How beneficial are Taiji classes? In the United States, medical researchers analysed 47 studies looking at Taiji classes and the impact that Taiji had on people with chronic health problems, like heart disease or MS.
Their findings were that Taiji benefits include improved balance, flexibility and even the health of the heart.
Their findings, published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, state that Taiji benefits also resulted in reduced stress, falls, pain and anxiety.
This art originated in China, centuries ago, as a martial art but its health giving properties were such that it is now widely practiced purely as a health and wellbeing exercise. Combining abdominal breathing, relaxation and fluid movement between postures, Taiji produces a bio-feedback loop that gradually deepens this relaxation, slows the respiration and produces a deep feeling of wellbeing.
Taiji players know through experience that it can have a profound, positive, effect on their health, improving memory, concentration, digestion, balance and flexibility. It is also beneficial for people with psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety or stress through the inner calmness that it produces.
The study (by doctors at Tufts-New England Medical Center, Boston) suggests there is medical evidence to back up those claims.
Their findings, based on a review of studies published in both English and Chinese state.
“Overall, these studies reported that long-term Taiji practice had favourable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls in elders”.
Taiji helped to reduce “pain, stress and anxiety in healthy subjects”.
Importantly, they also recognise that Taiji also has benefits for people with serious, chronic, conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.
“Benefits were reported by the authors of these studies in cardiovascular and respiratory function in healthy subjects and in patients who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery as well as in patients with heart failure, hypertension, acute myocardial infarction, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.”
Taiji benefits are well recognised and Taiji has been used in Chinese hospitals for years in the treatment of chronic illness and also prescribed to people who have had heart attacks and heart surgery. It used to be the case that this type of treatment regime was written off as “quackery” by western doctors. Not so now! Now we see Taiji being recommended as a post heart bypass, etc. exercise. Not only that but many doctors are also joining Taiji classes and practicing this art to benefit their own health.
How do I learn Taiji?
Taiji is a personal journey and each practitioner progresses at their own pace. There should be no rush in this process, no competition with yourself or with others.
The form that we teach, initially, is the Yang Family Short Form. There is precision in every movement and you will learn about posture, balance and rooting………….. without these there is no Taiji. To begin with, the movements and posture will seem alien but this passes quickly and an appreciation begins to dawn about the grace and fluidity between each posture.
The process of learning starts with the Wuji stance and builds on this foundation as the repertoire of movements gradually increases. It is best to take this slowly in order to experience and understand the structure of rooting, balance and posture because, once understood, this is carried on through the form. If this is overlooked, it is much harder to unlearn habitual errors.
How long will it take to learn?
Attending one class per week, it will take up to two years to learn the basic form. From then on it is a case of constant refinement and during this process you experience deeper levels of Taiji and learn more and more about yourself.
It may seem that two years is a long time but without further, personal, practice. When looked at more closely, two years actually translates to around forty classes a year. That is a total of eighty classes where you are practicing for 1.5 hours…………… a grand total of 120 hours! The more you practice, the more you will understand.
Is all Taiji the same?
Absolutely not. At present there appears to be a fashion of cobbling the names of two arts together and producing a dog’s dinner that has very little value (for example we have classes called Taiji Yoga, etc. where the instructor is taught over a weekend, pays for the diploma – licence to teach that particular brand – and is teaching the following day). Unfortunately the people responsible for this seem to have no understanding of either art and the resulting exercises are no more than slow wind-milling of the arms. These classes are run as a business. They are not Taiji classes. They are a poor attempt to copy something without any comprehension of the underlying principals.
Find a Taiji class that teaches a distinct form. A class where the teacher understands the fundamentals of the art. There are many styles of Taiji such as Yang, Chen, Wu, Wudan, Sun & Li and each of these are based on the same basic rules. They might look different externally but internally the same principals are being adhered to. It is those principals that make Taiji what it is.
Taiji Shibashi Qigong
At these Taiji classes we also practice the Taiji Shibashi. These are a set of 18 Qigong exercises that focus on health and well-being, directing and promoting the flow of Qi through the meridians. Although each of them can be practiced individually, or in any variation, the set flows beautifuly, from one posture to the next,producing a feeling of inner calmness and wellbeing.
The health benefits, from these Qigong exercises, becomes clear when they are practiced regularly and, in effect, you are being proactive with your health and wellbeing. The Shibashi are easy to learn and can easily be done in restricted space where practicing the Taiji forms would be impossible.
One example of the health benefits related to the practice of the Shibashi is: –
The Commencement: This is good for regulating the breathing allowing the resipration rate to lower. It is also good for maintaining the balance of the blood pressure, it strengthens the function of the Kidney meridian, calms the nerves (Shen), and it has a therapeutic action in the alleviation of arthritis in the knees.
The Shibashi are as follows:
- The Commencement
- Broadening the chest
- Painting rainbows
- Circling the arms to part the clouds
- Pushing to the diagonals
- Rowing the boat
- Holding the ball in front of the shoulders
- Turning to gaze at the moon
- Twisting the waist and pushing the palms
- Waving hands like clouds
- Scooping from the sea to look at the sky
- Playing with waves
- The flying dove spreads its wings
- Punching with outstretched arms
- The flying goose
- Spinning wheels
- Bouncing a ball with steps
- Pressing down in calmness