Tai Chi for Arthritis
Everyone needs muscle strength, but you do not have to go to great lengths in the gym, lifting weights, working with machines to achieve muscle strength. The main reason muscle strength is needed, is because it is very important for supporting and protecting the joints. It is needed for normal physical functioning.
Flexibility is also needed for ease of movement, circulation of the fluids of the body and blood, both of which promote healing. Fitness is needed for the proper functioning of your heart, lungs as well as your muscles. Tai Chi can make this happen. What is amazing is people can do that tai chi at any age. Reasons why more that 2.3 million Americans practice tai chi is listed below.
- to obtain benefits associated with low-impact, weight-bearing, aerobic exercise:
- to improve physical condition, muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility;
- to improve balance and decrease the risk of falls;
- to ease pain and stiffness;
- to improve sleep; and
- for overall wellness.
Harvard Medical School referred to tai chi as “meditation in motion”, as it is also helpful for reducing stress, hypertension, sleep problems, low bone density, and stroke. Tai Chi is especially suitable for adults since the level of exertion is adjustable according to the individual’s ability. When an exercise can be done easily, without pushing to achieve the completion of the program, there is a better chance the individual will continue to persevere. Once one level has been reached, then they can step up to another level, totally at their own pace. Tai Chi becomes for many, a lifetime journey.
- Muscle strength is important for supporting and protecting joints. It is essential for normal physical function.
- Flexibility exercises enable people to move more easily. Flexibility also facilitates the circulation of body fluid and blood, which enhances healing. Many arthritic conditions such as fibromyalgia, scleroderma and spondylitis are characterized by joint stiffness and impaired physical function. Tai chi gently frees up stiff joints and muscles.
- Fitness is important for overall health and proper functioning of the heart, lungs and muscles. Tai Chi for Arthritis can improve all of these components.
As stated, it helps to relieve pain and reduce stress. Some of this is because it is a mind-body exercise. Tai Chi brings about a sense of serenity and relaxation of the mind and it is in this manner, it helps to reduce the pain and stress of the individual.
One of the most significant and positive results of the Tai Chi for Arthritis program is because as an individual becomes more flexible, they are less prone to falling. The hip and knee joints are not only stronger, but also more flexible. This comes about through simple and gentle movements done on a regular basis. It was found that those who practice the art of tai chi are less likely to drop out compared to other forms of exercise.
What happens in a Tai Chi class:
The movements of tai chi are full of symbolism and this engages the mind with the movement. The whole body is involved with each movement, whether the movement is focused on the hands, or the arms. As one leg bends, the other stretches, with the hips as the driving force of the motion. It starts on one side of the body and switched to the other side. The arms rotate at the shoulder, not only to encourage the arm to stretch out, but to strengthen the shoulder muscles.
Individual movements may only last two minutes or more and within an hour-long class, up to 20 movements may be incorporated. The movements can be learned in sets, they do not have to be learned all at once. Gradually the individual can add more movements to the whole set.
Cate Morrill, a certified tai chi instructor tells WebMD that if at all possible, people should take it as a class. A special camaraderie develops among the individuals in a class. There is a automatic support group present, a cheering section, and friendships develop. According to legend, “if you meditate and do tai chi 100 days in a row, you gain back eight years of youth,” says Morrill.
The flexibility that develops in the class, follows the individual throughout their daily lives, in their cleaning the house, working in the yard, getting in and out of the bathtub, to mention a few.
“There’s logic in how tai chi works,” Parag Sheth MD of the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York says. “Tai chi emphasizes rotary movements — turning the body from side to side, working muscles that they don’t use when walking, building muscle groups they are not used to using. If they have some strength in those support muscles – the rotators in the hip — that can help prevent a fall.”
The Benefits of Tai Chi for Health
In the book The Root of Chinese Chi Kung, Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming states, “Chi Kung is the science of cultivating the body’s internal energy”… “The correct definition of Chi Kung is any training or study dealing with Chi which takes a long time and a lot of effort.” Chi Kung also spelled as Qigong, has a long history with many variations. A student of Qigong should study more than one, to get a more rounded knowledge. Some lean more toward martial arts and others toward healing. That is the form to be discussed here.
Douglas Chung, Phd., in his book Qigong Therapies, explains how qigong is the integration of mind, body, and spirit. He says for healing; the body is relaxed, the mind is calm and the ego is set aside, so the individual can give full attention to the conscious self for holistic healing. Dr. Chung states, “Self-acceptance is the key and the starting point of energy and life transformation. If you cannot acknowledge and accept your weaknesses and limitations, you cannot accept your self and improve your self.”
He lists six major Qigong strategies:
1. Internalization… that includes energy internalization, energy management.
2. Body Posture… relaxation is critical. Various postures enhance the free flow of energy throughout the body.
3. Breathing… there are different breathing methods. Abdominal breathing is the most efficient and must be learned by most people.
