The Benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong
Nov 01, 2012 07:36PM
By Hilary Smith
In parks, homes, health clubs, community centers, yoga studios and martial arts schools throughout the Lehigh Valley, people can be seen practicing what looks like a slow moving, meditative dance. The arts of qigong and Tai chi, while beautiful to watch, feel even better to practice.
Tai chi and qigong are growing rapidly in popularity. According to Bill Douglas, author of The Compete Idiot’s Guide to Tai Chi and QiGong, the modalities are practiced by about 20 percent of the world’s population, and that number is increasing. The Lehigh Valley is blessed to have an active and vibrant community of people practicing these arts.
The Chinese have long used these health-promoting practices as a method of self-care. Tai chi and qigong are an integral part of Classical Chinese Medicine, dating back thousands of years. As research shows the importance of stress management for the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases, more people are seeking them out. As a method of taking control of one’s own health, they can’t be surpassed.
Qigong is an ancient Chinese healing modality, which translated, means “cultivating the life force.” Through breath awareness, posture, mental focus and simple movements, qi (energy) is increased and circulated throughout the body. As the mind and body relax, the neurotransmitter profile shifts to rest and restoration. This awakens the immune system, decreases inflammation, improves cardiovascular function and improves mood and sleep patterns. According to the National Qigong Association, the gentle, rhythmic movements of qigong reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality and enhance the immune system. It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions. It sounds like a tall order, but the experience of dedicated practitioners shows it to be true.
Tai chi is one of the many styles of qigong. Although it is a martial art, many practitioners practice it primarily for the medical and spiritual benefits. It provides all the benefits of qigong, plus it builds strength, stamina and balance. The learning and memorization of many new movement patterns provides the brain with the type of stimulation needed to maintain cognitive function with aging.
Western science has started to notice the testimonials of students of these arts, and research is being conducted to quantify and prove the benefits. The Harvard Women’s Health Watch recently listed it as one of the five best exercises individuals will ever do. A 2009 issue of the same publication notes that, “Tai chi is often described as ‘meditation in motion,’ but it might well be called ‘medication in motion.’
Recent research demonstrates the modality’s usefulness in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, knee osteoarthritis, hypertension and insomnia. It has been shown to be safe for people living with congestive heart failure and for those recovering from heart attacks. In addition, immune function is enhanced with the regular practice of tai chi. Researchers at the University of Sydney found that cancer patients who practiced qigong experienced significantly higher well-being levels, improved cognitive functioning and less inflammation compared to a control group.
So how does one go about learning these arts? Although books and DVDs are plentiful, they can’t compare to learning from an experienced instructor. Classes are usually held in groups, which provides the added benefit of community and group support.
When choosing an instructor, it is helpful to have a goal. Are you primarily interested in learning a martial art or are you looking to improve physical and emotional balance? Some individuals may be working with a chronic health condition or a newly diagnosed stress-related illness, or simply want to take a proactive approach to their own well-being. Individuals need to ask potential teachers about his or her specific experience working in the areas for which they are interested.
Ask how many years they have been practicing and teaching. Is it a good fit between your personality and temperament and theirs? There are many different styles of Tai chi and qigong, all of which have stood the test of time. Finding a compatible instructor is probably more important than the particular style they teach.
Hilary Smith, a registered nurse, has been studying Tai chi and qigong since 1988. She holds a third degree black belt in kung fu, and is certified in plant-based nutrition. She offers free introductory talks monthly, and teaches day and evening classes in Allentown, Bethlehem and Emmaus. For more information, call 610-751-6090, email [email protected] or visit HilarySmithTaiChi.com.