Long-term study and practice of Tai Chi Chuan is the answer to past insurmountable issues for a lot of people. These issues can include blood-sugar issues, hormonal issues, stress management, arthritis stiffness, and poor balance. But is Tai Chi Chuan any better for your well being and health than aerobics, boxing, weightlifting, or walking?

Long time practitioner of the healing arts and veteran instructors of the martial arts will say, yes! Various other types of exercises are great, and can help address a wide range of conditions. However, in regard to tai chi, there are certain aspects to this practice that set it apart from all the others.

First and foremost, the major health benefits that tai chi offers cannot be duplicated by the other forms of exercise. These include:

• Weight-bearing exercise that can help prevent osteoporosis
• Self defense
• Increased circulation brought about by internal-organ massage, breathing patterns and movements that are indispensable to tai chi practice
• Gradual leg and hip muscle development, essential for restoring and/or maintaining mobility in seniors or in a sedentary lifestyle
• Development of core strength, essential for the health of the spinal
• Beneficial controlled joint manipulation. Slowly helps in regaining mobility of arthritic, stiff joints
• Daily boost of energy, enhanced by improved muscle tone, improved circulation, and increased oxygenation
• Improved coordination and balance, developed with your feet on the ground
• Aerobic fitness, more so when performed at combat speed (tai chi is not necessarily soft or slow)

Tai Chi Chuan is a form of self-defense and it literally means “grand ultimate fist”, mirroring its origins as an extremely effective form of martial art. The movements are necessarily performed with better energy and more correctly when combat uses of this art are learned as part of the form. This endows the practitioner with all the health benefits that tai chi has to offer. The practitioner won’t be able to attain all the benefits that lie richly within the cultivation of energy and skill in practice without knowing what the moves are supposed to do.

The Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail movement, for example, is a move that’s used in many of the styles of tai chi. This form can actually either block a punch or break an opponent’s arm. It can also throw an opponent off balance, knock the wind out of an opponent, or even break the opponent’s ribs. If you think this movement is just to make you fast enough to grasp a bird’s tail, it’s actually more than that. If you’re attempting to knock down a 250 pound opponent or pull him in for a head-on collision with your strike in order to avoid being grievously harmed, you might need to master this movement which quickens and strengthens your legs and hips enough to help you catch and grasp a bird’s tail!

So rather than providing only a couple of aspects of exercise, tai chi offers all by itself more than all other forms of exercise combined, and enables the involvement of your entire spirit, mind, and body.

Secondly, you can derive additional benefits from Tai Chi Chuan than from any other workout or sports programs available. As we grow old, many of us may not anymore be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, perform impossible acrobatic feats, or engage in full-contact martial arts with a 300-pound, 6 foot four bouncer. These things require outer strength – that is pliable strong bones, fascia, and muscles. In short, robust youth! However, inner strength is another thing. It can be developed by anyone, even centenarians, and can help maintain the ability of young athletes to take punches from a tall strong bouncer and be able to leap taller buildings, etc. In practical life, this means if you’re in a car accident or if you fall, if you’ve been practicing tai chi virtually every day, the likelihood of escaping with very few injuries can be quite high. If you’re a young athlete, your technique and skill can be significantly honed by cultivating your internal as well as external strength. Golfers swear by tai chi. It maintains the function of your internal organs longer making them work better and more efficiently. Tai chi benefits your brain which is something we can all use more of! Along with just sitting still or with heavy exercise, tai chi can help you cultivate a strong and unwavering fortitude. It includes a form of moving meditative qigong that offers the best of both worlds. The practice’s focus and level can be easily modified to suit the practitioner’s limitations and needs. It also provides a depth of study and a platform for the healing arts appropriate for people on a warrior-scholar path.

So – is tai chi just another slow elegant choreography? I think not! It can provide people with a unique variety of health benefits. Whether you’re into fun, exercise, martial arts, breath work, or gentle movement, Tai Chi Chuan, correctly taught, can offer a wealth of wellness for your spirit, mind, and body, now and till the day you die.

Cindy Chamberlain is a licensed acupuncturist of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC in Overland Park, KS.