Most people know about Yoga or Pilates or Tai Chi, and can tell you about the benefits of Yoga or Pilates, how good they are for your health, but that Tai Chi is just slow moving exercise for senior people.
Pilates was invented in the early 20th century as a method of body rehabilitation and strengthening for World War I soldiers. In the 1920s physical trainer Joseph Pilates introduced Pilates into America as a way to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness. Since then it has been adapted to suit people in the general community. It requires concentration and focus, because you move your body through precise ranges of motion. Pilates lengthens and stretches all the major muscle groups in your body in a balanced fashion. It requires concentration in finding a centre point to control your body through movement; each exercise has a prescribed placement, rhythm and breathing pattern. The workout consists of a variety of exercise sequences that are performed in low repetitions, usually five to ten times, over a session of 45 to 90 minutes. Mat work and specialised equipment for resistance are used; classes focus on strength, muscle toning, body control, and flexibility, with the main emphasis being core strength. Pilates is a disciplined practice that needs to be done on a regular basis to provide benefit.
Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy, but in modern times, the physical aspects of Hatha yoga have found huge popularity as a gentle form of exercise and stress management. There are many different varieties of yoga, but each one essentially relies on structured poses practiced with breath awareness. Yoga focuses on flexibility and broad muscle groups it offers balance, endurance, strength, and some really physical movement. Classes can range from gentle and nourishing to challenging and sweaty.
Yoga and Pilates are similar in a lot of ways. They both include movements and poses intended to increase strength and flexibility. Ultimately though, Yoga is a practice focused on strength and flexibility, whilst Pilates is a practice focused on toning your body and bettering your posture and movement. The breathing techniques used in Pilates and Yoga differ quite a bit.
Tai Chi is of Chinese Taoist foundations it has ancient and modern forms. It is more than gentle exercise and not just for the old.
The range of benefits will differ from style to style, so I can only comment on Tai Chi as taught by Harmony Arts Association.
Some plain and simple Tai Chi benefits to be gained from its regular practice:
- Control of the body weight so it can flow naturally through the joints of the body which then allows the muscles to relax naturally, this then allows the secondary muscles to regenerate giving greater strength to the body and limbs.
- The slow movements help to tonify the muscles of the body so that relaxation can become a natural part of life rather than the exception.
- Tai Chi is one of the very few exercises that can work 100% of the muscle groups and 99.9% of the muscles of the body at the same time.
- Strengthens and tonifys the central core muscles which gives greater body control.
- With relaxation comes better blood circulation, which helps the heart to become stronger.
- Another benefit of the relaxation is that the meridians of the body become unobstructed so helping with the strengthening of the internal organs of the body.
- As the blood circulation and meridians of the body run next to the nervous system this helps to relax and strengthen the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
- It is good for your Body, calms your Mind and sets your Spirit free.
- It improves your balance and co-ordination, physical strength, flexibility and suppleness.
- As the posture is strengthened this allows relaxation to remain constant.
- As the nervous system becomes calmed, tranquility can also remain constant.
- This will lead to greater mental control – as your mind is stimulated and starts to clear, your concentration and focus improves, and the mind then becomes free, active and spontaneous.
- As spiritually you will feel more alive, you become more positive and purposeful and you may find life can take on a whole new meaning.
- Your energies on a physical, mental and spiritual level will increase, and you will find that you’ll be able to work and play for longer.
- Tai Chi is a cardiovascular work out but not in the western way.
- Increases your stamina.
Modern scientific research has investigated the effects of Tai Chi in various conditions. Here are a few of the findings from practicing it:
- Improved balance and reduced incidence of falls among the elderly
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved sleep quality
- Enhanced immune response
- Slowed reduction of bone density, protecting against osteoporosis
- Increased Heart Rate Variability, as effective as brisk walking
- Improved mobility and decreased pain where there is osteoarthritis of the knee
- Aided blood sugar regulation in type 2 diabetes
- Reduced stress and improved psychological well-being
The time you spend on the Tai Chi Form is up to you, most beginners tend to practice ten to twenty minutes once or twice a day. The better you get the more time you may want spend on your practice. Most students fit their practice around their daily activities, for working people practice before going to work gives them energy for the days work and practicing again after work gives them the energy for their evening play.
Tai Chi will enhance your life, not get in the way of your life.