I recently attended a health retreat in Australia which left me feeling absolutely fantastic. It could have been the daily spa treatments, the crystal steam room, and the plentiful organic food served up, but there were also few unique activities that seemed to really contribute to alleviating stress and tension. One of them was the sunrise qi gong class. This daily practice standing on a hill with a panoramic view of the Gold Coast and Pacific Ocean started the morning off with an extreme sense of calm and peacefulness. Now back in the real world I wanted to look a bit deeper into why the ancient eastern practices of qi gong and tai chi are so beneficial to our health.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai chi and qi gong are mind-body practices based on martial arts that originated in China and remain the most common form of exercise for adults there today. Often described as ‘meditation in motion’ they involve low impact, slow motion exercises while breathing deeply and naturally focusing on all the sensations in your body. Tai chi differs from most standard types of exercise in a few key ways. The movements flow gently and are never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Here are some of the benefits of adopting a regular tai chi practice.
Depression & Anxiety
As a very low impact and accessible form of exercise tai chi may help improve your mood if you are depressed or anxious. It’s believed that the slow, mindful breaths and movements have a positive effect on the nervous system and mood-regulating hormones which can help with depression and anxiety.
In one study young adults with anxiety were prescribed to attend two tai chi a week for 10 weeks. Those that participated in the tai chi reported significant improvements in their quality of sleep compared to those in the control group. This same group also experienced a decrease in their anxiety symptoms.
Muscle Strength & Flexibility
Even though tai chi does not involve any weights it has been shown to improve both upper and lower body strength and is comparable to resistance training and brisk walking. Tai chi can also boost upper and lower body flexibility.
Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls in older adults. Proprioception (the ability to sense the position of your body in space) declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall, and some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.
How does Tai Chi differ from Yoga?
Tai chi emphasises fluid movement and has roots in Chinese culture. Yoga focuses on poses and originated in Northern India. Both tai chi and yoga are forms of exercise that involve meditation and deep breathing and have similar benefits.
If you’re interested in giving tai chi a go, an instructor can help you get started. There are experienced tai chi instructors in Mallorca who have been practicing for many years and hold classes across the island, as well as many retreats that incorporate this practice into their activities.