Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines fluid deliberative movements with focused breathing and a meditative state of mind. The physical and mental health benefits of Tai Chi are beginning to be elucidated by scientific studies and its application to pain management presents a complementary approach to more traditional treatments.
By emphasizing non-impact and fluid movements, Tai Chi promotes flexibility, alignment and posture. The meditative components and rhythmic breathing reduce anxiety, thus alleviating the emotional and psychological impact of chronic pain. It’s relative inexpensiveness, ready availability(it can be practiced anywhere!), and lack of stress on the spine make Tai Chi ideal as part of an overall integrative approach to pain management. Before beginning Tai Chi, you should have your pain evaluated by a physician to ensure that it’s not a sign of a more serious condition.
Shrouded in mystery, controversy and myth, tai chi is one of the oldest and most mystical of the Chinese martial arts. It involves a sequence of slow, focused movements which flow into each other in a graceful manner. The movements are paired with breathing exercises and designed to increase the flow of chi, or energy, throughout the body. Gentle enough for all ages and fitness levels, the exercises nevertheless have many health benefits.
According to Chinese folklore, tai chi was originally invented in the thirteenth century by a monk named Chang San-feng. The monk purportedly had an experience or a vision in which a crane and a snake were sparring, and the animals’ maneuvers are said to have been Chang’s inspiration for the original thirteen movements of tai chi. Although there are doubts as to whether this man was a real person or simply a personification of accumulated wisdom up to that time, tai chi eventually made it to a village in Honan, where it was kept a closely guarded secret of the Chen family for generations. Later, a man by the name of Yang Lu-chan gained access to the secrets of tai chi, and the discipline slowly spread throughout China and finally the western world. Today, there are thousands of different forms of tai chi, the most popular being the yang style. Other common types include the chen, wu, fu and sun.
One major advantage of tai chi is the role it can play in pain management, particularly for those with chronic pain. The calm mental focus achieved by the activity helps the body relax, which is great for stress reduction and reduces the tension that can exacerbate pain. The exercises also enhance flexibility and range of motion; therefore, they can be very effective in relieving the pain caused by conditions such as arthritis. Other benefits include reduced pressure on the spine, which can ease back pain, increased strength and bone density, which can improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, and enhanced mood, which aids people in dealing with their pain. In addition, one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that tai chi can be beneficial for those which fibromyalgia, lessening pain, improving sleep and enhancing quality of life.
Tai chi also has numerous cardiovascular benefits. Studies have demonstrated lowered blood pressure, improved vascular resistance, greater aerobic capabilities and higher oxygen levels. Additionally, regular participation in tai chi tends to slow cardiorespiratory decline and contribute to healthier cholesterol levels. For those with heart disease, it can diminish triglycerides and help to regulate insulin levels, and it can lower the possibility of heart failure in those at risk for the condition. Finally, people who have experienced a stroke often recover more quickly when incorporating tai chi into their therapy programs.
In conclusion, tai chi can play an important role in a health and wellness plan for all individuals, including those with chronic pain. It is inexpensive, can be practiced almost anywhere, and contributes to physical, mental and spiritual wholeness.