Tai Chi also commonly referred to as ‘meditation in motion’ is a form of martial art first used in ancient China as a way of self-defense. Chi is a Chinese word meaning life force or life energy so typically, tai chi is an exercise meant to make positive energy flow through someone. This exercise involves both body and mind to enhance fitness, remain healthy, and feel relaxed. In short, Tai Chi focuses on improving the overall wellness of the human body system.
Fundamentally, Tai Chi exercises entail slow, gentle, and relaxed mostly circular movements that progress seamlessly from one to the other. As this happens, the physical body is kept in motion with a focus on deep natural breathing and a full attention to one’s body. This is why senior Tai Chi exercises are the safest and most effective. Tai Chi has been confirmed to reduce the risk of falling in seniors by 43% because it helps improve their balance to maintain the right posture.
Why is Tai Chi ideal for the elderly?
- Tai Chi involves slow relaxed body motions with deep natural tireless breaths. This makes it a safe exercise for seniors.
- It is the simplest way for a senior to keep fit regularly. Ultimately, their health and quality of life are improved.
- Tai Chi exercises are best done in a group setting. This helps them remain social rather than isolated and miserable as is common in old age.
- It is the remedy for most of the problems suffered in an advanced age like Alzheimer’s.
- Starting Tai Chi is not an expensive affair. You may only need yourself, comfortable outfit, a little cash to go into instructor-led training, and the resolve to make it work for you.
- Tai Chi can be practiced on the bed, chair, wheelchair, or while standing. This makes it a good option even for those with mobility limitations.
How does tai chi benefit the elderly?
Research has confirmed that seniors who followed a Tai Chi program consistently through 12 weeks, 2 or 3 times every week, felt stronger and more fit even though this exercise didn’t make them feel exhausted or out of breath. Certainly, this is the whole idea behind Tai Chi and its benefits go well beyond the physical to enhance the mental state of a person. Here are valuable Tai Chi for seniors benefits.
- Helps improve body balance by giving one a feel of their body in a space hence reducing the risk of falls and ultimately injuries.
- Enhances self-defense skills
- Builds muscle strength in the legs and the lower body
- Enhances one’s flexibility
- Enhances deep breathing
- Increased mental capacity and better concentration
- Helps reduce or manage weight the proper way
- Increased energy release
- Lowers stress, anxiety, and depression
- Increased social interactions and positivity
- Eases arthritis and joint pain
- Quick recovery from heart attacks and stroke
- Lowers blood pressure
- Better management and fast improvement of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple Sclerosis conditions
- Fast recovery from fractures, complications of the joints, back pain, and osteoporosis
- Reduces bone loss associated with menopause in women
Getting started with Tai Chi
To get started with Tai Chi you may first have to consider how you want to learn and carry out your daily routine. Some people prefer doing it alone in the comfort of their homes while others like enrolling in classes.
Group setting versus learning at home
There are numerous Tai Chi for seniors resources both online and offline. However, most people prefer learning in a group setting because:
- Group setting makes one more motivated, disciplined, and accountable.
- In case of any falls or injury, one can get faster assistance from the other students and the instructor.
- It takes a shorter time and it is much easier to learn from an instructor than on your own.
On the other hand, it may not be possible for you to get a Tai Chi class in your area. For this reason, you can explore resources such as:
- YouTube for instructional videos, live recordings, and different Tai Chi programs that you can adapt to your daily routine
- Read articles, information, and books available on the internet
- Look for programs on DVD for sale online through Amazon or in your local stores
What do you need?
It is important to note that Tai Chi has its own specific equipment like broadswords, spears and long poles. However, hold off their purchase until later when you have mastered the form. The following is all you need for a comfortable work out.
- Comfortable shoes. You may opt for all-cloth slippers if you have chosen to go it alone at the comfort of your home, the low profile athletic shoe designed for the outdoors, or the hybrid cloth-shoe lined with rubber soles. The ordinary shoes are likely to strain your knees and ankles during your workout so avoid them by all means.
- Comfortable loose clothing. Bear in mind that tight-fitting clothes will limit your movements and make you rather uncomfortable. Tai Chi is all about relaxation and slow motions and the clothes you wear contribute a great deal to this. If possible go for Tai Chi pants or robes, otherwise, loose-fitting clothes will make a good option.
