The active ingredients of tai chi

When Peter M. Wayne, medical editor of Introduction to Tai Chi from Harvard Medical School, began conducting scientific studies on the health benefits of tai chi, he began noticing that tai chi works in a variety of ways, not just one. Whereas most drugs have a single active ingredient, he observed that tai chi was more like a multidrug combination that uses different components to produce a variety of effects. He formulated the idea of the “eight active ingredients” of tai chi, which he and his colleagues now use as a conceptual framework to help evaluate the clinical benefits of tai chi, explore the underlying mechanisms that produce these effects, and shape the way tai chi is taught to participants in clinical trials (and to teachers). While different styles of tai chi emphasize different ingredients, these therapeutic factors are interwoven and synergistic. Here’s a summary of one of the active ingredients.

Structural integration. Tai chi looks at the body as an interconnected system, not as a collection of individual parts. As a result, when practicing tai chi, you won’t do one exercise for your biceps and another for your glutes. Instead, tai chi integrates the upper body with the lower body, the right side with the left side, and the extremities with the core. Alignment and posture are part of this structural integration, and tai chi trains you to find alignments that are safe and unstrained, allowing you to perform graceful movements. You move more efficiently—not just during your tai chi practice, but throughout your day. The result is less stress and load on your joints and better balance. Similarly, improved posture has benefits that extend well beyond your tai chi class. When you walk or sit with your shoulders rounded and your torso hunched over, it is hard to take deep breaths. But when you straighten your back, roll your shoulders back and down, and open your chest, you breathe more deeply and efficiently. Not only does this integration improve your ability to move without pain, but it also affects your mental health. In two different studies, people who sat or walked more upright during the experiments had a more positive outlook afterward than those who slouched while sitting or walking.

 

Bagua and Tai Chi: Unbeatable Health and Fitness Exercises

Western and Taoist Concepts of Exercise

Western paradigms mistakenly lead people to believe that the only way to improve health is through high-intensity, high-impact aerobic exercises. Many doctors and health websites advocate aerobics for strengthening your heart and lungs, using oxygen more efficiently, controlling blood glucose levels and boosting the immune system. Many doctors recommend jogging or bicycle riding for people that have suffered heart attacks.

These ideas persist despite the fact that many clinical studies show that low-impact, low-intensity exercises—such as tai chi—can have the same positive affects on physical health as aerobics or high-intensity sports. Tai chi and other low-impact exercises are equally effective as aerobics in improving circulation, decreasing blood pressure and increasing oxygen efficiency.

Tai chi is extremely effective in improving physical balance in the elderly, a claim virtually no high-intensity aerobic exercise makes.

One of the major values of low-impact exercises is that people of any body type and age can do them without jarring or damaging their joints. Tai chi can be practiced by people who are ill with chronic diseases, including asthma, arthritis or diabetes, which often limits the types of exercise they can do.

Health versus Fitness

Traditional Chinese Medicine has long made a distinction between health and fitness. It defines health as having a state of wellness in which your mind is clear and emotionally balanced (mental health), your body is free from organic illness or injury, and you experience strong vitality and a sense of well-being. Fitness is more commonly associated with the superior external performance of high-performance athletics.

In the West, a person who is considered to be fit may be able to do 100 or more push-ups, run a marathon, have a beautiful muscular physique and yet not be healthy under their tight abs. He or she may have a bad back, damaged joints, liver problems, unbalanced emotions, an inability to handle stress, lack of libido and other sexual weaknesses. In China, that person would be considered fit, but not healthy.

Conversely, in the West, someone would not be considered fit if they looked frail, dumpy or fat, were unable to run a few hundred meters, or did not have physically powerful muscles. Yet that person may be quite healthy. He or she may have a strong back, good joints and blood circulation, be emotionally balanced, not have internal organ or central nervous system problems, engage in all of life’s normal activities comfortably and with stamina, have a fulfilling sex life and be able to handle immense stress in a relaxed way.

Thus, you could be considered fit and yet not healthy, or healthy and not fit. In China, the goal is to be healthy and fit: Bagua and tai chi help you achieve both.

