You may have seen a group of senior citizens practicing the slow, rhythmic reaching and deliberate stretching movements known as tai chi. Tai chi is considered a soft style martial art, applied with deep relaxation or "softness" in the musculature. Young or old, sick or healthy, even wheel-chair bound: everyone can take up tai chi. And oddly enough, tai chi’s gentle motions burn more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill skiing.
According to our tai chi expert, Erle Montaigue, tai chi not only provides physical exercise for people who are elderly or in poor condition, but it also works on the internal energy system of the body, bathing each organ in life-giving Qi (“chee”). He likens Qi to electricity with negative (yin) and positive (yang) poles, and he asserts that the more Qi we have flowing around the body, the better off we are.
If that doesn’t convince you, recent research, reported in the February 2007 issue of Diabetes Care, corroborates the healthful effects of tai chi for people with diabetes. Following a 12-week program in which 32 diabetic men and women performed three hour-long sessions of tai chi per week, the study participants had statistically significant reductions in their A1c’s. They also showed increases in regulatory T cells, which keep the immune response in check, and reduced levels of killer T cells, which destroy abnormal cells in the body. This research comes on top of many prior studies documenting the effectiveness of tai chi for numerous other physical complaints.
Although the researchers were not sure exactly how these effects came about, Mr. Montaigue has no lack of theories. He says that when the body is in a state of tension or stress, the flow of Qi is impeded and disease is allowed into the body. When the body is in a state of balance between yin and yang energy, however, stress is not allowed to enter and good health abounds. Mr. Montaigue is convinced that tai chi has a positive effect upon all of the major organs and even promotes the production of insulin and the body's ability to accept that insulin.
The movements are fairly simple. For people able to walk, certain hand movements are performed while stepping with a lower than normal stance. In concert with the breathing methods, inhaling when making an inward movement and exhaling when making an outward movement, the movements purportedly exercise the internal organs, helping your metabolism to speed up slightly.
For people confined to a wheel chair, the hand movements, breathing methods, and waist turning have proven beneficial. The hand and arm movements alone have an effect upon the energy system of the body, while providing physical exercise.