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The Health Benefits of Tai Chi and Chi Kung

Be grateful even for hardships, setbacks and bad people. Dealing with
such obstacles is an essential part of the training.

Morihei Oeshiba

Tai Chi is a low impact, gentle form of exercise and of course many of
the physical health benefits gained from its practise are the same as
for other forms of exercise such as walking or swimming. Tai Chi
however is much more than just another exercise system and has
many other additional benefits unique to its practice.

As valuable as Western Medicine continues to be for all of us, it does


have its limitations. Western medicine will often only look at and treat
the symptoms of a condition rather than the true cause of the problem.
For example, a cream prescribed for eczema, masks the symptoms on
the surface for a while but does not deal with the underlying stress that
causes those symptoms. This is why such medical problems will often
return again and again. Chinese medicine looks at many other factors
crucial to good health such as diet, emotional state, time of year and
also natural areas of weakness and physical tension in our bodies. This
gives a much clearer, more complete view of the true causes of ill
health. The drugs and techniques used in Western medicine can also
have unforeseen and sometimes even dangerous side effects.
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses no synthetic drugs. It seeks instead
to strengthen the bodys immune system so that we become more
capable of fighting off all infections and diseases.

Perhaps though, the most important advantage of Traditional Chinese


Medicine over Western Medicine is that it is based on the principles of
preventative therapy. A doctor of Chinese medicine will not only be able
to tell you what is wrong with you now but is also able to tell you what
kinds of disease your body will be most prone to in the future.

The Cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, the blood itself and
the blood vessels (the arteries and veins). The heart acts as a pump to
drive the blood, which in turn carries oxygen around the body and
carbon dioxide out.

Any doctor, Chinese or Western will tell you that we need to stay active
to remain healthy, especially to maintain a healthy heart. Most doctors
agree that more gentle forms of exercise such as walking, swimming
and of course Tai Chi are the best of all. Harder, more extreme forms of
exercise can make us out of breath quickly, and can put too much
strain on both our lungs and our heart.

Tai Chi has been shown to greatly improve cardiovascular fitness and
although blood flow is increased during the practice, heart rate actually
decreases from the deep realaxation and breathing involved. It is now
generally acknowledged in the western world that Tai Chi helps to
balance and stabilise both high and low blood pressure.

The movement of the muscles during your practise exerts a gentle


pressure on the veins, forcing the blood to flow towards the heart.
Approximately one third of your blood at any one time is in your legs
and because of this, even gently shifting weight from one leg to the
other is greatly beneficial for your health. This action gently increases
blood flow around the body easing the pressure on the heart, which
usually has to work hard to pump blood during harder exercise. Deep
Tai Chi breathing techniques also expand your blood vessels, which
again in turn eases pressure on your heart.

Tai Chi improves the blood circulation throughout your body and
increases the blood flow to your limbs and extremities. Increased blood
flow is vital for nourishing your internal organs, your brain, muscles,
tissues and in fact your entire body. Blood is responsible for carrying
oxygen from your lungs as well as for carrying vitamins, minerals and
hormones to wherever they are needed. Blood is also responsible for
fighting off infections and diseases, destroying old and damaged cells
so that they can be replaced and for carrying away carbon dioxide and
other waste products. When blood flow to your brain increases,
memory improves, and symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and
insomnia are often greatly reduced.

The Respiratory system

The Respiratory system consists of the nose, the trachea (the


windpipe) and the lungs. Breathing (in) through your nose is always
preferable as it warms cold air, cools warm air and filters lots of
impurities.

The natural deep breathing techniques learnt in Tai Chi are known to
increase lung capacity and greatly increase the amount of oxygen
brought into your body. Your diaphragm can be trained to move
downwards as you breathe, increasing the space in your lungs and the
amount of air you draw in.

Oxygen is not only a vital ingredient essential for keeping you alive, but
also the quality and quantity of the oxygen you receive greatly affects
both your health and your energy levels. This means that learning to
improve your breathing technique helps to combat fatigue by improving
your energy levels.

Not only is more oxygen brought into your lungs as your breathing
becomes deeper but also the cellular breathing process becomes more
efficient with the cells in your blood able to absorb more of this vital
oxygen. This means that deeper breathing literally saturates your blood
with increased levels of fresh oxygen. Deeper breathing also gently
increases your circulation meaning that this oxygen rich blood is then
carried everywhere in the body, nourishing all of your internal organs
including your brain.

