T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Proven to Promote Good Health
by Harvey Kurland, M.Sc., MFS, CSCS
University of California Riverside T'ai-Chi Ch'uan
Copyright Kurland 2002
Published in Byregion.net Healers 12/14/02
T'ai-Chi Ch'uan is a wonderful Health Promotion exercise. It is a Mind-body exercise helping as a method of stress reduction, physical exercise and subtle energy exercise. The latest research shows stress reduction helps to prevent angina in heart patients during stressful events. Recently low intensity exercise has been shown to prevent heart attacks and increase life span. A daily regime of t'ai-chi fits the Rx, acting as a stress reducer and as a low intensity aerobic exercise.
According to the March 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, T'ai-chi ch'uan (taijiquan) has been shown to lower high blood pressure. It was found that Yang style of t'ai-chi significantly reduced high blood pressure in overweight hypertensive individuals. The subjects in the research group were over 60 years old. They did tai chi for 30 to 45 minutes four to five times a week. The researchers found that, "Exercise intensity may be less important than other factors." Because even though Yang style t'ai-chi studied was low intensity, it reduced high blood pressure as well or better than the more strenuous aerobic exercise.
In another research study, 126 heart attack patients (acute myocardial infarction), average age of 56 years, were randomized into three groups: T'ai-chi group, aerobic exercise group and a non-exercise support group. They exercised 2 times a week for 3 weeks; then once a week for 5 weeks. Only the patients practicing t'ai-chi ch'uan showed a decrease in diastolic blood pressure. There were significant reductions in systolic blood pressure in both exercise groups. (Postgrad Med J 1996 Ju;72(848):349-351)
T'ai-chi has also been found to prevent falls, reduce the negative effects of stress and it may even make you smarter and more coordinated. Some of my UCR students commented it helped to improve their golf and tennis games. The latest research on aging shows that stress adversely effects the brain as we age. Stress hormones actually cause part of the brain to shrink which results in memory loss. To reverse this you have to reduce stress. Researchers have also found that learning a novel activity and performing a physical exercise helps to improve brain functioning. T'ai-chi ch'uan, which is an ancient form of Chinese Internal Kung-fu, helps to reduce stress and may even make you smarter and more coordinated. T'ai-chi acts similar to yoga as a stress reduction method.
Recent issues of The Cornell University's Food & Fitness Advisor (11/98, p 3), The UC Berkeley Wellness Letter (11/98, p 6) and The Saturday Evening Post (8/98) supported t'ai-chi ch'uan's health benefits. The Food & Fitness Advisor claims t'ai-chi will help prevent osteoporosis, prevent falls, and help people with arthritis. They quote research that shows it can reduce high blood pressure and is "As effective as meditation and brisk walking... in reducing levels of stress hormones."
The UC Berkeley Wellness Letter said, "Though tai chi movements are slow they can provide a fairly intense workout." The Letter claims "Tai chi can be a form of physical therapy and aid in the recovery from injuries", and "instill physical confidence and may enhance balance and coordination." It tones the muscles of the lower body and because the posture is emphasized, strain on the neck and back is relieved. They claim that, "Tai chi can have some of the same psychological benefit as Yoga", helping students relax, improve flexibility, relieving muscle tension and anxiety. But, they suggest to supplement the t'ai-chi with other aerobic exercise. T'ai-chi can help to prevent osteoporosis from occurring later in life, as well as to manage stress and help you become more "Centered" and serene.
FINDING A TEACHER
Most Recreation Centers and Colleges offer t'ai-chi classes. When seeking a teacher find out: How long did they study the art? Who did they study with? Were they certified? Is t'ai-chi the primary art they teach or is it just a sideline with other martial arts being their main focus?
To do t'ai-chi ch'uan correctly you must learn it correctly, and the teacher must have the focus of teaching you to be able to practice it on your own, rather than using the outdated "follow the leader" approach. "Follow the leader approach" is a common teaching method and is probably the worst teaching method. A "Step By Step" learning approach, such as taught by a certified NWTCCA & CTCCA teachers works best.
Find a good teacher, from a reputable school who has at least 5 years of t'ai-chi ch'uan study under a legitimate teacher and is certified or recognized to be competent teach by a reputable t'ai-chi organization.
Finding a t'ai chi teacher may take some work. T'ai-chi is originally a martial art. Many Asian martial arts like karate, judo, aikido and tae kwon do, etc., have a belt system that shows their level of expertise or ranking. The White belt being the lowest rank, Yellow the next, etc., to the higher ranking of several levels of black belt, depending on the organization. It may take 5 years or more, hours and hours of practice and training to achieve a first level black belt, the same goes for teaching t'ai-chi ch'uan. It may take 5 to 10 years to develop the basic level of expertise to teach t'ai-chi ch'uan and be certified to teach. In some cases "Assistant Instructors" with one to ten years of training may teach classes and are supervised by a Certified Teacher or Master, which can work well.
Student Beware: In some cases martial art or aerobic instructors take a few weekend workshops then start to teach t'ai-chi, in reality they are not qualified.
There are the modern simplified (short) forms of t'ai-chi taught today that some people may study for a few months then start to teach. They believe that because they learned a short form that they understand the art. To contrast with Karate it would be like learning one Kata (form). Essentially they are Yellow Belts passing themselves off as Black Belts. In reality it takes several years to understand the complexities of the art and do it correctly. If the would be teacher cannot do the techniques correctly, they should not be teaching.
There is an old saying, "T'ai-chi is easy to learn and hard to correct." It is best to learn the basics correctly, as once one learns the t'ai-chi movements incorrectly, it is difficult to correct. For this you need a competent teacher willing to give you a lot of feedback. In t'ai-chi there is no belt system, no black belts, so a person with a few months of training may start teaching and essentially be compared to a white or yellow belt in karate or Aikido, unprepared to teach correctly. Beginning students would not know the difference. People who studied karate or tae kwon do may have a black belt in those arts but they still are not qualified to teach t'ai-chi ch'uan unless they go through the same formal training process as anyone else. Even black belts in karate may take a year or more to grasp the basics of t'ai-chi ch'uan, because it is a very different art form. People who did not learn correctly to begin with may practice for many years, they just make their incorrect motions more difficult to correct. Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. To learn t'ai chi ch'uan correctly you need a competent teacher. Find a legitimate instructor.
The regular daily practice of tai chi helps to maintain basic fitness and improve your health. You should always check with your Doctor before starting any exercise program.
Adapted from T'ai-Chi Ch'uan and Wellness Sept/Oct 1999 copyright Kurland.
The Author: Harvey Kurland, M.Sc., MFS, CSCS, is an Exercise Physiologist and Certified Instructor, i.e., "Sifu" of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, certified by the Chinese T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Association. Kurland is also a lineage holder through Grandmaster Tchoung Ta-tchen of the Old Form of Yang Style. He teachers for the University of California Riverside and Loma Linda University. See his website at www.dotaichi.com