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Tai Chi's Origins And Health Benefits

Updated on June 2, 2011

Martial Arts In Slow Motion

To watch someone doing Tai Chi it may appear as if they are performing martial art moves in slow motion. In actuality, they may be doing just that. Also known as Tai chi chuan, translated "Supreme Ultimate Fist", Tai chi is an internal ancient Chinese martial art practiced for defense training as well as its’ health benefits. A number of training styles exist, both traditional and modern. Some may focus on health while others are geared towards the martial arts.

Today, tai chi is a popular activity practiced worldwide. It originally developed in ancient China for self-defense but eventually evolved into a refined stress reducing exercise and help with other health conditions.

There are over 100 movements and positions in tai chi, many named after animals or nature. Regardless of style, all forms of tai chi have a common thread…self paced, rhythmic movements and breathing. The combination helps to achieve a sense of inner calm.

Low Impact Exercise

Some forms are faster paced than others, but most are gentle and can be done by almost everyone regardless of age or physical ability. Tai chi stresses technique over strength and is low impact. Therefore, it could be suited for older adults who may not exercise regularly. In addition, it's inexpensive, needs no special equipment and can be done indoors or out, alone or in a group. However, consult your physician before starting a new program.

The ancient Chinese art has only recently been studied scientifically. Preliminary results indicate it has many benefits beyond stress reduction such as reducing depression and anxiety, improving muscle strength and balance. The reports also show improvement in blood pressure, sleep, pain relief and cardiovascular fitness. An important thing to remember is tai chi instructors are not required to be licensed and to get the greatest health benefits from tai chi, it must be practiced regularly.

In the beginning Tai Chi was not associated with reaping health benefits from the practice. That aspect is relatively new since the 1990’s. It was apparently adopted by the new Age movement and modified.

As a rule, tai chi schools don’t require uniforms, but loose, comfortable clothing and flat soled shoes are recommended. Tai chi uses leverage through the joints based on relaxation, rather than muscular tension.

There are now dozens of new styles, but the five original family schools are the groups recognized by the international community as being the orthodox styles. However, all tai chi styles can be traced back to the Chen style, passed down as a family secret for generations.

No doubt, early forms of tai chi were greatly influenced by eastern religion and philosophy and the earliest known reference to the art is around 1669.

The philosophy behind tai chi is, if one uses hardness to resist violent force, both sides are certain to sustain injury. So the idea is not to directly resist an incoming force, but gently meet it and follow its motion until the force exhausts itself. One master wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong." Effectively capturing an opponent's center of gravity is the basic goal.

Tai chi classes have become popular in hospitals and clinics as well as community and senior citizen centers, obviously due to its’ reputation for low-stress training. There are even tai chi tournaments.

Before tai chi's introduction to the west, health benefits of tai chi chuan were for the most part explained in view of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on the body and its’ healing capabilities. Today, tai chi is being rigorously studied in the west and the majority of health studies have been positive.

In 2003, the National Library of Medicine awarded a grant to the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association to build a website titled "The Tai Chi & Consumer Health Information Center". The center has since provided scientific information about various health benefits of tai chi for arthritis, diabetes, balance control, pain reduction, mental health, cardiovascular diseases, fitness, and over all well being.

Most communities now have training classes for tai chi. Videos, as well as other media are readily available for those interested in learning it.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thank you Marie...I was not aware of that.

    • Marie Mae profile image

      Marie Mae 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      You reference Dr Lam in the video above. The Arthritis Foundation uses his forms for community outreach. If we can teach our communities to slow down and tai chi , we might be able to reduce a little weight on our medical system. Well done

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thanks Rick

    • profile image

      Rick 7 years ago

      A really great article. I've always liked Tai Chi and especially the fact that few people know about its weapons forms.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Journalism 101: Write on the level of your audience. The average reading level in the U.S. is about 8th grade. I take information written by know-it-alls who are trying to impress everybody with how great their vocabulary is and how smart they are and break it down so the average Joe can understand it. I just think of a topic or surf around a bit on the web. There is always something that catches my eye. And the rest is history! Thank you for your praise.

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      You've given me a new interest in this art. I have always been a "go getter" who relates to extreme...everything...and who has not taken the time for more subtle, refined disciplines. Thank you for another great hub . . . You write on such a variety of subjects; I am truly amazed! And, once again, I must tell you how incredibly great a writer you are no matter what the topic. Professional, well researched and very easy to read. Thank you!