Deeper breathing also increases your bodys ability to remove waste


products too, helping to releases toxins and stale energy and removing
more carbon dioxide from your lungs. Improved breathing helps your
hormone levels to become more balanced and stable as well as aiding
all of the glands in your endocrine system.

The rising and falling motion of your diaphragm not only helps your
lungs to function properly but also gently massages all the other
internal organs in your torso such as stomach, spleen, pancreas and
the large and small intestines. This massage greatly improves the
function of all your organs leading to many health benefits and
reducing the risk of many conditions such as gastric problems,
constipation etc.

Perhaps most importantly of all deep relaxed breathing helps to calm


your nervous system. An important quote from the Buddha reads
Breathing in I calm my entire body and breathing out I calm my entire
body. With practise we no longer control the breath but allow it to
become a more natural process, almost as if your body is breathing on
its own. Deep relaxed conscious breathing helps to soothe both our
mind and body and sends a profound message that that we are safe
and that now is the time to relax.

The Muscular System

The muscular system consists of the skeletal muscles and also all the
other soft tissues in the body (tendons, ligaments, internal organs etc.)
There are over 600 muscles connected to your skeleton. These
Skeletal muscles are attached to our bones and are arranged in pairs,
each pair of muscles pulling and pushing the bones around to enable
voluntary movement. There are also 22 internal organs made from a
type of muscle known as smooth muscle. These are involuntary
muscles and can stretch easily. Cardiac muscle is a third type of
muscle in the human body and as the name might suggest it only
appears in the heart. The heart can contract like a skeletal muscle and
also stretch like a smooth muscle.

All gentle exercise improves muscular strength, for example we use


around 200 muscles when just walking a single step. In Tai Chi we go
further, conditioning, and toning all of the muscles in the body. Tai Chi
practise also improves your flexibility, reduces pain and stiffness and
improves your physical coordination.

Another of Tai Chis famous health claims is that it can reduce the risk
of falling over. Just as a building that leans needs to be supported, a
body that is not upright causes muscles to constantly take the strain.
Learning to be upright greatly improves both your balance and spatial
awareness leading to less trips, falls and clumsy accidents.

The turning of your torso massages all of the internal organs and
improves spinal flexibility leading to one of Tai Chis most famous
health benefits: easing chronic back problems. Your neck moves from
side to side and your limbs constantly rotate or spiral, increasing your
flexibility and range of movement throughout your whole body. At the
same time all of your muscles, ligaments and tendons are being gently
stretched and strengthened keeping your whole body mobile and
healthy.

The Digestive System

The digestive system consists of the mouth, teeth, intestines,


oesophagus, stomach, kidneys and bladder. The digestive tract is one
of the largest of all the body systems, and is approximately 30 feet long
from the mouth to the alimentary canal.

Techniques used in Tai Chi such as abdominal breathing massage all


the internal organs in the lower torso. Deeper breathing expands your
blood vessels, which aids your intestines and your entire digestive
system. Tai Chi practise also gently exercises your stomach muscles.
As a result, the function of the digestive system is improved often
leading to an increase in appetite and the prevention of such digestive
problems as constipation.

Dropping the tail (relaxing your lower back downwards) allows the
digestive organs to sink and relax. Relaxation (meditation) helps the
digestive system because as the mind and body calm down a message
is sent that everything is ok and to stop being on red alert for danger.
This means that the body can then focus on such processes as
digestion, repair etc. more easily.

The Skeletal system

The Skeletal system consists of around 206 bones. The skeleton


provides a framework for the body, supports it, prevents the body from
collapsing and helps maintain its shape. The skeleton also protects
many vital organs including the brain, spinal cord, lungs and heart.

Much medical research has been done into weight-bearing exercise


and it seems that exercises such as walking and of course Tai Chi
stimulate bone growth and increase bone density. In comparison it
seems that non weight-bearing activities such as swimming and cycling
have no effect on bone growth.

In Tai Chi we bend our knees and sink our weight downwards
increasing the strength not just in the leg muscles but increasing bone
density as well. The gentle movements increase the flow of natural
lubricants and nutrients in your joints allowing for greater ease of
movement. Tai Chi has now been shown to greatly help with the
symptoms of arthritis as it gently tones all the major muscle groups and
joints of the body whilst relaxing them at the same time. The gentle
postures of Tai Chi are great for troubled knees, as vital nutrients can
be delivered to the cartilage without the excessive force of many higher
impact forms of exercise. Impact on the joints from these harder forms
of exercise can often lead to physical damage especially in the knees
and can lead to other painful medical conditions such as tennis
elbow.