The Ideal Body

The Western ideal of a healthy person is the Olympian athlete, standing tall and fully muscled. The Taoists’ ideal is a baby. Consider the differences in energy. Who has more life energy: An athlete or a baby? The answer is a baby.

Research has shown that no athlete can continuously mimic a baby’s motions as it randomly moves and plays. It doesn’t take long before the athlete becomes exhausted. Now consider the difference in body types. The Olympian athlete’s body is straight, tall and hard. Babies are round, soft and very relaxed. Yet babies are not weak: Pound for pound they have immense, but relaxed strength and stamina.

If you’re a parent you know how fast they can wear you out.

The more relaxed you are, the more energy you have.

Taoists developed qigong exercises to help people achieve the stamina, relaxation and flexibility of a baby. Qigong shares with Chinese medicine the perspective that health is not determined by the strength of your muscles, but by the strength of your chi. If your chi is abundant, balanced and flowing fully and evenly throughout your body—especially within and between your internal organs—then you will enjoy good health. Bagua and tai chi make these useful goals accessible to everyone.

Wang Shu Jin: Fit, Fast, Fluid…and Fat!

Wang Shu Jing was my first bagua teacher. I began studying with him in 1968 at the end of my freshman year of college in Japan. When I first met Wang, he was nearly 70-years old and dramatically overweight. He looked to me in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, a number thrown around very frequently in his later years. Yet he could move fast and fluidly, as if he were in his twenties or thirties. I found this rather exceptional.

After getting to know Wang and seeing and feeling everything Wang could do inside his body, my standard American ideas of what a big fat guy could not do simply went out the window. Here was this 70-year-old person, huge as a house, who was really strong and who could move like lightning. At my young age, he seemed almost superhuman. At the time, I was about 5’10” and a relatively thin 160 pounds.

However, in my mid-thirties, I ballooned after a car accident that nearly broke my back. Then in my fifties, I had other car accidents that led to my gaining even more weight. So, it was very useful to have trained with Wang and understand that having a big body was not an obstacle to having a good and healthy life.

The Primary Positive Effects of Training

Here are just a few of the many benefits of tai chi and bagua training:

Release and Relax the Nervous System

Anxiety and stress that leach into most people are due to habits of tension that lie deeply within the nerves of the body. Tension not only defeats relaxation, but also, when not released it perpetuates and exacerbates the inability to relax. It’s a negative feedback loop.

Bagua, tai chi and all energy arts train you to stop creating nervous tension in each part of your body and mind.

You can work/play/interact with others from a deep sense of relaxation and awareness.

Exercise and Tone All of Your Small and Large Muscles, Tendons and Ligaments

The goal is to open up space in your body and exercise everything within those spaces. This makes sure that blood flow can reach all the nooks and crannies, particularly in and around all your internal organs.

Where there is blood, there is life.

Blood is the portal that delivers the nutrients your body needs for healing and maintaining wellness.

Optimally Move All of Your Bodily Fluids

This includes blood, lymph, synovial fluid between your joints, spinal fluids, the fluids of the brain, and those within and between your internal organs. The body works best when it has a constant interchange of fluids in and out of and between all its internal systems. Since our bodies primarily consist of fluids, a fundamental principle of bagua and tai chi is getting these fluids to pump throughout the body with a very strong, regular and balanced flow.

This allows the body to work optimally and prevents weaknesses, particularly in your internal organs. Many exercises that contract your muscles move some fluids well, but not others. They may be great for your cardiovascular system, but may not be as effective for your liver, spleen and kidneys.

Bagua and tai chi positively affect the fluid interchanges that occur throughout the body by creating direct internal pressures throughout the body, especially into, out of and around your internal organs. Bagua and tai chi train you to move and turn from the kwa—also referred to as the “bikini fold” or “inguinal crease”—as well as moving your arms and shoulders while keeping the back of your knees and the armpits open.

These are the areas where you find the majority of the lymph nodes in your body.

Bagua and tai chi trains you to deliberately increase the flow of lymph, which helps strengthen your immune system.

Bagua and tai chi train you to contract and expand the spaces inside your joints, which strengthens the flow of synovial fluid and helps prevent arthritic conditions.