Tai Chi exercises
The simplest form of Tai Chi for seniors exercise involves as little as 12 combinations of movements while the most complex ones may go up to 100 movements. All the same, the core concept of this exercise involves:
- Gentle circular body movements
- One movement flowing into the next seamlessly
- The body being in motion all the while
- Natural deep breaths
- Focus on one’s body
Tai Chi programs
Tai Chi for arthritis
Arthritis refers to a group of conditions affecting the joints including stiffness, pain, inflammation, redness, deformity, tenderness, as well as a loss of normal joint function and fatigue. This program is intended to ease the pain associated with arthritis ultimately improving one’s quality of life. Again, this program is not just ideal for arthritis patients it is also an excellent starting point for beginners. This is because it is gentle and easy. Secondly, it enhances muscle strength, overall fitness, and flexibility. It also enhances a good posture, relaxation, and boosts immunity.
The fundamental Tai Chi for arthritis programs includes several different forms but starts with the knowledge of the basic steps.
- Tai Chi stepping. This form is a tremendous leg strength and body balance enhancer. It starts with the Tai Chi stance, in which you stand with your feet together then tilt your right foot outward to about 45o with your weight on it. Next, bend your left knee as you raise the same foot off the ground slowly. Again move your left foot a little in front of you and touch the ground with your weight still maintained on the back (left) foot. Now transfer your weight slowly from the back foot towards the front foot and stop in the middle.
Tai Chi for osteoporosis
One medically proven benefit of Tai Chi is that it significantly reduces the risk of falls in seniors. In addition, it also slows down the degeneration of bones for osteoporosis patients as was discovered in a study by the Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Tai Chi Program for Osteoporosis aims at enhancing the ability of the spine and knees in order to have better balance hence two helpful forms include the knee rolls and closing stance.
- Carry the cauldron. Sometimes what one needs is some strength on the knees in order to improve body balance. Stand with your feet apart but slightly beyond the width of your shoulder. Bring your hands forward and let them hang down loosely. Now start lowering your body along with your hands until your hands are slightly past your knees down. Raise your hands and stretch your knees straight as if lifting a load off the ground. Rise again to the stance you had assumed when starting and repeat the exercise at least ten times over.
- Knee rolls. With your feet standing apart, bend your knees a little and bring your hands to each of your knees letting your fingers to face each other. Move your knees in a circular direction i.e. from left, back, right, and then to the front a few times. Repeat the same exercise in an anticlockwise direction.
- Golden rooster stands on one leg. Knees are an important element as far as balance and posture are concerned. It is common for excessive pressure on the joints to cause knee pain. In this exercise, stand and raise one leg up. This will make your knee bend. Take some time standing on one leg then place your raised leg to the ground slowly and then switch to the other. This is an excellent Tai Chi exercise for relieving pain in the knee joint.
Tai Chi for body pain
According to NIH Medline Plus research, pain affects up to 85% of the elderly population. Those who were involved in one-hour senior Tai Chi exercises twice a week for 12 weeks continuously experienced a significant reduction of pain-related symptoms in comparison to those who merely took part in wellness education and stretching programs.
Neck pain. Neck pain is usually a result of the tightening of muscles around the shoulders and the upper back. You, therefore, need Tai Chi forms which will make your shoulder flexible and your spine more relaxed eventually relieving the pain on your neck.
The Tai Chi windmill form is a great neck pain reliever. Stand with your feet apart and your hands hanging at your sides. Now lift your hands upward and forward to your belly as your fingers continue pointing to the ground. Start breathing in as you continue lifting your hands up as they remain in front of your body along with middle part of your body. While you do this, let your fingers slowly turn to point upwards and bend your spine a little. Now breathe out as you bend forward and gradually lower your hands back to the ground. Let your hands hang loosely as you bend your lower body at the level of your hips. Stretch gently until you feel relaxed then bring yourself to the starting point and do the exercise a few times over.
Secondly, you can also practice the Buddha asks heaven for forgiveness from. Like in the windmill form, start with your legs apart. However, in this exercise, you’ll place your palms together in front of your chest with your fingers pointing up as if you are praying. Now lower your hands while at the same time bending your knees. As you do this, separate your palms and let your hands hang to your side with open palms. In a flowing manner, raise your hands above your head with your palms facing down and your fingers facing each other. Stretch your hands up as you bring your palms together and lower them back to the front of your chest. Ten rounds of Buddha Asks Heaven for Forgiveness From is a great shoulder, spine, and muscle relaxer.
Back pain. Back pain is common among the elderly. It is the number one problem that disorients them making them less active thanks to the fear of further strain. It is a common misconception that seniors should engage less and less in activities because of how frail they become in their advanced years. However, gentler activities and senior Tai Chi exercises help them relax their back muscles while also boosting their muscle strength.