The Nervous System

The Nervous System consists of the brain and spinal chord (the central
nervous system) and the peripheral nervous system running
throughout the whole body. Just in the brain alone there are over 100
billion nerve cells. The main job of the central nervous system is to
receive information from the body. Nerve cells or neurons carry
messages in the form of electrical impulses. The peripheral nervous
system then sends messages from the brain back to the rest of the
body.

Unlike other forms of exercise, Tai Chi has been shown to strengthen
and tone the nervous system. By learning to relax your mind and body
you allow them to operate more easily. Deep breathing is a useful tool
for calming your mind, as well as for strengthening and soothing your
nerve functions. It has long been understood that taking a deep
breath can be used for controlling emotional outbursts. Any posture or
movement that turns the spine increases the blood flow to your brain
and also helps to nourish your entire nervous system.

The Lymphatic and Immune systems

The immune system is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues and


organs. It defends our body against potentially dangerous germs and
microorganisms. Part of your immune system is the lymphatic system,
which consists of thin tubes that run throughout the body. These tubes
carry a clear liquid known as the lymph. There are lymph nodes in
many parts of your body including your armpits, groin, torso and neck.
The lymphatic system includes other body parts such as the spleen
which filters the lymph fluid and also contains immune cells which
protect the body against viruses, bacteria, etc. Unlike other systems in
the body the lymph has no pump so the only way to get your lymph
moving is by gently exercising all parts of the body.

Tai Chi exercises contain many special rotational movements involving


your whole body known as dynamic spiralling. The arms, legs and
torso are all gently rotated throughout the postures. This spiralling
movement squeezes and massages the lymph nodes and helps to
pump the lymph through the body. This turning movement can have
many other health benefits including helping your body to eliminate
toxins.

Traditional Chinese doctors teach that moving chi around the body
strengthens the immune system against any disease. Learning natural
deep breathing techniques greatly improves your bodys immune
system also. Bacteria and germs do not multiply as easily under
aerobic conditions and it is now believed that even cancer cells do not
multiply as easily, when there is increased oxygen in the body.

The Endocrine system

The endocrine or hormonal system consists of several glands.


Examples of the bodys endocrine glands include, the pituitary gland,
the adrenal glands the pancreas and the thyroid gland. These organs
produce chemical messages called hormones that help regulate your
body. The endocrine system is responsible for controlling the rate we
grow and develop, our feelings of hunger and for our body
temperature. It is also instrumental in regulating our mood and
metabolism. These glands are capable of releasing more than 20
hormones directly into the bloodstream and transporting them to cells
in any part of the body.

Tai Chi aids your endocrine system and helps to restore hormonal
balance to your body. Some studies suggest that Tai Chi has been
found to decrease cortisol levels in the body, eliminating mood
imbalances and creating more stable emotions.

Endorphins are another hormone that our body creates. Whenever we


exercise or participate in any enjoyable activity such as smiling,
laughing or dancing our bodies produce these vital hormones.
Endorphins send feel good messages from our brain, out through the
spine and into our bodies. Endorphins can also reduce feelings of pain.
It is also now believed that endorphins are a key factor in our body's
ability to heal itself.

The Urinary and Excretory systems

The urinary and excretory systems consist of the bladder, the kidneys,
the sweat glands, the lungs and the rectum. This system produces,
stores, and eliminates urine, carbon doixide and other waste from your
body. Your digestive system takes nutrients from food and converts this
into energy. After the body has taken that which it needs, waste
products are left behind in the bowel and in the blood. Excretion is vital
to your health because these waste products are potentially toxic.

Tai Chi practise enhances the function of all the internal organs but
especially the kidneys. These organs are believed in Traditional
Chinese Medicine to be like energetic batteries, which then feed
energy to the other organs.

The turning of the waist in Tai Chi produces a gently stretching action
and massages all of the digestive organs. This action not only
improves your digestion, but also increases the efficiency of both the
absorption of useful nutrients and the elimination of waste products
from the body.

The Self-Repair System

Our bodies have an in-built program designed to heal any damaged


internal body tissues such as torn muscles, heal bones when they
break and repair damage to our skin when it is cut or burnt. This is part
of the reason, why we need to sleep every night to allow our bodies to
heal.

In the human body, our cells are in a process of dying and being
replaced or repaired on a daily basis. To put this into perspective it is
estimated that there are over 100 trillion cells in our bodies. Of these
around 300 million cells die in our body every minute and on average
every hour around 1 billion cells must be replaced. This means that
every year around 98% of the atoms that make up our bodies are
replaced. Medical opinions vary but it is generally considered that the
only part of the human body that cannot regenerate in this way is our
teeth.

