Tai chi

Training
The core training involves two primary features: the first being a slow sequence of movements (solo form) which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of pushing hands for training movement principles of the form with a partner and in a more practical manner.
The solo form is performed through a complete, natural range of motion over their center of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout our bodies, maintain flexibility through the joints, and further familiarize performers with the martial application sequences implied by the forms. The major traditional styles of tai chi have forms that differ somewhat in terms of aesthetics, but there are also many obvious similarities that point to their common origin. The solo forms – empty-hand and weapon – are catalogs of movements that are practiced individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare performers for self-defense training. In most traditional schools, different variations of the solo forms can be practiced: fast–slow, small circle–large circle, square–round (which are different expressions of leverage through the joints), low-sitting/high-sitting (the degree to which weight-bearing knees are kept bent throughout the form), for example.
The philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan is that, if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to tai chi theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. Instead, those are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin. Done correctly, this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat, or in a broader philosophical sense, is a primary goal of tai chi chuan training.
Tai chi’s martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent’s movements and center of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or “capturing” the opponent’s center of gravity immediately upon contact is trained as the primary goal of the martial tai chi student. The sensitivity needed to capture the center is acquired over thousands of hours of first yin (slow, repetitive, meditative, low-impact) and then later adding yang (“realistic,” active, fast, high-impact) martial training through forms, pushing hands, and sparring. Tai chi trains in three basic ranges: close, medium and long, and then everything in between. Pushes and open-hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso, never higher than the hip, depending on style. The fingers, fists, palms, sides of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, knees, and feet are commonly used to strike, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin, and other acupressure points trained by advanced students. Joint traps, locks, and breaks are also used. Most tai chi teachers expect their students to thoroughly learn defensive or neutralizing skills first, and a student will have to demonstrate proficiency with them before offensive skills will be extensively trained.
Health benefits
Before tai chi’s introduction to Western students, the health benefits of tai chi chuan were largely explained through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on a view of the body and healing mechanisms not always studied or supported by modern science. Today, tai chi is in the process of being subjected to rigorous scientific studies in the West. Now that the majority of health studies have displayed a tangible benefit in some areas to the practice of tai chi, health professionals have called for more in-depth studies to determine mitigating factors such as the most beneficial style, suggested duration of practice to show the best results, and whether tai chi is as effective as other forms of exercise.
Chronic conditions
Researchers have found that intensive tai chi practice shows some favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and has shown to reduce the risk of falls in both healthy young performers and elderly patients [2, 15], and those recovering from chronic stroke [3], heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and fibromyalgia [4-5]. Tai chi’s gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill skiing [6].
Tai chi, along with yoga, has reduced levels of LDLs 20–26 milligrams when practiced for 12–14 weeks [7]. A thorough review of most of these studies showed limitations or biases that made it difficult to draw firm conclusions on the benefits of tai chi [1]. A later study led by the same researchers conducting the review found that tai chi (compared to regular stretching) showed the ability to greatly reduce pain and improve overall physical and mental health in people over 60 with severe osteoarthritis of the knee [8]. In addition, a pilot study, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, has found preliminary evidence that tai chi and related qigong may reduce the severity of diabetes [9]. In a randomized trial of 66 patients with fibromyalgia, the tai chi intervention group did significantly better in terms of pain, fatigue, sleeplessness and depression than a comparable group given stretching exercises and wellness education [5].
A recent study evaluated the effects of two types of behavioral intervention, tai chi and health education, on healthy adults, who, after 16 weeks of the intervention, were vaccinated with VARIVAX, a live attenuated Oka/Merck Varicella zoster virus vaccine. The tai chi group showed higher and more significant levels of cell-mediated immunity to varicella zoster virus than the control group that received only health education. It appears that tai chi augments resting levels of varicella zoster virus-specific cell-mediated immunity and boosts the efficacy of the varicella vaccine. Tai chi alone does not lessen the effects or probability of a shingles attack, but it does improve the effects of the varicella zoster virus vaccine [10].
Stress and mental health
A systematic review and meta-analysis, funded in part by the U.S. government, of the current (as of 2010) studies on the effects of practicing Tai Chi found that, “Twenty-one of 33 randomized and nonrandomized trials reported that 1 hour to 1 year of regular Tai Chi significantly increased psychological well-being including reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhanced mood in community-dwelling healthy participants and in patients with chronic conditions. Seven observational studies with relatively large sample sizes reinforced the beneficial association between Tai Chi practice and psychological health [11].”
There have also been indications that tai chi might have some effect on noradrenaline and cortisol roduction with an effect on mood and heart rate. However, the effect may be no different than those derived from other types of physical exercise [12]. In one study, tai chi has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 13 adolescents. The improvement in symptoms seem to persist after the tai chi sessions were terminated [13].
In June, 2007 the United States National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine published an independent, peer-reviewed, meta-analysis of the state of meditation research, conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center. The report reviewed 813 studies (88 involving Tai Chi) of five broad categories of meditation: mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong. The report concluded that “the therapeutic effects of meditation practices cannot be established based on the current literature,” and “firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence [14].
The Online Tai Chi & Health Information Center
In 2003, the National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world and subdivision of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded a grant to American Tai Chi and Qigong Association to build a website titled “The Tai Chi & Consumer Health Information Center”. The information center was officially released in 2004 and has since then been providing scientific, reliable, and comprehensive information about various health benefits of Tai Chi – for arthritis, diabetes, fall prevention, pain reduction, mental health, cardiovascular diseases, fitness, and general well-being.

