Fit For The Adventure - Tai Chi - The Gentle Art Of Exercise

By Carol Baird Krul

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Ideas about healthy eating have changed over the years and so to have ideas about exercise. Today, those in the 50-plus range tend to choose exercises for the mind, body and soul. Different from a generation ago, when heart pumping aerobic exercise was considered the only way to get and stay healthy, today's approach is more about balance.

How a person decides to exercise is dependant on the individual - some prefer vigorous workouts, others like a more gentle activity. But whatever forms their exercise takes, options abound: walking, yoga, swimming, dancing and circuit training are just a few of the choices available today.

An increasingly popular form of exercise is tai chi. Collectively called "wushu," tai chi is no longer used for self-defence, but rather as an exercise program or a complement to health care. While there may appear to be a confusing number of variations and names connected with tai chi, all come from the same ancient form originally developed in China over 2,000 years ago. Often described as a "ballet," "poetry in motion" or "shadow boxing," this graceful form of exercise has excellent health benefits, especially for older adults. Health benefits include stress reduction, better balance and increased flexibility.

According to long-time Taoist tai chi practitioner, Fia Cousineau, all moves involve spine stretching and each move starts from the feet up. During what is called a Set, practitioners perform a defined series of movements in a slow manner and each posture flows into the next without pause. Initially, in beginner tai chi lessons, the goal is simply to learn the moves and make the mind-body connection. The challenge for most beginners, according to instructor Barb Howardson, is to do the moves slowly and smoothly. As a student progresses, a tai chi class becomes more meditative and group synergy more apparent.

And what are the health benefits of this ancient type of exercise? Various studies have shown that for older adults all forms of tai chi can definitely improve balance, flexibility and reduce the risk of falls. The movements are low impact and so put minimal stress on joints, while increasing muscle strength. For these same reasons, if someone has a condition such as arthritis, MS or is recovering from an injury, special Health Recovery tai chi classes can be helpful. Classes are often mixed both in age and gender. And getting out into the community and interacting with people of various ages does wonders for a person's state of mind.

Confucius said centuries ago that, "the firm, the enduring, the simple and the modest are near to virtue." Tai Chi's fundamental principles and poetic movements reflect this ancient Chinese wisdom through its gentle dance of mind, body and soul, and with that dance a sure way to a long and healthy life.

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