Looking for a great exercise for body and soul? The benefits of Tai chi include better balance and brain stimulation. It’s a great stress reducer as well. And best of all, it sets no limitations on age, making it a lifelong exercise.
It’s been a great experience for me to discover Tai chi at a later age, when I am more focused on body maintenance, instead of beating up the body while getting a competitive fix, such as I did in my earlier “flag football days.”
I practice at the Martial Arts Center for Health in Central Florida, owned by Tom Curtin, a fourth-degree black belt with more than 30 years’ teaching experience.
We recently discussed the benefits of Tai chi, and he went into greater detail about why Tai chi is good for the mind, body and soul. Here is what Curtain had to say:
“Balance is very important. Hand-and-eye coordination, very important. A lot of people don’t have any way to do hand-and-eye coordination, especially if they’re not doing any sports.
“There’s all these different ways that you’re twisting and turning, so you’re stimulating the lymphatic system. The breathing, the soft, gentle inhalation, and exhalation with the movement that is oxygenating the blood. Then as you’re moving the body, you’re moving the circulation of the blood to the limbs.”
“Tai chi can actually be adjusted more easily to any age. Where if you’re doing maybe a Kung Fu form, it might be a little harder, if you haven’t been in good condition in your 50s or 60s or even 40s.
“However, you could be 70, 80, 90, whatever, and Tai chi can be adjusted with soft, gentle movements. Also, the slower movements help to fully engage each part. You’re engaging the muscles, the ligaments, the tendons, the joints — so different than a Kung fu form.”
When is the best time to practice Tai chi?
“Personal preference done the right way has no side effects. You wouldn’t want to do it right after eating a big meal. You wouldn’t want to do it if you’re upset mentally, because you’re not going to try to move the body, you’re just controlling all the tension. You calm down and relax, and then start moving from more of a relaxed state.”
The shape you’re in isn’t a factor
“You’re helping to get parts of the body that may be stuck, whether it’s connective tissue, maybe it’s the organs from sitting a certain way and putting pressure on it. And as you do it, it naturally wants to go to its right place. It all really depends on what condition the person’s in. I’ve worked with people that have terrible MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinson’s disease, strokes — all have benefited from Tai chi. I’ve worked with Olympic athletes doing Tai chi, professional athletes doing Tai chi. It doesn’t matter. That’s the beauty of it.”
It’s good for the brain
“You’re stimulating the brain. When somebody has a stroke, and that part of the brain is not active, well, that part of the body’s not active, so it tells you there’s a communication problem. If you’re consistently opening up the limbs and the joints, what that’s doing is stimulating the brain by moving the body. A lot of people think they’re stimulating the brain just thinking all day, but that’s not really connecting to the body.
“When you move the body, the communication from the limbs to the brain, through the channels in the nervous system, is keeping everything active; and (that’s) very important to keep memory and cognition as we age. That’s another thing that Tai chi can do — the oxygenating of the body. The human body is unbelievable. It has the ability to balance many, many things. It’s us getting out of the way with the mental stress and moving the body. The human body is meant to move.”