Twist the Muscles and Other Soft Tissues as You Move

This facilitates the spiraling of chi and gives you a stronger flow of energy. The twisting of the tissues and muscles in bagua and tai chi simply means that the tissues of the body are constantly turning left and right. Most exercises work on the forward and backward longitudinal movement of bodily muscles and tissues, rather than focusing on the left and right lateral twisting movements as do bagua and tai chi.

Twisting of the tissues in the arms and the legs eventually twists and moves the ligaments attached to the spine. Such twisting provides a constant massage of the internal organs and can help to relieve and prevent minor back problems. Back and neck issues are one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. Twisting facilitates the way that energy naturally spirals through your body.

The spiral is the universal movement of all forms of organic life. Natural organisms don’t move or grow in straight lines, but rather in spirals. Chi also moves through your body in spirals. When infants crawl, their arms and legs constantly twist, which is how they get moving. They flip around from their belly or back by twisting the insides of their hips and belly. However, as children grow older and copy their stiffer, straighter adult role models, they lose this twisting action.

This in turn causes them to lose the incredible abundant energy they had as infants. Bagua and tai chi emphasize twisting the tissues and spiraling chi to help you regain such energetic capacities.

Increase Your Body’s Elasticity

The human body—contrary to popular opinion—is not held up by bones. It is held upright by a series of ligaments that are actually much stronger than bones. What connects your foot to your belly to your neck is either a series of interconnecting ligaments or fascia that are connected to ligaments.

Bagua and tai chi train you to release these ligaments and fascia so that you have as much unrestricted movement as possible. In doing so, they become incredibly elastic, like a rubber band. This quality is found in babies. The next time you encounter a baby, pull their hands, arms and legs (gently now!) and observe this rubber band quality; their limbs are soft and springy.

Bagua and tai chi seek to recreate elastic qualities inside you.

Elasticity significantly increases the range of motion in your joints, spine and internal organs. It allows optimum movement within the joints and between the vertebrae of the spine. Constantly pulling and releasing the ligaments inside your body causes the natural and healthy movement of internal organs. It also massages them and makes them springier. Together these actions enhance blood and fluid flows, which are important factors in determining your health. Most people don’t even think about their fluids. As elasticity increases, so too does the spiraling of energy.

This movement causes the joints and spinal vertebrae to constantly pulse so that the spaces within them continually shrink and grow. Pulsing stimulates the flow of fluids inside the joints and between and within your vertebrae. Chinese call this pulsing action opening and closing. This rhythmic movement keeps the soft tissues of the joints flexible and elastic. Arthritis and the loss of mobility and flexibility can make you prone to injury, or harden the ligaments. In contrast, keeping the body elastic and the fluids moving strongly in your joints helps you avoid many of the problems associated with aging.

Teach Your Body to Flow

Bagua and tai chi train the entire body to move in a flowing, coordinated and continuous manner without abrupt starts or stops. Both arts create a smooth continuum of unceasing flow, much like a pendulum.

They promote flow externally in your physical movements and internally within all the parts of your body—organs, ligaments, tendons, tissues, fluids and muscles. Most people start out being very clunky and jerky with their movements: starting, stopping, freezing and beginning again.

Bagua and tai chi training helps you to learn how to flow smoothly.

Ultimately, the ability to find the flow requires that all parts of your body—especially your nerves—are very relaxed. Relaxation is necessary so that the flow of your fluids can be fairly smooth and circulate in an unrestricted way throughout your body. Chi flow in the body must also be reasonably smooth and balanced. This flow rarely comes from pure physical athleticism.

Enable Whole-body Movement

Almost all athletes want to develop whole-body movement. However, what they’re usually after is having the arms, shoulders and torso move together. The whole-body movements of bagua and tai chi are primarily generated from deep inside your body—reaching from the tips of your toes and fingers to the crown of your head.

Tai chi movements are initiated from deep inside the hips and belly, and move through all the systems from the toes to fingers to head.

Bagua movements are initiated from the feet.

Make the Body Soft and Strong

Bagua and tai chi train your body to move in any direction completely unimpeded. Your body can become like a piece of silk that moves absolutely smoothly as it flutters in the wind. Practicing bagua and tai chi can make your arms very heavy, literally with the strength of iron.

