Tai chi is an exercise based in mindfulness with roots in martial arts that originated in China around the 12th century. This practice illuminates the need for a natural balance between the two opposites, yin and yang. In tai chi, movements are oftentimes slow and there is a heavy focus on breathing: the sometimes laborious, but more often expansive, maintenance of that natural balance. 

It is best to learn tai chi from an instructor, as tai chi is an exacting practice with distinct postures and movements. There are five styles of tai chi, each with their own pacing and distinctive rhythms.

  • Wu style tai chi is very slow and utilizes small, micro-movements to engage the muscles.
  • Chen style tai chi combines fast and slow movements. The complexity of this style might be difficult for people just beginning tai chi. 
  • Sun style tai chi has many overlaps with chen style tai chi. Sun style tai chi might be easier on the body as it is a less rigorous practice.
  • Yang style tai chi emphasizes slow movements and relaxation. This style of tai chi is great for beginners.
  • Hao style tai chi does not usually garner mainstream attention. The focus of this style is positioning and internal strength. 

People with chronic illness and pain conditions can benefit greatly from tai chi, but this practice can improve mobility and strength in people without illness as well. Tai chi strengthens aging muscles to prevent falls, helps people who are generally less active transition into more physical activity, and improves range of mobility. 

The benefits of tai chi are numerous and help to solidify its legitimacy as an alternative medicine. Tai chi can assist with anxiety relief, improved sleep, and weight loss. Many people seek out tai chi as a mood booster to alleviate stress. A regular tai chi practice can help patients manage symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Tai chi is a wonderful source of exercise for people with coronary heart disease that does not overexert the heart. This practice can also reduce the number of falls for patients with Parkinson’s by improving leg strength and balance, and provide pain relief for different types of arthritis. 

Tai chi is not a cure for chronic illness, but a regular tai chi practice can improve symptoms and quality of life. Beginners might experience normal aches and pains following their first tai chi sessions. Improper tai chi practice can result in injury. It is best to practice tai chi under the tutelage of an instructor. 

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