At first the benefits will appear as improvements to your overall physical condition, strength and balance. Then over time further benefits will come such as:
More energy and vitality
Lower stress levels and the ability to stay calm under pressure
Significant improvements in overall health
Less joint pain and easier movement
Increased focus and mental performance
Improved self esteem and confidence
“A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for Tai Chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age,” (Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center.)
The health benefits of Tai Chi have been recognised for a long time. In an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine ( Tai chi: physiological characteristics and beneficial effects on health) the authors, J X Li, Y Hong, K M Chan reviewed 31 one studies into the effects of Tai Chi on health and concluded that Tai Chi “is a moderate intensity exercise that is beneficial to cardiorespiratory function, immune capacity, mental control, flexibility, and balance control; it improves muscle strength and reduces the risk of falls in the elderly.
The key to unlocking the benefits from Qi-gong and Tai Chi is to commit ones self to regular practise. Benefits are felt by doing it once a week but, they are far more significant if you practice 2 to 3 times a week especially over a number of years.
The things to think about are firstly, that it is pretty easy and straight forward to do and, secondly that over time the body will tend reflect what it does most. So if you practise Tai Chi and Qi-gong then it will lead to a significant effect on both mind and body.
The attention to knee alignment in standing and stepping strengthens the both sides of the knee and helps to offset imbalances in the leg muscles that are often the root cause of the knee problem in the first place. Also knee problems can be caused by a loss in flexibility in the hips which turn the leg outwards resulting in increased force going through the inside of the knee. Over a period of time this weakened the inside of the knee and can result in cartilage and meniscus problems in the knee. Medial science can repair the damage but if you do not correct the root cause (in hip) you will simply be going around in circles.
It is also worth noting that Qi-gong and Tai Chi are great for rehabilitation after a knee replacement operation by strengthening leg muscles, tendons and ligaments once the initial physio comes to and end.
Deep breathing techniques are one of the key skills we develop in the practice of Tai Chi and Qi-gong. Practicing deep breathing has been shown to have a significant impact on general wellbeing by reducing anxiety, increasing mental acuity as well as relaxing the body and mind at the same time.
Many students report to me of the improvements they have seen when they go for medical check-ups and have their blood pressure taken. One student used to measure it before and after each class and said he always saw a drop.
The leg and stepping work we do in both Qi-gong and Tai Chi leads to an improvement in leg strength and hip flexibility which greatly improves your balance. This means the chances of having a fall are significantly reduced. Other positive results include making it easier to climb and descending stairs as well as walking up a hill. Also, you will feel more relaxed and in control of all of your movement which makes living your day to day life easier.
When I began Tai Chi I had some serious back issues meaning I needed to see a chiropractor every 4 weeks otherwise I would be bed ridden. This was 20 years ago and I have not seen a chiropractor in almost 18 years now and I am not the only student for this to happen to. The overall body flexibility that Tai Chi and Qi-gong give you means your body moves in its proper alignment which reduces pressure on joints. This in turn removes imbalances in your physiology which can cause muscles (often in the back) to spasm out of control causing significant discomfort.
In the legs, we develop flexibility while under load (i.e. standing or stepping) this helps to release pressure on the sciatic nerve (sciatica) and stretches the muscles in pelvis and lower back. The loss of flexibility in the hip region means the legs and body lose the ability to work together when you move. This causes imbalances that the body has to deal with by some muscle groups over compensating for the imbalance. Over time these muscles develop deep fatigue and eventually have no choice but to go into spasm, which you then feel as you whole back locking up. The solution is to increase the hip flexibility so the lower half and upper half of the body can work together in alignment as a whole when you move, so there is no additional load on any one part of the body system and you achieve overall balance.
Our hands are one of our key links with our world. Losing dexterity and movement in your hands starts to slowly reduce your experience of your world. Thankfully, because of our roots in the crane martial arts system the Qi-gong and Tai Chi has a special focus on hand and forearm conditioning to develop both strength and flexibility. Essentially lost hand and finger flexibility comes from not properly exercising and stretching the muscles of hand, wrist and forearm in the correct way. Students always see a significant impact on their hand flexibility and strength.