Yet paradoxically, when they move with almost lightning speed, they look and feel virtually weightless and light. All these qualities become simultaneously trained inside you as you practice bagua and tai chi.

Their positive, regenerating effects are like circles coming in and moving out of circles that increase in size and strength. As your nervous system relaxes, the other body systems connected to your nervous system are continually upgraded, which in turn helps relax the nerves even more.

Get Healthy, Then Fit

Before you train for fitness in bagua or tai chi, you must first become healthy.

If you are exceptionally healthy and fit, then you may use the skills you acquire from fitness-orientated bagua or tai chi to excel in high performance, whether in business, athletics, energy arts or anything on which you focus your intent. 

The post Bagua and Tai Chi: Unbeatable Health and Fitness Exercises appeared first on Energy Arts.

What about the knees… Does Tai Chi help or hurt them?

What About the Knees?

Does Tai Chi help or hurt your knees?  There are a few things to remember when it comes to knee health: First, make sure you find a good Tai Chi teacher, someone who really knows how to correctly teach Tai Chi Chuan and also understands how the body works. Unfortunately, there are some Tai Chi teachers out there who do not understand these basic concepts.  If done incorrectly, you can injure yourself — yes, even in a Tai Chi class!

Here’s the good news. Tai Chi when done the right way is amazing for knee health, helping with arthritis, and sometimes turning around injuries previously done to the knees, assisting with rehabilitation and restoration in many cases.  Researchers have determined that patients over 65 years of age with knee osteoarthritis who engage in regular Tai Chi exercise improve physical function and experience less pain.  A full finding of this study is published in the November issue of Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology.

Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan is first and foremost a martial art and should always be taught with Yang Chen Fu’s 13 Essential principles because that’s how you build good structure and gain internal power.  This intelligently created system of movements was designed to give you perfect alignment and whole body connectivity. This allows practitioners to experience amazing marital power along with improved health and overall healing.  Yes, you can experience both. Some people will say that health and healing are just a side effect of doing Tai Chi.  But any way you want to look at it, they go hand in hand.

How We Train the Tai Chi Knee:

Weight Transferring: We know that the knee is a weight transferring joint, not weight bearing.  Sifu Paler says the weight of the body should only pass through the center of the back of the knees.  The femur connects the hip bone to the knee bone; the hip joint is the weight bearing joint.  When you want to move gravity or pressure down the legs to the feet it must go down the back of the knees, supported by the tendons and connective tissue in that area.  There’s no support in the front of the knees — just a floating knee cap.  All of the health and power are in the back of the knees.  

Another benefit of using the back of the knees is that this is where the 3rd largest cluster of lymph nodes is located. Using the knees in this way allows your body to flush these lymph nodes on a regular basis, improving the overall health of your entire body.

Bending: To bend the knees you need to bend at the hips or “Kua,” kind of like sitting back on a bar stool. The knees and hips should always move together in this way.  In the Tai Chi Online Classes curriculum, Sifu Michael Paler perfectly demonstrates this kind of movement through various exercises and techniques that can help rebuild and heal many knee problems.  You never ever want the knees to jet forward, because there is nothing in the front of the knees to support them.  The best way to exercise the knees is to focus your intention on the back of the knee, moving gravity down through the center of the hip, to the center of the back of the knee, to the center of the foot, and into the ground.

Another thing to remember is to NOT let the knees bend inward (knock kneed) or bow outward (bow legged) to Tai Chi Kneethe sides, because they will eventually buckle and break down. You need the weight to travel straight down the legs — not getting caught in the knees.  These conditions can be fixed with correct training.  It’s the same principle as studs in a wall. If the studs lean in any direction, eventually the house will fall down from lack of proper support!  You should also be aware of the knees bending too far forward.  You should be able to see your toes when bending, and the knees should never move forward past the toes.

Gravity only moves in one direction — downward.  Test it. Hold a ball in front of you and then let it go. It will always fall straight down.  Gravity never changes, so we need to learn to use gravity to our advantage, and not fight it.  Always move gravity down through your central channel into the ground, not letting it get stuck anywhere in the body.

