Tai Chi, QiGong and Stroke
By Chris DeWald
Tai chi, pronounced "tie chee," is a mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art. A person practicing tai chi moves their body slowly and gently, while breathing deeply and meditating (tai chi is sometimes called "moving meditation"). Many practitioners believe that tai chi helps the flow throughout the body of a vital energy called qi. In traditional Chinese medicine, the vital energy or life force regulates a person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health and is influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang. In the United States, tai chi for health purposes is part of complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM.
Tai chi developed in China in about the 12th century A.D. It started as a martial art, or a practice for fighting or self-defense, usually without weapons. Over time, people began to use tai chi for health purposes. Many different styles of tai chi, and variations of each style, developed. The term "tai chi" has been translated in various ways, such as "internal martial art," "supreme ultimate boxing," "boundless fist," and "balance of the opposing forces of nature."
People practice tai chi for various health purposes. For example:
• It is a low-impact form of exercise
• It is a weight bearing exercise that can have certain health benefits
• It is an aerobic exercise.
• To improve physical condition, muscle strength, coordination and flexibility
• To improve balance to lower risk of falls
• To ease pain and stiffness, for example from arthritis
• To improve sleep
• For overall wellness
Side Effects and Risks
Tai chi is a relatively safe practice. However, there are some cautions.
• Tell your health care provider if you are considering learning tai chi for health purposes, especially if you have a health condition for which you are being treated, if you have not exercised in a while, or if you are elderly.
• If you do not position your body properly in tai chi or if you overdo practice, you may get sore muscles or sprains.
• Tai chi instructors often recommend that people not practice tai chi right after they eat, or when they are very tired, or when they have an active infection.
• Use caution if you have any of the conditions listed below, as your health care provider should advise you whether to modify or avoid certain postures in tai chi:
Joint problems, back pain, sprains, a fracture, or severe osteoporosis
• A CAM approach should not be used to replace conventional medical care or to delay seeking that care.
Qigong is an important part of Chinese Medicine. It is a combination of gentle, healing exercises. Qi can be translated as “breath”, “energy”, “vital life force” and gong means the art of cultivation of a skill through practice. Qigong combines movement and meditation. There are many forms of qigong, going back thousands of years. It is very similar to the more familiar Tai Chi.
According to The Qigong Institute “It is believed that regular practice of Qigong helps to cleanse the body of toxins, restore energy, reduce stress and anxiety, and help individuals maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. Although there is not yet an instrument that can measure the strength of Qi and that we may not fully know what Qi is physically, research has shown that external Qi of a Qigong master could produce significant structural changes in water and aqueous solutions, alter the phase behavior of dipalmitoyl phosphatidyl choline (DPPC) liposomes, and enable the growth of Fab protein crystals (Yan et al. 1999). It has been said that Qigong is one of the most powerful healing traditions ever developed in human history. It is literally a health wonder of the world.”
Studies are being conducted which show the health benefits of qigong and Tai Chi. These include improved strength, balance, flexibility, and range of motion. They are considered aerobic exercises of moderate intensity. Studies indicate that it can be beneficial for arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and other health conditions.
Five Animal Frolics Qigong
What can we learn from animals? A lot! Animals live in the moment and react appropriately to their environment. They respond to threats by the well-known “flight or fight” response. As humans we tend to let stresses of everyday life - jobs, bosses, money, traffic, kids - weigh us down. There are many ways to appropriately deal with stress: exercise, talking, writing, creating art, or meditation. Qigong is another way.
Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise that combines breath, intention, pose, and movement. It was created for health practices to build qi. Qi is difficult to define, but it is often regarded as our life force or energy. When we increase our qi, we have more life and vitality. Qigong can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve balance and flexibility, and integrate our minds, bodies, and spirits to achieve harmony. The Five Animal Frolics is a form of qigong which includes exercises inspired by animals: the bear, deer, monkey, tiger, and crane.
What can these animals teach us?
The bear: Get your rest! The bear is slow and lumbering and hibernates in winter. He allows himself to rejuvenate so he can go out into the world refreshed. The bear qigong exercises can help us access our stored energy reserves and strengthen our legs and bones.
The deer: Run and bound! The deer is tall, proud and graceful. He is also alert and runs from threats. We should not react to stresses in our lives by trying to suppress them. We need to release them through exercise such as running, jumping, walking, martial arts, or qigong. The deer exercises help us to maintain free flow of our energy despite worries and help us to keep tendons and ligaments flexible.
The monkey: Make time for play!! The monkey is quick and fun-loving. The monkey exercises can help blood circulation, agility, and balance.
The tiger: Have patience!! The tiger is a solitary and patient hunter. It takes time to find the perfect position to pounce. He tenses up his muscles to catch prey or when there is a threat, but then when he rests, he becomes totally relaxed. His muscles, like those of a pet cat, are soft and supple. Tiger exercises can help promote strong healthy muscles and improve digestion.
The crane: Fly high and let go! The crane is light and graceful. If we want to fly like the bird, we need to spread our wings and let go of old baggage. Crane exercises help develop the lungs, improve balance, and help the spine.
All the animals represent a different energy in Chinese Medicine and by doing each of the exercises, they can help us develop each of the energies and transition from one to the next to bring about balance and harmony.
Who can do Five Animal Frolics Qigong? People of all ages and abilities. If necessary, the exercises can be tailored to individuals based upon needs and limitations. All the exercises are gentle movements: some standing with some upper body movements combined with breathing techniques and some also include walking.
Now all this being said, I returned to the Virginia Harmony Acupuncture Centercenter and met with Christie Savage (LAc., Dipl.Ac ). May’s article had Christie Savage showing us Chinese Acupuncture. She also instructs methods and styles of Qigong. I told Ms. Savage that many of us are restricted to chairs or rollators due to the lack of balance and muscle control of strokes. She explained that Qigong is very adaptable and styled a program starter for us.
Please show this video to your doctor before doing the following and always ask them if any exercises are prohibitive due to your condition. This video is of me being instructed by Ms. Savage. I have been doing this for a month now and I feel a difference. Matter of fact, there shall be another video of me completed a month later on another exercise we all can do. There is a remarkable change.
For those who like Oprah and Dr.Oz, here’s a link to their understanding of Tai Chi and Qigong…..
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