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The Gentle Martial Art
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that combines gentle and controlled movement with some characteristics of meditation, and studies suggest that it can have a positive effect on both physical and mental health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, tai chi can help decrease stress, anxiety and depression, and improve mood, aerobic capacity, energy and stamina, flexibility and balance, and strength and muscle definition.
In addition, there is mounting evidence that tai chi might help with specific health issues, such as insomnia, immune problems, high blood pressure, joint pain and symptoms of congestive heart failure. Because of its positive impact on balance, it also might help reduce the risk of falling in older people, especially those who have had a stroke.
Usually the practice of tai chi consists of slow, stylized postures that flow into one another, although there is a version for more competitive martial arts practitioners. It also includes breathing patterns that are similar to those in yoga or meditation. According to Web MD, most people start with the physical postures. But the need to focus on the postures and the movement from one posture to another helps to develop mental focus and requires the person to be in the moment. In this way it can help quiet the mind, much like meditation.
It is particularly good for older people, who might have physical limitations that keep them from more vigorous forms of exercise. In the same way, it is good for people with weight problems, because they usually can do at least many of the postures and because the underlying focus and possible stress reduction might help them address some of the issues that contributed to their weight problem in the first place, according to Web MD.
Both Web MD and the Mayo Clinic suggest that if you are interested in exploring tai chi, you find a class so that you learn to do it correctly, with professional instruction. Signing up for a class also can encourage you to stick with it, especially if you pay for the class.
Tai chi instruction is usually available from a variety of sources, ranging for park districts to private instructors. Before you sign up, visit a few classes and talk to the teacher and students. Determine whether you think you would be comfortable with this environment.
Then, experts say, stick with it long enough to know if you are finding any benefits. It might not be your cup of tea, of course. But in general, the longer you practice tai chi, the more benefits you are likely to experience.
Finally, it is always advisable to check with your doctor before you start any new exercise program.