Have you ever wondered just what the group of people are doing as they stand quietly in the corner of a park or open space and oh-so-slowly move their limbs, one-by-one in a gently, circling motion. The whole image is one of balance and serenity.
The likelihood is they are taking part in the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi and, with a growing body of evidence in favour of the activity, it seems they are on to something when it comes to healthy living.
ëTai Chi helps promote inner strength,í says Tai Chi expert Dr Paul Lam who is based at the University of Sydney in Australia. ëWhen you are doing Tai Chi, think of your body as a river; it appears calm and relaxed but has a strong current under the surface.í
No matter what your level of activity and fitness, Tai Chi is good for balance and fitness but if you happen to be recovering from injury or suffer arthritis or other muscular or joint pain, then new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that Tai Chi is an activity that can really help reduce pain and stiffness.
Just what is Tai Chi? Is there rhyme or reason for those somewhat hypnotic movements that seem to have sent the participant into a deep trance?
Well, it is an activity that has stood the test of time. The martial art was first performed in China in the 13th century, and the deep breathing, relaxation and slow movements are not so far removed from those of 800 years ago. Tai Chi, then and now, comprises graceful, expansive, continuous movements that are actually a series of poses flowing from one body part to another.
There are a number of variations within Tai Chi, these include Yang ñ the oldest Tai Chi style, and Chen, a vigorous form of the martial art that really stretches even the fittest and most athletic.
While Tai Chi has been enthusiastically adopted in Western countries, it is very much an activity with ancient Chinese roots. In Chinese medicine, Chi is known as the flow of health and vitality through the body. If your Chi encounters a blockage, then it is weakened. Tai Chi is a way to improving and strengthening your Chi.
Here are two examples of warm-up activities:
Mobilising the upper body
Stand or sit, with feet shoulder distance apart. Relax your neck and let your chin drop naturally towards your chest. Slowly raise both arms until they are fully extended in front of you. Turn your hands so palms are upwards and pull your hands slowly to your chest. Hold for a second, then push your hands back to full extension. Repeat this. When pulling and pushing, hold your muscle tension so there is a slight resistance to the move.
Stretching the lower body
Raise your hands so they are extended in front of you. Now slowly lower your arms and step forward with one leg and place your heel on the floor. As you raise your arms again, move the same foot backwards as far as you can behind you. Touch your toe to the floor. Repeat this movement a few times, reaching your foot further in front and behind you. Repeat this exercise on the other side of your body.
The beauty of Tai Chi
†The beauty of Tai Chi is that it can be done just about anywhere ñ in the gym,†maybe there is an area in your house that you use as a home gym with a personal trainer, or in a quiet outdoor space as a home gym. It is also an activity that needs little specific kit or clothing. Comfortable clothes that allow you to move freely are perfect, and it is a good idea to wear layers so you can remove clothes when you get warm. Whether you are a healthy athlete or sports person or someone coming back to exercise after illness, injury or just time away, Tai Chi is a great way to de-stress and find balance in your body.