“Taiji can give you
the strength of a lumberjack,
the pliability of a child,
and the peace of mind of a sage.”
- Chinese Proverb
Taiji Quan (Tai Chi) is often described as “meditation in motion”. As with other mind-body practices, Taiji focuses on movement and breathing, creating a state of calm relaxation. In recent years the health benefits of Taiji have been the subject of a number of academically rigorous scientific studies in the West, and it comes as no surprise that in addition to relieving stress and creating a sense of well-being, many measurable benefits to practicing Taiji have been identified.
Taiji addresses the key components of fitness; muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and aerobic conditioning. Taiji differs from other types of exercise in several respects. When practicing Taiji, your movements are natural, your muscles relaxed. Joints are never fully extended and connective tissues are not stretched. Research conducted at the prestigious Mayo Clinic shows that Taiji burned 292 Calories per hour for a 160 pound individual) and 364 (for a 200 pound individual). That’s more calories per hour than their recorded rates for ballroom dancing, walking, bowling, volleyball, surfing and weightlifting.
Rigorous scientific research has shown evidence that Taiji is helpful for several medical conditions, including:
Eight weeks of Taiji classes followed by eight weeks of home practice significantly improved flexibility and slowed the disease process in patients with a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine. (Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine December 2008)
- Low bone density
A review of six controlled studies by Harvard researchers indicates that Taiji may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women.
- Breast cancer
A University of Rochester Study found that quality of life and functional capacity (the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities) improved in women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of Taiji, while declining in a control group that received only supportive therapy. (Medicine and Sport Science 2008)
- Heart disease
A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of Taiji significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease, with no improvement noted in the control group. (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine September 2008)
In a review of 26 studies, in 85% of trials, Taiji lowered blood pressure — with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure. (Preventive Cardiology Spring 2008)
- Parkinson’s disease
A 33-person pilot study at the Washington University School of Medicine found that people with mild to moderately severe Parkinson’s disease showed improved balance, walking ability, and overall well-being after 20 Taiji sessions. (Gait and Posture October 2008)
- Sleep problems
In a University of California (LA) study of 112 healthy older adults with moderate sleep complaints, 16 weeks of Taiji improved the quality and duration of sleep significantly more than standard sleep education. (Sleep July 2008).
In 136 patients who’d had experienced a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of Taiji improved standing balance as compared to a general exercise program entailing breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints. (Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair January 2009)
Taiji practice is inexpensive. It requires no special equipment. It can be done indoors or out, alone or in a group. You can get started with Taiji practice even if you aren’t in great shape or the best of health. Taiji can be adapted for anyone, from those in wheelchairs to those recovering from surgery. If you still aren’t convinced, check with your doctor before starting Taiji. Given its excellent safety record, chances are that your doctor will encourage you to try it.
You may find that Taiji is the perfect activity for the rest of your life!