogis can try inversions, which help drain secretions from the nose and open up the respiratory tract. Doing a shoulderstand or plow pose may help ensure proper drainage of sinuses. As a note though, don't keep your head down too long in yoga poses like the headstand or downward-facing dog, as they increase pressure in nasal passages. 

Instead, partake in more standing poses like forward and backward bends, which massage various parts of the spine and condition the lungs. Through all of this, you can feel deep relaxation and rejuvenation, helping to limit stuffy noses, itching eyes and other allergy symptoms.

Qi gong could be an effective way to help combat diabetes.

Study: Qi Gong Could Serve As Weight Loss Therapy for Diabetes Patients

According to a new study from Bastyr University and the University of Washington, the ancient Chinese practice of qi gong may help diabetes patients lose weight.

The researchers, who published their findings at the Bastyr University Research Institute, found that patients who practiced a specific form of qi gong dropped both weight and insulin resistance, which is a contributing factor for Type 2 diabetes. 

"The exciting part is that no one has ever reported that qi gong can help with losing weight," says lead investigator Guan-Cheng Sun, PhD.

For the study, 32 participants were recruited and randomly assigned to three groups. The qi gong group performed one 30-minute session with a certified qi gong instructor and did two more sessions at home each week. The progressive resistance training group tried similar physical movement, but instead of qi gong's focused breathing and meditation, the workout incorporated elastic exercise bands. A control group did not perform either exercise. 

Following the 12-week program, both the qi gong and PRT groups demonstrated significant weight loss.

The results are attention-grabbing because obesity is a leading factor for Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of the disease. Nearly 90 percent of people with diabetes suffer from Type 2. The heavier one is, the higher his or her risk becomes for the disease. 

What's more, the qi gong group also reduced its rate of insulin resistance. Since insulin resistance is what often leads to diabetes, avoiding it is technically even more important than weight loss, Dr. Sun explained. 

It's important to point out that the trial represents a small sample size. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the initial study, will now grant additional funding to allow the group to expand its research. 

Still, qi gong, a similar form of practice as tai chi, has the potential to help fight off diabetes. Both qi gong and tai chi work to promote a healthy flow of "qi," or energy, through the body. Therapies that offer this ancient practice would be far less expensive than conventional diabetes care, Dr. Sun said.

"At this point we can see that qigong is working differently than regular exercise," Dr. Sun said. "But how does it work differently? We need to do studies to find how it's working at the molecular level. That would be a great contribution to diabetes care."

Nurses, and those training to become them, deal with stress on an hourly basis.

Qi Gong As Stress Reduction Tool Among Nursing Students

There are few occupations as emotionally taxing as caring for the life of another person. Those learning to become nurses will face long hours, intense medical knowledge and patients who need intimate care. To combat the stress of this, researchers examined the influence of qi gong training on nursing students. 

In the 10-week study, participants were split into two groups: The first group practiced the ancient Chinese technique qi gong while the second received no intervention. Then a depression, anxiety and stress test and the Patient Health Questionnaire were administered. Salivary biomarkers were also measured. 

At the end of the treatment, only the qi gong group showed an improvement in their depression, anxiety and stress scores. Fascinatingly, cortisol concentrations in the saliva – an indicator of stress – among the qi gong group had decreased while the secretion rates of salivary immunoglobulin-A – a benchmark of immunity – increased. 

Qi gong, which integrates breathing techniques, physical postures and slow self-massage, helped the practitioners take a step back from the hectic world of their course material, text books and exams to feel a sort of self-aware release. The gentle, rhythmic motions of qi gong served to reduce the anxiousness and helped them focus after practice.

The researchers concluded that qi gong enhances psychological states and mucosal immunity. 

Similar to qi gong, Dahn Yoga has been shown to help lower stress, for students, professionals or children. The Korean-style yoga incorporates focused breathing. People who dedicated some time to Dahn Yoga feel a better sense of inner calm and a strengthened control over their body and emotions. For nurses and beyond, this could be a life-changer!

One man practices tai chi on the beach.

Tai Chi for Arthritis Patients

Arthritis revolves around joint health that can make everyday movements challenging. Millions of people young and old deal with arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., according to the Arthritis Foundations. As a type of gentle exercise that strengthens the muscles that support joints, tai chai is a great outlet for arthritis patients looking for low-impact workouts to keep disability out of the question.

Tai chi is practice that involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner that incorporates deep breathing. Its use in the West today can perhaps best be thought of as a moving form of yoga and meditation combined.

It is true that tai chi movements have origins in martial arts, but all of the motions are in a slow-tempo energy level, allowing those with arthritis to practice it freely and without pain. These techniques help foster a calm and tranquil mind, establishing a rhythm of control over balance, alignment and fine-scale motor movements. For those with stiff joints, tai chi smoothens transitional motions and can help ease pressure on joints.

Tai chi is often considered a cousin technique to qi gong, another ancient Chinese practice. Yet here's the main difference between tai chi and qi gong: While the former is a low-impact, aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, qi gong involves a series of postures focused on meditation and self-massage.

Sun-style tai chi has been cited as a go-to exercise for arthritis patients, as it works in slow, smooth movements that can strengthen supporting muscle and improve mobility. Once the body parts around the joints gain muscle mass, they can take the load off the joints to carry more weight and pressure.

Paul Lam, a family physician and director of the Tai Chi for Health Institute in Australia, advises that you don't practice tai chi longer than the amount of time you can walk comfortably. Generally, 20 to 40 minutes each day is good for most people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Whether you want to learn tai chi at home or launch tai chi for beginners, the ancient exercise has more than its fair share of applications in the modern world, where, like the goal of arthritis patients, all parts are constantly in motion.

Tips for your healthier, happier and more peaceful life