4. Mental reframing… know your real self, believe in yourself, affirm yourself.
5. Spiritual Adjustment… this is an awareness of yourself–in the present moment… “your body, energy within and without, and on the flow of energy in whatever you do.”
6. Integration of mind, body, and spirit… where the body is relaxed, the mind is calm, and the ego is set aside.
By incorporating the breathing and relaxation practices of Qigong, you are developing preventative, therapeutic measures to cleanse your mind force energy and change your attitude toward life. The body has its own natural defenses toward disease, but it has to be maintained and kept strong. The immune system is weakened through stress and bad diet, bad habits. Qigong tries to undo the damage and restore what was lost. One good result is lower blood pressure through the use of breathing to control stress.
There is a formula for seeking Qi. It includes: Practice + Intention = Inner Harmony = Qi Flow = Health and Longevity. You must also believe. Often we start things with good intentions, but in the back of our mind… we harbor doubts about being able to accomplish our goals.
For success when practicing Qigong, one has to be in the present moment. This means our minds must be clear and ready to receive the Qi. You cannot let outside distractions interfere such as worries, the television or any other external happenings. Your body must be relaxed, yet not in a sloppy way. There are various postures that are commonly used when practicing Qigong. Some are standing and others are moving. So you may begin to try and experience the benefits of Qigong, several postures will be described.
A common standing posture is as follows. Position your feet; a little more than shoulder width apart and bend your knees slightly. Make sure the knees do not extend beyond the tip of your toes. Tilt your pelvis under just a bit. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, bring your hands out in front about heart height, rounded, as if you are holding a large beach ball. Your elbows will be lower then your hands. Your head is straight and relaxed, not tilting forward or backward.
In this position, you start to take deep abdominal breaths. Inhaling and then exhaling slowly, letting your exhale become longer than your inhale so you can remove any stale air in your lungs.
The hard part comes now for most people. Your mind is to become quiet, without any intrusive thoughts. This is not easy to do. At first you will be bombarded with thoughts. Let them come and just keep on moving. Do not acknowledge their presence or get upset over them. That is when the thoughts gain control of your mind. Over time you will learn to let them come and go without any reaction on your part. Just concentrate on your breathing.
We live in a very noisy world. I found some comments by Janet Luhrs, of the Simplicity Movement, about how to bring quietness into your life.
**Start the day with silence… stretch, read an inspirational message, before the coffee and news.
**Eat at a table without TV or reading… mindful eating is very beneficial.
**Drive in Silence… keeps us alert and more receptive to our own thoughts.
**Create a silence retreat at home… one evening a week, no TV, no phone and no talking.
**Practice silent exercise… no iPod, video, or other media, hopefully outdoors. Silence helps you pay attention to your body.
There are many moving postures. The three I will describe are part of a group of Qigong exercises put out on a CD by the National Qigong Association, called the Five Treasures. They also have a video you can see at this link.
Shaking the tree:
This is a good warm up movement, especially at the beginning of your day. It would also fit in during the middle of the day, when you start to get bogged down. Stand comfortably with your feet, a shoulder width apart, and start to gently shake your whole body. Let your spine and all joints are loose as you move and shake to awaken your inner Qi.
Again with your feet a shoulder width apart, bring your hands in front of you, almost touching. Next, while inhaling, open your arms out to the side with your palms facing up. On your exhale, lower your hands down in front of you once more and end in a squatting position. Watch that your knees do not go beyond your toes.
As you continue, each time you raise your hands out to the side, reach higher, like the growing swell of a wave. When you are coming to an end, let the reach of your hands become lower, again imitating the wave as it reaches the shore.
Draw down Qi:
With feet shoulder width apart, arms and hands in front, inhale and raise your arms our and over your head. Exhale, and bring the Qi down into your body as you bring your hands down in front of your body and letting it return to the earth as you bend your knees slightly. Once again rise and lift up your arms above your head as you inhale, repeating the cycle. Remember to keep your spine relatively straight, do not slouch, and your shoulders relaxed as you raise and lower your arms.
When doing any Qigong exercises, be aware of all changes in your body and thoughts. Listen to what your body is telling you at all times of the day. Your posture, your attitude, the stress in your life all affects your health. Practicing Qigong brings balance within, quietness to your mind and your spirit. You will develop an awareness of both yourself and the world around you that will be able to guide you as you move through life. Gaining control of your mind, being able stabilize stressful moments by deep breathing, better overall health are the end product of a daily Qigong practice.
Jwing-Ming, Dr. Yang. The Root of Chinese Chi Kung. Jamaica Plain, MA YMAA Publication Center 1989
Chung, Douglas K.. Qigong Therapies: A Self-Care Approach. Grand Rapids, MI: Chung Institute. 2000