Achieving Supreme, Ultimate Health

You likely have seen photos or video from China showing large groups in people exercising in public places. The exercise consists of very slow, controlled movements, almost resembling a ballet or dance choreographed in slow motion. You might be surprised to find that this exercise – practiced widely by all ages, even the quite elderly – is an ancient martial art.  Known as t’ai chi ch’uan, but usually referred to in English simply as tai chi, it has become one of the most popular forms of exercise among the Chinese. In recent years, its popularity has spread worldwide and tai chi is now practiced around the world.taichi

What is Tai Chi?

“T’ai chi ch’uan” can be expressed several ways in English, including “supreme ultimate fist” “supreme ultimate boxing” or “great extremes boxing”.  Not only a fighting technique, tai chi also is practiced as a demonstration art form, for health reasons, and to increase longevity. There are several forms of tai chi training, depending upon the goal of the practitioner. Traditional tai chi training involves five elements:

  • Taolu – Solo exercises using hands, feet, and weapons
  • Shanshou – Self-defense routines
  • Tuishou – Responses and reactions to opponents’ movements
  • Neigong – Breathing and meditation
  • Qigong – Awareness and control of breathing and movement

The slow, controlled public exercises one sees in China are an example of qigong. Not all tai chi exercise is slow, however. The most widely practiced styles of tai chi all feature a faster set of exercises and movements in addition to their slowly paced movement routines.

Origins and HistoryYingYang_7

The origins of tai chi are a subject of dispute, finding popular mythology at odds with the historical record. Tradition holds that the art was invented by an alchemist named Zhang San Feng sometime between 900 and 1300 A.D. However, this name does not appear in any written Chinese records until the late 1600s A.D. The earliest written source that claims Zhang San Feng originated tai chi is dated anther 200 years later. A later edition of this same source, however, asserts that the identity of the originator of tai chi is unknown. In fact, before the mid-1800s, the art form did not even have a name and was practiced by a relative handful of individuals.

Tai chi remained a rather obscure martial art until several Chinese martial arts masters began to tout its health benefits in the early 1900s. They and their students helped spread the art to a much wider circle of participants throughout China. During the 1920s the Chinese military adopted tai chi as part of its standard fitness training, although this involved the faster moving martial form of the art. Tai chi later spread into Chinese civilian life with the development of slow-movement forms of the art. Greater Chinese openness to the West beginning in the 1990s and early 2000s exposed a much wider audience to tai chi, and the practice is now more popular than ever.

Health Benefits of Tai Chi

Traditional Chinese medical practitioners have long claimed that tai chi is effective in promoting health and combating a number of chronic conditions. Modern western experimental studies have confirmed many of these claims. Not surprisingly, research has shown that tai chi helps promote greater balance and flexibility and reduce the risk of falls in elderly individuals. However, many people are startled to learn that tai chi burns more calories than surfing and almost as much as downhill skiing. A program of tai chi paired with yoga has even been shown to reduce levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Other studies have shown the potential for tai chi to boost immune function in response to certain viruses.

A number of studies also have linked tai chi to pain relief. A 2008 study from Tufts University found that tai chi provided better pain relief than regular stretching exercises for elderly patients with severe osteoarthritis of the knee. A study published in the 2010 New England Journal of Medicine found that tai chi provided similar pain reliving benefits for a group of patients suffering from fibromyalgia.

Slow-Motion Stress Controlbloodpressuretest

Proponents of tai chi cite stress-reduction as a principal benefit of the art, and recent medical studies support their beliefs. A 2010 U.S. government review of seven large-scale studies of tai chi concluded that it “significantly increased psychological well-being including reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhanced mood in community-dwelling healthy participants and in patients with chronic conditions.” Other studies have suggested that tai chi may help regulate production of hormones that affect mood and heart rate.

One of the most appealing aspects of tai chi is that any reasonably healthy individual can participate and share in its benefits. The extremely low impact nature of tai chi, along with its slow and controlled movements, allows people of any age and many different physical conditions to take part. As the studies cited early demonstrate, you don’t need to become a triathlete, marathoner, or “extreme” athlete to lose weight, get fit, and improve your physical and mental well-being. Practicing tai chi can help you achieve all of these goals in a way that fits your life situation.

