Tai chi style offers aid for arthritis sufferers

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Tai chi, an exercise that originated in ancient China, is known to increase flexibility, muscular strength and fitness. It has many other advantages that include encouraging correct body posture, integration of body and mind; and improvement of 'qi.' According to Chinese practice, qi is a life energy that governs all functions of the body and is essential for health and vitality. Tai chi exercises the entire body, is easy and inexpensive to learn and is suitable for almost anyone.

There are many styles of tai chi just as there are many forms of yoga. The five major styles are Chen, Yang, Hao, Wu and Sun. Different styles have different characteristics and are unique and valuable in their own way. Of the major styles, Sun style is the youngest.

The Arthritis Foundation has adopted the Tai Chi for Health programs by Dr. Paul Lam as a safe, effective shortened version of Sun style for those with arthritis. Sun tai chi uses agile steps. Whenever one foot moves forward or backwards, the other foot follows. Its movements are intended to flow smoothly, like water in a river. Sun style also uses powerful breathing exercises, called Qigong, that encourage healing and relaxation. Additionally, the higher stance of Sun style makes it easier for older people and those with arthritis to learn and practice tai chi.

Why is tai chi effective? Based on physical objectives alone, tai chi meets the criteria for being a good exercise for promoting health and easing arthritis. Yet there are additional attributes of tai chi that make it an attractive exercise.

One is the power of the mind. When practicing tai chi, one focuses on all movements and the coordination of the body. There are many studies that demonstrate the powerful effect of mind over body. A positive frame of mind aids healing.

Tai chi integrates body and mind. According to the practice, during tai chi the conscious mind directs an internal force and the internal force directs each movement. The mental training in tai chi enhances clarity of the mind, improves relaxation and uplifts mood.

We know that many people with arthritis experience stress and depression. Medical studies have shown tai chi improves many facets of one's mental state and is effective in relieving stress.

Another important attribute of tai chi is the power of 'Qi' (chi). In Chinese, the most common meaning of qi is air or life force. In the context of tai chi, Qi is the life energy inside a person, circulating throughout the body, performing many functions to maintain good health. The stronger qi you have, the healthier and stronger you are.

'Gong' is another aspect of tai chi. Gong refers to the techniques or exercises that move Qi. They are essentially breathing exercises sometimes aided by certain body movements and meditations at the same time.

Tai chi is also called moving meditation and the Sun style of tai chi uses qigong as an integral component. Tai chi's gentle and slow movements are thought to open up one's energy channels and keep them strong and supple. The rhythmic movements of the muscle, spine and joints pump energy through the whole body. Tai chi is one of the most effective exercises for qi circulation according to practicioners.

It does not matter if you believe in or are aware of qi for it to be effective, as long as you practice correctly with a trained instructor, you will gain better health from stronger qi. When qi flows through the body smoothly and powerfully, it enhances and affects healing according to Chinese medicine. For centuries, Chinese doctors have recommended tai chi for people with arthritis because of the belief that arthritis is caused by weak and sluggish flow of qi.

Arthritis has no cure, but if the condition is under control and you are able to enjoy your chosen lifestyle, then it is not so important. Tai chi has been proven effective by both logical deduction and scientific evidence.

Sandi Wicher is a certified Senior Trainer for Dr. Paul Lam and the Arthritis Foundation. Sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation, Sandi recently held a Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor training, update and continuing education workshop for Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists and to certify new instructors at Many Waters Wellness Center. For additional information see www.manywaterswellnesscenter.com or call Sandi at 386-4305.

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