References:
1. Wang, C; Collet JP & Lau J (2004). “The effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes in patients with chronic conditions: a systematic review”. Archives of Internal Medicine 164 (5): 493–501
2. Wolf, SL; Sattin RW & Kutner M (2003). “Intense tai chi exercise training and fall occurrences in older, transitionally frail adults: a randomized, controlled trial”. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 51 (12): 1693–701.
3. Au-Yeung, PhD, Stephanie S. Y.; Christina W. Y. Hui-Chan, PhD, and Jervis C. S. Tang, MSW (January 7, 2009). “Short-form Tai Chi improves Standing Balance of People with Chronic Stroke”. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair 23(5): 515.
4. Taggart HM, Arslanian CL, Bae S, Singh K. Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, GA, USA. Effects of T’ai Chi exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms and health-related quality of life. PMID: 14595996
5. McAlindon, T, Wang, C; Schmid, CH; Rones, R; Kalish, R; Yinh, J; Goldenberg, DL; Lee, Y; McAlindon, T (August 19, 2010). “A Randomized Trial of Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia.”. New England Journal of Medicine 363 (8): 743–754.
6. “Calories burned during exercise”. NutriStrategy. http://www.nutristrategy.com/activitylist3.htm.
7. Brody, Jane E. (2007-08-21). “Cutting Cholesterol, an Uphill Battle”. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/health/21brod.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1190862080-FWYKVQhkU70Kz/P+y3V9pw.
8. Dunham, Will (October 25, 2008). “Tai chi helps cut pain of knee arthritis”. Reuters.
9. Pennington, LD (2006). “Tai chi: an effective alternative exercise”. DiabetesHealth.
10. Irwin, MR; Olmstead, R & Oxman, MN (2007). “Augmenting Immune Responses to Varicella Zoster Virus in Older Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Tai Chi”. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 55 (4): 511–517.
11. Wang C, Bannuru R, et al (2010). Tai Chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis.
12. Jin, P (1989). “Changes in Heart Rate, Noradrenaline, Cortisol and Mood During Tai Chi”. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 33 (2): 197–206.
13. Hernandez-Reif, M; Field, TM & Thimas, E (2001). “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: benefits from Tai Chi”. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 5 (2): 120–123.
14. Ospina MB, Bond TK, Karkhaneh M, Tjosvold L, Vandermeer B, Liang Y, Bialy L, Hooton N,Buscemi N, Dryden DM, Klassen TP (June 2007). “Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research (Prepared by the University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-02-0023)” .Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 155 (Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) (AHRQ Publication No. 07-E010): 6.
15. UMR 6152 Mouvement et Perception, CNRS and University of the Mediterranean, Marseille, France (April, 2008). How does practise of internal Chinese martial arts influence postural reaction control? Journal of Sports Sciences 26(6): 629 – 642

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