Tai Chi Chuan, commonly known as Tai Chi, was developed in China in the 1300s as a martial art for self-defense. Tai Chi Chuan translates to “Grand Ultimate Fist”, revealing its martial arts roots. It has evolved into a method for promoting health and wellness. It can be used for the general harmonizing and balancing of the body, and is wonderful for stress management and many illnesses.
The central element of the practice is the “internal discipline” that dictates how a movement should be made from the internal core of the body–the abdomen and the back–and not from the external parts of the body, such as arms and shoulders. This discipline is essential to gain the full health benefits of Tai Chi.
There are many different styles of Tai Chi. Most modern styles of Tai Chi trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu, and Sun. While the image of Tai Chi in popular culture is typified by exceedingly slow movement, many Tai Chi styles have secondary forms of a faster pace. Some traditional schools of Tai Chi teach partner exercises known as “pushing hands”, and martial applications of the forms’ postures. The physical techniques of Tai Chi are described in the Tai Chi classics, a set of writings by traditional masters, as being characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination and relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize or initiate attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in Tai Chi teaches the student how to apply that leverage gently by using connected movements of the entire body.
Studies with the elderly show that Tai Chi can help with balance problems. In cases of osteoporosis, it helps strengthen the bones. Because of the relaxation aspect, it can help with stress-related problems like high blood pressure. Because it is low-impact, it can help lubricate your joints and strengthen your body in a way that’s not as harmful as running or some high-impact exercises. Tai Chi is a wonderful complement to any exercise program.
The term Qigong (pronounced “chee kung’) is formed by two Chinese characters: “qi” (energy) plus “gong” (work or practice). It is an ancient Chinese system of postures, movement, breathing exercises and meditation techniques designed to enhance the flow of energy in the body. Its closest translation is “energy cultivation” requiring the integration of mind and body. Qigong exercises are intended to improve health, increase energy, revitalize the body and mind, and prevent or control disease.
A form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), qigong has been practiced for an estimated 5,000 years to help people maintain health and live longer. The ancient Chinese believed that certain body movements and meditation exercises could enhance different functions in the body. For centuries, qigong exercises were included in religious rituals. In the 1980s, Chinese scientists began conducting studies on the health effects of qigong, and by the 1990s, the Chinese government had made it an official part of the Chinese health plan.
Practitioners of qigong believe that the practice can relieve stress and promote healing. Qigong may be helpful in managing pain, reducing anxiety and enhancing the effectiveness of various forms of medical treatment. Proponents of qigong also believe that it can prevent disease and help treat conditions such as stroke and heart disease by improving the flow of oxygen throughout the body and regulating the nervous system. Hospitals in China use qigong in conjunction with treatment for conditions such as asthma, allergies, hypertension, depression, headaches, strokes, obesity and heart disease. Daily practice of qigong can increase overall health and encourage longevity.
Qigong can be practiced internally or externally. Internal qigong involves meditation, breathing exercises and physical movements that you can practice on your own or in a class. External qigong refers to the practice performed by skilled masters who pass their energy to other people to promote healing. Qigong sessions typically consist of warm-up exercises, followed by postures, movements, breathing exercises, meditation and concluding exercises. Postures may include standing, sitting or lying down while executing various movements and breathing techniques. Movements may include stretching, swinging the arms in slow, deliberate motions, jumping or bending. All movements included in qigong are intended to strengthen, stretch and tone the body to facilitate the circulation of qi. Sessions may last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. Beginners should practice between 15 and 30 minutes a day.