Stepping: When stepping or walking, check your central equilibrium, lift your crown, and sink the chi.  Make sure that you are stable and let the weight transfer through the right channels before you take a step.  Practice makes perfect — so practice practice practice stepping correctly. There’s a chance that you have done it incorrectly for a long time.  Some people tend to walk on their heels, and others toe step, or step inside or outside the foot.  The way you walk and step also affects your knees, so it’s time to retrain the way we think and move. This takes correct training and time, so be patient with yourself.

Sifu Michael teaches new students to walk like a cat or do “lego stepping.” You should move very slowly at first like you are walking on ice, or in a dark room with legos on the floor. Check your footing and make sure it’s stable before you commit to a step.  Think about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.  That’s what mind-body work really is — putting your mind before the movement.  Eventually, with diligent practice, the mind and the nervous system will link up and work as one, and in time you will retrain the body to support this type of intelligent movement.

Turning: When turning, turn at the hips, and allow the hip to move your foot in the direction you would like to go. Never turn with the knees. The knees are not meant to handle a twisting or wrenching motion. The knee is a hinge not a swivel.  Think about a door. When you close the door, do you yank up on the handle or just swing the door naturally to close it?  If you yank and pull on the door, it won’t be long before you’ll need to visit Home Depot to buy new hinges. Nobody wants to go through knee replacement surgery, especially if it can be avoided, right?  Be gentle and loving with yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a person recovering from an injury, or a child.

Do you remember the old advertising slogan “No Pain No Gain”?  Well forget it. It’s not true and it never was.   Sharp pain is an indicator of a deeper problem. If you are exercising and your body is experiencing this type of pain, stop and listen (Ting Jin). Always listen!  There is a good kind of “feeling sore,” a discomfort that you will feel after a great workout, but it’s never painful. One should learn to recognize the difference between the two.

In Yang Family Tai Chi, we pay very close attention to every part of the body.  In future blogs we will cover subjects like the Tai Chi hand, the hips, feet, shoulders, and much more.

To receive this and many more Yang Family Tai Chi “inner door teachings,”

WATCH: Tai chi master knocked out by amateur kickboxer in 5 seconds with just one punch – shanghaiist

Earlier this month in China, a tai chi master squared off against an amateur kickboxer. The fight was over in five seconds after just one punch in the latest embarrassing loss for traditional Chinese martial arts.

The 47-year-old master named Zhu Chunping had been honing his skills for decades. His opponent, the 22-year-old Yao Hantian, had been training for about a year. The bout took place in Suzhou with the organizer purposefully setting the two disciplines against each other to find out which was better suited for combat.

In footage of the fight, the two are seen shaking hands and briefly sizing each other up before Yao knocks Zhu to the floor with a single punch to the face. The referee quickly calls the match and gets down on the floor to make sure that Zhu doesn’t choke on his own tongue. Fortunately, after about a minute, Zhu was well enough to walk down from the ring without assistance.

Following the match, Yao, a sports media student at the Shanghai University of Sport, told a reporter that he had taken up kickboxing for some fun and exercise and was surprised when his fight with the master ended with just one punch.

The result was similar to an infamous match from last year in which another tai chi master was beaten to the ground by an MMA fighter in just 10 seconds. Afterward, the master blamed his loss on his “slippery shoes” and said that he was holding back his true power so as not to kill his opponent.

Meanwhile, the MMA fighter issued a challenge to any traditional Chinese martial arts masters who believed that they could take him down in a no-holds-barred fight, even bragging that he was willing to go up against two or three “masters” at the same time to prove to the world that they are nothing but frauds.

Last month, traditional Chinese martial arts briefly restored a bit of its honor when a Shaolin-trained fighter knocked out an African “boxing champ” in just 43 seconds. However, it was soon revealed that the African boxer was no “champion” but an international student trying to earn some extra money.

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A sharper mind: tai chi can improve cognitive function – Harvard Health

There are lots of jokes about forgetting where you put your keys, but as you get older, changes in your mental function are no laughing matter. Changes in your brain that start around age 50 can affect your memory, as well as other cognitive functions such as your ability to juggle multiple tasks, process information rapidly, and focus on details. By age 70, one in six people has mild cognitive impairment (which can progress to Alzheimer’s disease).