Tai Chis healing properties are based on the principles of Traditional


Chinese Medicine (TCM). In China it has long been believed that within
our genetic make-up is an in-built program or blueprint for perfect
health. TCM believes that it is in the nature of all living things to
continually return to a balanced, healthy state. This internal program
first controlled our growth from a single cell into the perfect human
beings we are today and then continues to work as a maintenance
program, fixing the wear and tear we inflict daily on our bodies.

This theory makes sense if we take a moment to consider it. If we cut


our finger, our body feels it and subconsciously begins the necessary
processes to begin repairing the wound. If we break a bone a similar
process occurs and a human bone will actually grow back stronger
around a break than the old bone surrounding it. When we are unwell it
is our own immune system that fights off infections and disease. No
doctor or medicine could heal us if we did not possess this innate
ability to constantly regenerate and repair ourselves.

Most of us have heard that stress is considered to be the cause of


most, if not all of our ill health. Over millennia human beings have
evolved a highly sophisticated stress response designed for getting us
out of immediate danger. If for example we were to meet an angry
bear, then our body automatically goes through several physical
changes and best prepares itself for a fight or flight reaction.
Digesting your breakfast is obviously not as important as avoiding
being something elses lunch. Adrenalin as well as other chemicals and
hormones are released to suppress aches and pains ready for our next
move. Our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate also increase.
Less important bodily functions such as digestive and reproductive
systems are put on hold.

The trouble today is that many people now remain in this constantly
stressed, anxious state throughout their whole lives and do not know
how to relax and let go. For these people the danger never passes
and the physical changes that occur in their bodies remain fairly
permanent. This is why digestive problems such as irritable bowel
syndrome and stomach ulcers are brought on by stress and why many
other health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease,
diabetes, impotence and many others are now recognised to be stress
related.

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that by remaining constantly


stressed we make it difficult for our bodies to function correctly in other
ways too. We impede our immune system from functioning correctly
and our self-repair programs are turned off while we are on red alert
and ready for danger. Our hair for example does not turn grey because
an internal ageing program tells it to. As our body ages our repair
system begins to struggle, then fails to keep up with all of its allocated
tasks. It begins to ignore less important areas such as hair
pigmentation and focuses on repairing more vital functions and
keeping us alive. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that we are all
born equipped with everything we need to overcome any disease and
that we only fall ill if the damage inflicted upon our bodies becomes too
serious for our repair program to keep up with.

When we are stressed it is usual to take shorter, shallower breaths and


this sends a panic message to our mind and body. Tai Chi can help us
to relax by returning to a deep natural breathing pattern. By breathing
in this way we are sending a message to our mind and body that it is
ok to relax. During your Tai Chi training rid your mind of fears and
worries and reprogram your subconscious mind to bring about positive
thought patterns.

In Conclusion

Tai Chi does much more than have positive affects on your physical
health it begins to change a students disposition and emotional state
too. As well as reducing stress levels, Tai Chi has been shown to build
self-confidence, reduce anxiety and panic attacks and to increase
serotonin production, which positively influences mood and behaviour.
Tai Chi has also been shown to help reduce levels of anxiety and to
ease depression.

By letting go of the tension in your body, your mind also lets go. If our
mind and body are calm, our emotions are kept in balance and we
naturally become more peaceful. This constant relaxation practice
gently changes a hot-tempered person into a calmer one. Instead of
flying off the handle you can learn to remain relaxed and to become
ever more patient. Through our training we begin to remember to smile
(gently), count our blessings and to change our old negative patterns of
behaviour not just in class but also in our whole life.

We can learn that emotions are not automatic responses for if they
were then we would all feel the same way when an event happens. On
some level then we can choose how we feel about the world around
us and can choose to focus on the positives. If it is raining we can think
oh good my garden doesnt need watering or if our ankle hurts we can
be thankful that we get such insightful messages from our bodies so
that we dont damage our ankle further. We can seek out those people
who press our buttons, see them as a challenge to your own inner
calm and understand more about our psyche afterwards as a result.

Holding onto or bottling up your emotions serves no good purpose at


all and is extremely damaging for your health. Most doctors agree that
negative emotions such as fear, depression and anger, greatly affect
your immune system and that positive emotions such as love and
happiness are a vital part of maintaining our good health.