When people talk about tai chi, they often use words like “qi” and “dantian”, or terms like “meridian lines” or “energy flow”. It can all be a bit confounding, really, and it can arouse your inner sceptic. But don’t let unfamiliar terminology put you off taking a closer look at tai chi.
Tai chi started out over 350 years ago, in a village called Chen in Henan Province, China. It began as a martial art practice, developed in line with the teachings of Chinese Medicine. Today in the West, the martial aspect has mostly been eclipsed by the health benefits of tai chi. Chen-style tai chi, the kind practiced in House of Movement, is the closest of the five main schools to tai chi’s martial roots, which you will learn about in tai chi classes.
In Chinese medicine, the explanation for why tai chi works to promote health has to do with the same principle that underlies acupuncture. Put simply, qi, or energy, flows around the body, through channels called meridian lines. When the flow of qi is disrupted or blocked, illness occurs. Tai chi works to unblock the qi and get it flowing again, thus treating and preventing many medical conditions. Now, Western medicine does not yet have an explanation for tai chi’s health benefits. Some researchers believe that the fascia network (the connective tissue surrounding muscles, bone and blood vessels) provides an anatomical explanation for the Chinese meridian lines. Doctors and researchers are working on it because the fact that tai chi does have health benefits is beyond question. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of tai chi practice.
So what might it be? First and foremost, tai chi is wonderful exercise. It’s gentle enough that almost anyone can do it, movements can be modified for beginners or people with disabilities, and it can be adapted to any fitness level. The warm-up movements at the beginning of tai chi classes improve flexibility, and the slow, free-arm motions and lowered stance strengthen the muscles of the core, arms and legs.
Focus on the body and concentration on breath and movement brings the mind into a calm, meditative state, where there is little room for the mental chatter that takes up so much of our lives, and leaves us stressed and exhausted. Indeed, this may be why tai chi practice has been proven to be so effective in reducing stress. Stress has such a detrimental effect on both our physical and mental health, that this alone would be a good reason to give tai chi classes a go! But tai chi has also been proven to be an effective complimentary therapy for chronic pain, gout, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoarthritis and sleep disorders, to name but a few.
Regular tai chi practice can make a huge difference in your life, improving physical fitness, promoting mental health and laying the foundations for a calmer, more in-tune version of you. So whether you’re interested in improving your fitness, getting your stress levels under control, or just experiencing a different kind of exercise class, tai chi classes with House of Movement could be just what you’re looking for.
© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013