Up until about two decades ago, it was believed that your brain only produced new cells early in life. But research has shown that the brain has the ability to change throughout your entire life span, growing new cells, making new connections, and even increasing in size. These changes can improve cognitive function—and various forms of exercise, including tai chi, can help.

In a meta-analysis of 20 studies on tai chi and cognition, tai chi appears to improve executive function—the ability to multitask, manage time, and make decisions—in people without any cognitive decline. In those with mild cognitive impairment, tai chi slowed the progression to dementia more than other types of exercise and improved their cognitive function in a comparable fashion to other types of exercise or cognitive training.

In one study, researchers had nearly 400 Chinese men and women with some cognitive impairment perform either tai chi or a stretching and toning program three times a week. After a year, the tai chi group showed greater improvements, and only 2% of that group progressed to dementia, while 11% from the traditional exercise group did.

In another study, tai chi outperformed walking. Following 40 weeks of either tai chi, walking, social interaction, or no intervention, researchers compared MRI images and discovered that brain volume increased the most in the tai chi group. In addition, that group also performed better on cognitive tests.

To learn more about tai chi, its health benefits and how to learn its movements, read Introduction to Tai Chi, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Image: © kali9 | Gettyimages

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Using Tai Chi to Build Strength

Using Tai Chi to Build Strength

Tai chi moves can be easily learned and executed by people of all ages and states of health, even elderly people in wheelchairs.

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CreditCreditGracia Lam

Watching a group of people doing tai chi, an exercise often called “meditation in motion,” it may be hard to imagine that its slow, gentle, choreographed movements could actually make people stronger. Not only stronger mentally but stronger physically and healthier as well.

I certainly was surprised by its effects on strength, but good research — and there’s been a fair amount of it by now — doesn’t lie. If you’re not ready or not able to tackle strength-training with weights, resistance bands or machines, tai chi may just be the activity that can help to increase your stamina and diminish your risk of injury that accompanies weak muscles and bones.

Don’t get scared by its frequent description as an “ancient martial art.” Tai chi (and a related exercise called Qigong) does not resemble the strenuous, gravity-defying karate moves you may have seen in Jackie Chan films. Tai chi moves can be easily learned and executed by people of all ages and states of health, even those in their 90s, in wheelchairs or bedridden.

First, a reprise of what I previously wrote as to why most of us should consider including tai chi into our routines for stronger bodies and healthier lives.

  • It is a low-impact activity suitable for people of all ages and most states of health, including those who have long been sedentary or “hate” exercise.

  • It is a gentle, relaxing activity that involves deep breathing but does not work up a sweat or leave you out of breath.

  • It does not place undue stress on joints and muscles and therefore is unlikely to cause pain or injury.

  • It requires no special equipment or outfits, only lightweight, comfortable clothing.

  • Once proper technique is learned from a qualified instructor, it is a low-cost activity that can be practiced anywhere, anytime.

One more fact: Beneficial results from tai chi are often quickly realized. Significant improvements involving a host of different conditions can be achieved within 12 weeks of tai chi exercises done for an hour at a time twice a week.

Much of the research, which was reviewed in 2015 by researchers at Beijing University and Harvard Medical School, has focused on how tai chi has helped people with a variety of medical problems. It is summarized in a new book from Harvard Health Publications, “An Introduction to Tai Chi,” which includes the latest studies of healthy people whose mission was health preservation as well as people with conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis.

Of the 507 studies included in the 2015 review, 94.1 percent found positive effects of tai chi. These included 192 studies involving only healthy participants, 142 with the goal of health promotion or preservation and 50 seeking better balance or prevention of falls.

This last benefit may be the most important of all, given that every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room following a fall, and one in five falls results in a fracture, concussion or other serious injury.

Tai chi provided superior benefits to other fall-reduction approaches like physical therapy, balance exercises, stretching, yoga or resistance training. Tai chi, in effect, combines the benefits of most of these: It strengthens the lower body, improves posture, promotes flexibility, increases a person’s awareness of where the body is in space and improves one’s ability to navigate obstacles while walking.

