Tai Chi Exercises Both Mind and Body
Centuries-old practice gains new followers.
The Body and the Mind
In tai chi, both the mind and the body are constantly challenged. It is hard
to say which benefits more, say experts.
''Initially, benefits are physical,'' says Conner. ''For learning purposes,
you start with the body. You learn a set series of movements, all in the same
order, and you have to pay attention. When you pay attention, you purchase
Santa Fe tai chi instructor Robin Johnson says it’s more like thinking of
the two as one.
''Tai chi (and qigong) demonstrate how inextricably interwoven the mental
and physical body is,'' says Douglas, author of Stalking the Yang Lu-Chan:
Finding Your Tai Chi Body. ''Your mood, your emotional states, and your
physical states are all beginning to improve at the same time.''
Practicing tai chi also helps to counteract the repetitiveness of our jobs
and daily routines, where our bodies move only in limited ways, Johnson
''Sitting in front of a computer all day abuses the body,'' says Johnson.
''We’re not using our body’s versatility. Like a hinge, if you don’t use it, it
gets sticky and stuck.''
Super for Seniors
Of course, aging also takes a toll on our bodies. Over time, strength
lessens, elasticity fades, joint mobility decreases. Because balance is
compromised as well, the likelihood of falling increases with age. In fact,
falls are the leading cause of injuries in older adults.
Because tai chi often involves shifting weight from one leg to the other, it
can increase both balance and leg strength in older adults.
''Tai chi is the best balance conditioning exercise in the world,'' says
Douglas. ''And if tai chi can cut falls in half, that’s a pretty profound
A 2001 study conducted by the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, reported
that seniors who took Tai Chi classes for an hour twice a week reported having
an easier time with activities like walking, climbing, bending, lifting,
eating, and dressing than their peers who did not participate in the
Tai Chi and Weight
Because tai chi is low impact, experts say, it's a good choice for people
carrying extra weight, who often have knee and hip limitations. If you can’t
walk or do traditional exercise without pain, tai chi may be gentle enough to
get you moving. And with regular practice, they say, you will begin to burn
calories and lose weight.
Johnson says tai chi also speaks to the mental aspect of being
When you're overeating and not moving enough, your body becomes stressed, he
says. Practicing tai chi gets you in touch with your body and makes you more
aware of its needs.
''If our body becomes more centered,'' says Johnson, ''we don’t need to be
compulsively consuming food.''