T’ai Chi Chih offers a host of benefits for seniors and Las Crucens of all ages
Written by CAROLYN SCHMITZ
Photography by STEVE KAVANAGH
Often referred to as a “moving meditation,” T’ai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that originated centuries ago. It consists of deep breathing, mental focus, and a gently flowing, rhythmic series of movements designed to energize and harmonize mind and body and achieve a calm serenity.
Daily practice has many benefits for a person’s overall health and wellness. It also imprints muscle memory that will aid in self-defense. T’ai Chi and its numerous variations unite the four aspects, or “rooms,” of the body, or “house—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Chi is the energy, the vital life force, that stimulates everything we see. When a body or object moves, the Chi divides into Yin and Yang Chi, a balance of opposing energy. Yin and Yang reunite when motion ceases. The practice of T’ai Chi frees up blockages of Chi which may be congested at the body’s joints, considered to be the gates of Chi.
While those who practice T’ai Chi appear graceful and at ease, it is not as easy to do as it looks. “The practice of T’ai Chi requires tremendous strength, endurance, and flexibility, as well as demanding enormous concentration and focus,” states psychotherapist, life coach, and T’ai Chi practitioner, Michael J. Formica, in an article published in Psychology Today, in 2010. “In addition, properly applied, it is one of the deadliest and most devastating of the martial arts.”
Less deadly and highly beneficial, especially for seniors, is T’ai Chi Chih, an offshoot of T’ai Chi. Originated in 1974, T’ai Chi Chih consists of 19 slow, fluid, swaying movements, six healing sounds, and one Cosmic Consciousness pose, designed to circulate Chi freely throughout the body to achieve overall health and well-being.
“T’ai Chi Chih is an exquisite way to address your body’s four rooms: physical,mental, emotional and spiritual,” explains Rose Alvarez- Diosdado, accredited T’ai Chi Chih teacher and volunteer instructor at MountainView Regional Medical Center’s Senior Circle. “The thing to do is keep your concentration on the bottom of your feet. That’s called the ‘bubbling spring.’”
It might seem daunting at first learning to coordinate right and left limbs. It is a lot like learning 19 new dance steps. “Anyone can do them anywhere,” notes Rose. “A five-year-old can learn the poses. With daily practice, he will see increased benefits. Tai Chi Chih is meant to help us keep our serenity in the midst of activity. It helps us to remain grounded.”
T’ai Chi Chih is a non-impact discipline that requires no equipment or special clothing. Standing or sitting, T’ai Chi Chih is easy to learn with just eight weeks of daily practice. A variety of styles and teaching methods will also help you achieve healthy balance and inner quiet.
Modern medical studies have confirmed what the Chinese have known for centuries, that the benefits of regularly practicing T’ai Chi in any form are innumerable. According to Tris Thorp, of The Chopra Center, “Now, integrative medicine and health psychology are beginning to recognize that health is influenced not only by the physical body but the spiritual, mental, and emotional bodies, too.”
Wellness benefits experienced by those who regularly practice T’ai Chi Chih include improved physical health, serenity, joy, sense of well-being, balance, concentration, focus, flexibility, weight management, chronic imbalances such as blood pressure and headaches, and inner peace. It also increases positive energy, awakens intuition and transforms emotion. Posture, balance, mobility, stress reduction, improved sleep quality and making new friends are also by-products of daily T’ai Chi Chih. While T’ai Chi Chih is not associated with any religion or cultural group, some people have reported an increased spiritual connection.
Moreover, a recent study from the University of California at Los Angeles demonstrated that T’ai Chi Chih can help prevent shingles in seniors by increasing their immunity. Using a group of seniors as test subjects, half of them were given a 15-week class in T’ai Chi Chih, and the other half were the control group. All participants had their immunity shingles checked before and after the study. Results showed the T’ai Chi Chih subjects’ to shingles increased by 50 percent, the control group’s immunity showed no improvement. “Shingles is a significant public health problem,” notes Dr. Michael Irwin, professor of psychoneuronimmunology at UCLA and Geffen School of Medicine. “T’ai Chi Chih can be readily administered in groups, and it’s cost-effective.”
Sometimes a person will note phenomenal improvements in specific areas of wellness, and sometimes the changes will be smaller. J’Lee Mather, who practices the art of T’ai Chi Chih daily, says, “For me, the difference is subtle, but it’s there.”