Furthermore, if you should trip, tai chi can enhance your ability to catch yourself before you fall. It has also been shown to counter the fear of falling, which discourages people from being physically active and further increases their likelihood of falling and being injured.

Even if you do fall, tai chi, as a weight-bearing but low-stress exercise, can reduce your chances of breaking a bone. Four well-designed clinical trials showed that tai chi has positive effects on bone health. For example, in a yearlong study in Hong Kong of 132 women past menopause, those practicing tai chi experienced significantly less bone loss and fewer fractures than those who remained sedentary.

For people with painful joints and muscles, tai chi enhances their ability to exercise within a pain-free range of motion. Pain discourages people from moving, which makes matters worse as muscles get weaker and joints stiffer. The movements involved in tai chi minimize stress on painful areas and, by improving circulation, can foster relief and healing.

A 2016 study of 204 people with knee pain from osteoarthritis found that tai chi done twice a week was just as effective as physical therapy in relieving their discomfort. But that was not all: Those doing tai chi for the 12 weeks reported that they were less depressed and had a better quality of life than those undergoing physical therapy.

Tai chi can also be an entry point for people who may have fallen off the exercise wagon but want to get back to doing more vigorous and often more enjoyable physical activities like swimming and hiking, or biking and walking to and from errands instead of relying on vehicles that pollute the air and clog the roads.

Guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend that sedentary older adults begin with balance, flexibility and strength training exercises before launching into moderate to vigorous physical activity. Tai chi is ideal for getting people ready for more demanding action.

And, in the process of getting your body in shape with tai chi, you’re likely to improve your mental state. In a New Zealand study of college students, tai chi was shown to counter depression, anxiety and stress. It also enhances an important quality called self-efficacy — confidence in one’s ability to perform various activities and overcome obstacles to doing so.

This is the second of two columns on countering muscle loss. The first is here.

Jane Brody is the Personal Health columnist, a position she has held since 1976. She has written more than a dozen books including the best sellers “Jane Brody’s Nutrition Book” and “Jane Brody’s Good Food Book.”

Lorain County’s Tai Chi for Arthritis series expanding

No matter how slow or steady, the goal of the Lorain Public Library System’s Tai Chi for Arthritis series is to get seniors moving.

As participants rotate, twist and stretch their hips, hands, legs and torsos, instructor Michael Stadul tells them during a session Sept. 25 at the South Lorain Branch, 2121 Homewood Drive in Lorain, that any motion, no matter how slow, is vital to their health.

“I hope you practice these things at home, as much as you can,” Stadul said. “Remember gang, it’s most important to do something when you go home.

“Do something; even if you do it wrong, it’s better to do that than to sit at home and do that 100 percent right.”

Stadul has stuck with tai chi since his first class in 1984 and became a certified tai chi for arthritis instructor four years ago.

Now, he holds classes in  other library locations: the Elyria Public Library System’s West River Branch, 1194 W. River Road; and Amherst Public Library, 221 Spring St. in Amherst.

Stadul also teaches tai chi at the Rocky River Senior Center, 21014 Hilliard Blvd. in Rocky River.

“This is zero impact,” Stadul said of tai chi’s benefit to seniors. “At the same time, it’s weight-bearing exercises. We’re always shifting our weight from one side to another, always twisting, always turning.”

Hourlong classes begin with a warm-up and usually integrate a new exercise every week. 

Stadul said tai chi also is good for alleviating pain, improving ranging of mobility and balance and preventing and in some cases reversing osteoporosis.

Participant Julianne Nau, 47, of Elyria, said she has utilized tai chi for two years and has seen benefits.

“I always have fun when I come here,” Nau said. “It helps me stretch out in the morning since I was told I have arthritis … It’s my hands mostly that I came for but it’s also my back and everything.”

Kymada Lasalle, 70, of Lorain, said attending tai chi classes have proven to reduce her back pain more than therapy and yoga have.

“I’ve been noticing that I haven’t been having so much stress on my back and my thighs that I used to have,” Lasalle said.

Although Lasalle started taking classes at the beginning of this year, she said she’s seeing the series gain popularity.

“I recommend it for any ages who can stand and do the movements,” she said. “I’m seeing ti grow more and more and more. People are getting that we’re here.”