Tai Chi has long been a favourite pastime for many people in Eastern Asia. Today, it’s spread worldwide and become a popular way to maintain physical and mental health. If you’ve never tried it, picture yourself moving through a series of smooth, flowing poses that relieve tension, increase your flexibility, and boost overall endurance. We asked Alex Lau, a YMCA of Greater Toronto Health Educator and Individual Conditioning Coach, to give us the low-down on all the ways you can benefit from Tai Chi. Based on his experience teaching and practicing, here are his top three takeaways:
1. Reduce stress and improve concentration
Research on meditation and mindfulness shows that stressful thoughts often stem from memories of the past or worries about the future. However, most of the time, our present reality does not involve any of these stressors. The goal of mindfulness practice is to bring yourself into the present moment and remember that everything is ok.
When you’re practicing Tai Chi, you smoothly move from one pose to the next, which helps focus all of your attention in the here and now! As you get more familiar with the movements, you will deepen your practice by focusing on your breath and the sensations you’re feeling, synchronizing your mind and body.
2. Support cardiovascular health
A brisk walk is often cited as the minimum intensity level needed to improve cardiovascular health. In a study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, researchers examined two groups of adults, each consisting of 80 adults with high blood pressure. One group engaged in brisk walking and the other group regularly practiced Tai Chi. After nine months, those who practiced Tai Chi had a significantly greater reduction in blood pressure and blood sugar than those who did the brisk walking. So if COVID-19 has kept you indoors and missing your regular walks, Tai Chi can be a great substitute to keep up your cardiovascular health!
3. Enhance your balance and coordination
Many older adults want to improve their balance and co-ordination and, in turn, reduce their risk of falling. Tai Chi is a fantastic way to train your body and brain to do just that. Try this quick exercise to see what I mean:
Start standing near a wall or a piece of furniture that you can use to support yourself, if necessary. Then, take one large step forward. It probably took you about two seconds. Next, repeat that step but slow way down so that it takes you about eight seconds to do the same movement. It takes more effort, in terms of strength and balance, right? Now imagine doing that for five minutes and you have a sense of the balance and coordination-building Tai Chi makes possible. Once you start practicing, you’ll find it helps with both static balance (i.e., standing on one leg) and dynamic balance (i.e., balancing while in motion).
How to get started with Tai Chi
We recommend that you start your Tai Chi journey with a knowledgeable instructor who can guide you through postures safely. Look out for our new Sign up for one of our Tai Chi classes on The Bright Spot today and begin your practice with one of our qualified experts, from the comfort of your own home.