2005-04-18-leafy-sea-dragon-tai-chi-2Find Out More About Tai Chi

If you are interested in learning more about tai chi or taking it up actively, it’s best to start by talking with someone experienced in the art form. In South Florida, Dr. Jorge Bordenave includes tai chi as part of a multifaceted, integrated approach to health care and maintenance that deals with the health of the body, mind, and spirit. Contact Dr. Bordenave today to find out how this ancient fighting form can help YOU return to fighting form as well.

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Holistic Approaches to Health

Mind Body MedicineMind-body medicine combines modern knowledge and ancient practices to improve health and boost well-being. Check out the following article to learn about this powerful tool:

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Relieving stress can be as simple as breathing, if you know how to do it. This article presents some basic breathing techniques to help you relax.

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Check out this great video about Dr. Jorge Bordenave.

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Relieve Stress With Breathing Exercises

Diminish anxiety and stress with simple and easy breathing exercises.

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Incorporating Breathing Exercises with Your Integrative Medicine Treatment

Breathing ExerciseAs Integrative Medicine incorporates a full body approach to well-being, exercise is another effective and necessary piece of the complete “prescription.” Learning how to manage stress, anxiety and all of the worries of life is essential to maintaining well-being. Take some time after reading this article to digest and fully understand why and how to apply breath exercises to your Integrative Medicine treatment.

Using breathing exercises is essential to maintaining your health effectively and without potentially toxic medications. Since everyone has stress from their job, their personal commitments and from day to day stressors, finding a way to manage and diffuse it is essential to maintain optimal health. If left unchecked, stress over time can have negative effects. Experiencing symptoms of anxiety, which include an elevated pulse rate, tightened muscles, and increased stress hormones levels, among others, keeps your body’s immune system from functioning optimally. Over time, your body’s reactions to daily stressors from life, leads to diminished levels of energy and potentially an emotionally burnout and total exhaustion. Therefore, it is essential to know how to moderate your daily stress levels.

The first exercise to do is to quiet your body and mind. People who have recurring anxiety and nervous tension are filled with negative thoughts and “self-talk.” These people are always thinking, talking and fantasizing about their problems – this “mental movie” of one’s problems and worries is emotionally and physically draining. This constant stress and the racing mind must first be quieted.

Quieting the mind is quite an easy process and has many immediate and long-term beneficial effects. Pick anything of personal intrinsic value – it can be a piece of jewelry, a picture, a plant, etc. The next step is to inhale and exhale slowly for two minutes while looking at your chosen focusing piece. If you feel any anxiety or feelings of nervousness, re-focus on the object. This might not work the first time, the second time or even the third time. If you keep doing this, eventually your mind will become relaxed and not let competing and racing thoughts cloud your psyche.

The next exercise is to meditate. Meditation helps you feel organized and centered. Many people who experience anxiety, no matter the level, often feel disorganized and ungrounded. Meditating, preferably before starting your day, or anytime, enables you to focus your energy and be more efficient in completing work and personal obligations. Meditation begins by sitting or lying in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Block out all thoughts and sensations except for your breathing.  Sometimes there is an audio coach, a live coach or your inner conscious guiding you to focus on your breathing and your breathing only. Repeat until you feel very relaxed.

Along with the main type of meditation, there are variations of meditating to center one-self. The next method of relaxing is to release muscle tension. This can be accomplished by lying on your back, letting your arms rest naturally. Similar to meditating, develop and maintain a steady breathing cadence. Clench your fists, tighter and tighter, for 15 seconds. During this process, let the rest of your body relax and visualize your fists becoming tighter and tighter. After the 15 seconds, let go and let your body relax for 30 seconds. Do this same exercise with other tense parts of your body for 15 seconds on and 30 seconds off. Doing this, along with visualizing your relaxation will help you let go of tension naturally and effectively.

Performing these exercises will enable you to manage your stress and anxiety effectively, efficiently and without traditional prescription medication. Over time, your body will be more accustom to manage stress and anxiety better and you will be able to diffuse it better in the future.

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