Tai Chi: Exercising and Connecting Your Mind & Body
As humans, we tend to put everything we know into categories, and exercise and stress relief are often seen as mutually exclusive events. Exercise includes running, weightlifting, playing sports, swimming, and so forth. Stress relief includes breathing exercises, massage therapy, meditation, idle time, and so forth. However, exercise and relaxation do not have to be completely separate entities. Enter Tai chi, a form of exercise initially developed for self-defense, and now commonly referred to as “meditation in motion.” Tai chi has become a method of stress and anxiety reduction, meditation, and serenity, in addition to being a form of exercise that increases flexibility, balance, and combats a variety of health conditions, including chronic pain.
Originally an ancient Chinese tradition, Tai chi is now practiced as a form of exercise that incorporates a series of movements and stretches performed in a slow and focused manner with an emphasis on deep breathing. Tai chi is different from yoga because it does not involve holding poses and postures like yoga does, rather it is performed in as if it were a martial-arts style dance, keeping your body in motion constantly.
Tai chi can be practiced by almost anyone. Depending on your fitness level, Tai chi can be a light exercise or a vigorous workout, though Tai chi is generally thought of as low impact since it puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Tai chi also requires zero equipment, can be performed anywhere, and can be done individually or within a group setting.
Engaging in Tai chi is extremely beneficial because it incorporates both your mind and your body into the exercise, giving you both physical and mental advantages. In terms of mental health, Tai chi has been attributed to decreases in stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improved mood. Tai chi’s physical benefits include improved aerobic capacity, increased energy and stamina, improved flexibility, balance and agility, and improved muscle strength and definition. Furthermore, the moving meditation aspect of Tai chi can help stimulate vital energy, known as “chi”, and this energy can work to promote healing from a long list of health conditions, such as chronic pain.
According to Harvard Health, there is solid research showing that tai chi can benefit people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, tension headaches, and other ongoing, painful conditions. There have even been clinical trials performed where groups of people with chronic pain were split into two groups, one which practiced tai chi twice a week, and the other practiced a different method of wellness. It turned out that the group who took the tai chi classes not only reported less pain, but they were also able to report fewer depression symptoms and better sleep than the other group. The ancient art of tai chi has been proven to lessen chronic pain symptoms through three different avenues: adaptive exercise, mind-body interaction, and meditation.
Combating chronic pain is a complicated task where a combination of different pain relief methods seems to work best for most patients. While pain management procedures, injections, nerve blocks, physical therapy, etc. can all be very helpful, the doctors at Pacific Pain Physicians also advocate wellness methods of combating chronic pain, with tai chi being one of the most recommended exercise/wellness routines. If you have chronic pain, give tai chi a try, and you might be surprised at how well it works not only to reduce your pain, but also to improve your mental health, along with countless other benefits.