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Tai chi: the power of the slow

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Tai chi: the power of the slow

Graham Osborne

Tai Chi, the slow-motion meditation being practiced in a park near you, can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, improve brain function and provide many other health benefits, according to scientific studies.

The ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi chuan has evolved into a series of mind-body exercises performed in a slow, focused and flowing manner designed to keep your body in constant motion and promote serenity.

Tai chi practice is said to support a healthy balance of yin and yang – opposing forces of shadow and light within the body – thereby aiding the flow of qi – a vital energy or life force.

According to a popular legend, a Taoist monk developed the first set of 13 tai chi exercises by imitating the movement of animals.

US medical research group the Mayo Clinic says the health benefits enjoyed by an estimated 2.5 million American tai chi practitioners include: decreased stress and anxiety; increased aerobic capacity; increased energy and stamina; increased flexibility, balance and agility; and increased muscle strength and definition.

There is evidence that tai chi can enhance sleep quality and the immune system; lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure; improve joint pain; improve symptoms of congestive heart failure; and improve general wellbeing in older adults as well as reduce their risk of falls, says the Minnesota-based not-for-profit Mayo.

Web-based Medical News Today lists dozens of scientific studies that show health benefits associated with tai chi include: helping patients with Parkinson's Disease; improving memory and brain functionrelieving arthritic pain; and combating depression.

A new Sydney University study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, found that tai chi “significantly improved” exercise capacity, muscle strength, balance and quality of life for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Study leader Regina Leung, a physiotherapist and PhD candidate in the university's health sciences faculty, said patients also reported improved concentration and decreased stress.

Texas Tech University Health Services Centre published a study showing that tai chi boosted bone health and muscle strength.

"Participants taking tai chi classes also reported significant beneficial effects in quality of life in terms of improving their emotional and mental health," researchers said.

Hospitals from Brisbane to Toronto are turning to tai chi to help patients suffering from chronic pain.

“The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital is at the cutting edge in their inclusion of tai chi as part of their intensive pain management programs,” said Taoist Tai Chi Society of Australia executive director Peter Cook, who teaches at the hospital.

“All the joints are put through a full range of motion, helping to lubricate the joint surfaces. The stretching works on the muscles, tendons and connective tissue throughout the whole body, with benefits for posture and spine.

“The slow, controlled stepping helps develop leg strength, balance and co-ordination, which has been shown to reduce the risk of falls.

“Tai chi has become increasingly 'mainstream' and recognised by both health professionals and the public as highly beneficial,” Cook said. “Tai chi helps to reduce stress and improve concentration. The continuous flowing movements have a calming effect on the mind and can improve mood and cognition. For those interested, tai chi can also be a path of spiritual development.”

Said 70-year-old rock legend Lou Reed, who has practised tai chi for 25 years: “People think I lift weights but I don't.”

Reed told that tai chi had made him “mentally and physically stronger. It physically changes your body and your energy. I do two hours a day, every day. If I miss a practice, my body starts to hurt. It used to be the other way around.”

You can teach yourself tai chi using videos, but practitioners recommend joining a class and learning from an experienced teacher.

People of all ages and fitness levels can practice tai chi – indoors or out, either alone or in a group - but the Victorian government's Better Health Channel advises to check first with your doctor if you are over 40, overweight, suffering from a chronic illness or haven't taken regular exercise recently.

An Introduction to Tai Chi and Tai Chi for Beginners are both great introductory videos to the art, or you may prefer the car-park style of actor Keanu Reeves, whose directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, is due for release next year.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 September 2014 13:46 )

Tai Chi for medical conditions - Harvard Medical School

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Tai Chi for medical conditions

When combined with standard treatment, tai chi appears to be helpful for several medical conditions. For example:

Arthritis. In a 40-person study at Tufts University, presented in October 2008 at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. According to a Korean study published in December 2008 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight weeks of tai chi classes followed by eight weeks of home practice significantly improved flexibility and slowed the disease process in patients with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine.

Low bone density. A review of six controlled studies by Dr. Wayne and other Harvard researchers indicates that tai chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. A controlled study of tai chi in women with osteopenia (diminished bone density not as severe as osteoporosis) is under way at the Osher Research Center and Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Breast cancer. Tai chi has shown potential for improving quality of life and functional capacity (the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities, such as work or exercise) in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For example, a 2008 study at the University of Rochester, published in Medicine and Sport Science, found that quality of life and functional capacity (including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility) improved in women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of tai chi, while declining in a control group that received only supportive therapy.

Heart disease. A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of tai chi 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. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.

Heart failure. In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of tai chi improved participants' ability to walk and quality of life. It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure. A 150-patient controlled trial is under way.

Hypertension. In a review of 26 studies in English or Chinese published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008), Dr. Yeh reported that in 85% of trials, tai chi 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.

Parkinson's disease. A 33-person pilot study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published in Gait and Posture (October 2008), found that people with mild to moderately severe Parkinson's disease showed improved balance, walking ability, and overall well-being after 20 tai chi sessions.

Sleep problems. In a University of California, Los Angeles, study of 112 healthy older adults with moderate sleep complaints, 16 weeks of tai chi improved the quality and duration of sleep significantly more than standard sleep education. The study was published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Sleep.

Stroke. In 136 patients who'd had a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of tai chi improved standing balance more than a general exercise program that entailed breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints involved in sitting and walking. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.

Harvard Health Publications - Harvard Medical School

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 September 2014 13:46 )