Prevention & Recovery

Is Taoist Tai Chi right for you?

Photo courtesy of Taoist Tai Chi Association. Image by: Photo courtesy of Taoist Tai Chi Association. Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

Is Taoist Tai Chi right for you?

Dr. Bruce MacFarlane, a specialist in rural medicine in Ontario for 40 years, is the medical adviser to the International Taoist Tai Chi society (www.taoist.org).   He knows first-hand the many health benefits of Taoist Tai Chi and has seen the practice benefit people afflicted with poor circulation, high blood pressure, arthritis, back pain, joint immobility, respiratory problems, digestive disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and many other conditions.

Q: Taoist Tai Chi is sometimes described as 'an entire body workout'. What specifically does that mean?
A: The 108 moves in a set of Taoist Tai Chi engage the entire physiology of a person, including the tendons, joints, spine, connective tissue and internal organs. The unique, slow moving turns and stretches in a set of tai chi promote strength (especially of the legs, spine and abdomen), flexibility, balance and endurance. The moves also engage the respiratory diaphragm, the pelvic floor, as well as the ligaments and connective tissue that support the spine and abdominal organs.

Q: Should someone with back issues and other complaints, such as sore legs, do Taoist Tai Chi?
A: It's always important to speak to your doctor before launching into any new exercise regime. The movements of Taoist Tai Chi have the potential for maintaining the flexibility of joints, improving balance (thus preventing falls – which is hugely important as one ages), increasing strength of lower limbs and correcting posture. Particular attention is paid to spinal movements and thereby the stability of the lower back – which is one of the most common complaints among adults.  Tai Chi 'opens up' the body gradually, working the very muscles that can cause so much of the grief that is partly caused by sedentary lifestyles.

Q:  Type 2 Diabetes is rampant in our society. How does Taoist Tai Chi help prevent diabetes?
A: A person with diabetes who practices Taoist Tai Chi will experience the same benefits as anyone else — improved balance and flexibility, increased aerobic capacity and a slowing of the loss of muscle strength caused by ageing. Tai Chi helps to achieve and maintain an ideal body weight, which can be a huge challenge to someone with adult-onset diabetes. It also helps to improve control of elevated blood sugar levels. There are also the cardiovascular benefits of a decrease in bad cholesterol and an increase in good cholesterol, plus a normalizing effect on blood pressure, which alleviates another risk factor for stroke, kidney and heart disease.

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– read about the benefits of Taoist Tai Chi on page two!
Q:  Do you recommend Tai Chi for elderly people, or for people who are suffering a serious illness?
A: For newcomers to Taoist Tai Chi who are older or perhaps suffer from stiffness and weakness as the result of an illness, the instructor will proceed with care. Even if a program is modified and perhaps done from a chair to accommodate these participants, the health benefits are still there, though perhaps the rate of improvement will be slower. Utmost respect is given to any physical difficulties a person is facing and exercises can be tailored according to the specific issues a person is dealing with. Someone with advanced arthritis in one leg, for example, may not have the full range of motion in that part of the body – but the full range of motion may be achievable elsewhere in the body. A person with a neuromuscular illness such as multiple sclerosis may very well perform vigorous exercises while sitting.

Q: What other kinds of benefits are there to Taoist Tai Chi, beyond the physical changes to the body?
A: The benefits of Taoist Tai Chi extend beyond the physical benefits mentioned above. Concentration and recall are practiced to learn the sequence of the set's 108 movements. Through this concentration, the mind is freed of many life concerns and worries. I've witnessed people's moods improve with a set of tai chi, and in terms of ongoing depression, there are benefits. Also, an added bonus is the contact with other people who are focused on improving their health. The Taoist Tai Chi Society is a social group of members who help each other. There is a noted benefit of doing Tai Chi together, a connectedness, not just in joints and limbs, but also in people sharing with people. The calmness and serenity you see on the faces of people who’ve just finished a set of tai chi speaks volumes.

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