Tai Chi (also known as T’ai Chi, T’ai Chi Ch’uan or Taijiquan) has long been a very familiar part of the Chinese landscape. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular in the United States as well. Anyone who has wandered into a park in Chinatown in the morning will certainly have been intrigued by the sight of huge numbers of Chinese practicing this slow and graceful form of exercise. However, most Americans still only have a vague idea about what Tai Chi is.
Tai Chi was originally developed in China as a martial arts training exercise. However, one does not need to practice martial arts to enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi. In China today, Tai Chi is practiced by young and old alike primarily to promote good health, reduce stress, improve movement and prevent disease. The unique "dynamic relaxation" of Tai Chi helps to harmonize the mind and body.
What are the health benefits of Tai Chi?
Studies have confirmed that regular practice of Tai Chi has many health benefits. These include:
Relaxation, stress relief and well-being: Through gentle, mindful movements and relaxed, deep breathing, Tai Chi helps reduce stress and tension, and generate a profound sense of harmony and well-being. Studies have found a significant drop in stress hormones during and after practice, as well as reduced tension, anxiety, fatigue, depression and improved mood.
Improved balance and coordination: Tai Chi can significantly increase balance, especially in older adults. Seniors who practice Tai Chi had a 47% decrease in falls as well as a reduced fear of falling. Tai Chi practitioners also gain improved strength, mobility, and endurance
Lower blood pressure and cardiovascular benefit: Tai Chi can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. It is a safe exercise for individuals at high risk for cardiovascular disease
Osteoporosis: Research has shown that regular practice of Tai Chi can retard bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Joints and Muscles: Tai Chi gently stretches and strengthens the muscles and can increase joint flexibility.
Who can practice Tai Chi?
People of any age may learn Tai Chi. Young and old, male and female, weak and strong alike can and do benefit greatly. Tai Chi is particularly appropriate for elderly people who are at risk for falls, as well as those with osteoporosis. Tai Chi is a safe form of aerobic exercise for individuals at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Tai Chi can also be practiced by those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, since it provides good exercise without exacerbating joint symptoms.
How should I Learn Tai Chi?
Although today Tai Chi is primarily practiced for its health benefits, nevertheless it was originally developed as a martial art. A student who has some knowledge (however superficial) of Tai Chi’s martial application will find it easier to practice correctly, even if he or she does not intend to use Tai Chi for fighting. As a martial art training exercise, Tai Chi helps to build balance, stability, strength, efficiency of movement, whole-body connectedness and energy. Over the years, it has undergone the most rigorous testing imaginable: the effectiveness of a martial art in China was not a matter of theory or opinion, but literally a matter life or death. If your practice was not effective, then you were defeated in combat.
Most books and many classes on Tai Chi merely teach the form, the series of choreographed movements. However, Tai Chi has nothing to do with the number of moves one learns or the different styles one knows. It’s the quality of each movement that counts. If you can do one movement with the correct quality and just repeat it over and over, you will get more benefit than if you do a complex set of movements without that quality.
Matthew Miller teaches Tai Chi classes at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. In the class, you will received personalized instruction from Matthew and several of his senior students, all of whom have been studying with him for 5 or more years.
Matthew lived in China for nine years, where he learned Tai Chi from Master Chen Longxiang (see photo right), a fifth generation heir to the authentic Yang Style Tai Chi lineage (click here to see a description of Matthew's historical lineage of teachers). Before leaving China to return to the U.S., Matthew was authorized by Master Chen to teach Tai Chi in the West. In China, Matthew also earned his medical degree from the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, specializing in acupuncture. He currently lives in Lynchburg, VA where he teaches Tai Chi and, with his wife Wang Yao, operates East West Acupuncture, a private acupuncture clinic.