Tai Chi

How it works:

It’s based on an ancient Chinese martial art, and in the belief that chi – energy – flows through the body in different pathways, and in the concept of yin and yang – opposing forces in the universe that must be kept in balance. Tai Chi aims to keep this balance through very gentle, flowing movements and deep breathing that relax and focus the mind and body, and improve energy levels. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘moving meditation”.

What it could help:

Anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, tension, aches and pains, insomnia, low self-esteem.

Evidence base:

Tai chi has been studied significantly in research, and some studies have also looked specifically at its role in treating stress and related symptoms. Studies varied in their size, design and validity, and have not come to a conclusive result. A recent review analysed the results of 40 studies of the effects of Tai Chi on psychological wellbeing and suggested that it was associated with reduced stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, and increased self-esteem.

What to expect:

It’s mostly a group activity. Classes usually last about one to two hours and start with warm up exercises, followed with sets of movements called forms, often named after animals, like ‘high pat on horse’ or ‘step back and repulse monkey’. Breathing exercises – ‘qigong’ – are also included. You can also buy DVDs and learn online, but you may be more likely to stick at it if you commit to a class. Wear clothing that you find easy to move and stretch in.

Precautions:

There are lots of different types of tai chi, some more strenuous than others, so find one that is suitable. The most gentle is the hand form – the type done in parks in China in the early morning. Because it’s very gentle, it’s suitable for older people or those with limited mobility. Let your doctor know, especially if you have any problems like arthritis, or with your balance. There are no laws governing the qualifications or professional standards of teachers, so a word of mouth recommendation or research on the internet is a good idea (see below) for finding a registered teacher. Always ask about their training and experience. It’s important that you enjoy the class and like the teacher.

Find out more:

www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/HB_web/the-healthbenefits-of-tai-chi.htm

Find a therapist:

www.taichiunion.com is the biggest UK register. You can also search your local authority’s leisure website for classes.

Cost:

This varies according to the length of the class and if it’s run by a local authority, or privately. Expect about about £5 to £10 per class, with reductions if you book a course in advance.

How does tai chi work? – VIDEO

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