In the moving clouds exercise, stand straight with your arms stretched forward. Start by putting your right hand on top of the other hand and then gradually move them both to your left. Let your waist turn a bit with your hands to avoid hurting your back. Second, place your left hand on top of the left and gradually move them both to your right side. Repeat this at least ten times until you feel that your muscles are well stretched.
The salutation form is also a good exercise for easing the lower back pain. Step forward with one foot while pointing both of your feet in the forward direction, your hands hanging loosely at your side, and your knees gently bent. Now breathe in as you slowly lift your hands (and your fingers) straight over your head. Now breathe out and slowly bring yourself to the stance you had assumed at the very beginning.
Tai Chi self-protection program
Tai Chi was originally intended for self-protection before it was considered suitable for health. However, as one Tai Chi master rightly stated, “everybody wants to be healthy, only some people want to learn how to fight”. Basic self-defense forms include 4 techniques from which all the others are drawn. These techniques point to the direction of energy.
- Ward off. An attack or defensive technique that directs energy up. If your opponent attacks your arms or limbs, you ward off with either your arms or legs creating a barrier which, if strong enough, will cause the punch to bounce back.
- Rollback Directs energy back. This technique involves small circular movements that let you give in a little in order to counter the force directed at you for your opponent to lose balance giving you an opportunity to attack. For instance, your enemy directs his full force towards your arm. You twist it in an instant and when he thought that this force will meet head-on with yours, it misses it causing him to lose his balance then you attack. Here it takes intelligence rather than strength to counter your attacker.
- Press forward. This is a front attack defense technique that directs energy forward. Draw all the energy from your feet, legs, torso, hips, and spine to the part (hand or foot) that is striking the opponent.
- Push downward. Directs energy down. For instance when you sit down with your palms on the surface then slowly lift your entire body up by exerting force down through your hands.
Tai Chi program for mental health
At least 40 studies have proved that Tai Chi has a positive impact on mental health both for the healthy individuals who practice it regularly and for those with chronic conditions affecting the brain. Tai Chi has been used widely to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety levels as well as to boost mood and enhance overall mental well being.
Most Tai Chi movements incorporate deep slow breaths. Deep breathing is an excellent stress and tension reliever. It relaxes your mind and ultimately the entire body. Rule of thumb is to harmonize your movements with your deep breaths. In addition, breathing exercises can be practiced on-demand away from Tai Chi sessions. Here is how to:
- With your tongue at the ceiling of your mouth, breathe in and out through your nostrils continuously without taking a break in between.
- Let your attention remain on your breathing and ensure that you breathe from your belly rather than your chest.
- As you continue, try to lose the tension in your muscles.
2. Swinging hands exercise
- Stand with your feet apart, your eyes shut, your hands hung loosely to your sides, and your body relaxed.
- Now breathe in and out through your nose as you open your eyes.
- Try smiling to relax your face muscles.
- Raise your hands to your shoulders with your palms opened then begin to swing them as you count the swings.
- At every fifth swing, bend your knees in a relaxed manner and lift them again to their natural stance.
- Continue for around 10 minutes then towards the end shut your eyes, breathe lightly, and then open your eyes.
3. Seated Tai Chi exercises
Some Tai Chi movements can be done while sitting down. This is good news for those who want to benefit from Tai Chi but are limited by age or chronic conditions. This is one of the many other moves that can be done while sitting on a chair.
4. Touch the sky
- Sit upright with your hands on your laps, your palms open upwards, and your fingers facing each other.
- Bringing your elbows slightly outwards, take a deep breath as you lift your hands to where your chest is.
- Now turn your palms outwards and raise them over your head.
- Breathe out slowly as you let your hands to your sides then put them back on your laps.
- Repeat this five to ten times.
5 Handy tips when practicing Tai Chi
- Keep doing it. The rule of thumb to doing this exercise is consistency. It’s already too relaxed and doesn’t demand much of your time or energy. This makes it a little easy to keep doing it and naturally at that.
- Give it your 70%. When in life we have always learned to give our all, our 100%, Tai Chi warns that this may increase the risk of injury. According to the Taoist tradition on which Tai Chi is entrenched, one should not perform beyond 70% of their capacity.
- It’s never too late to begin. You are never too old to learn Tai Chi. In fact, most people who began this exercise started at an average age of 50.
- Working with others gives you more discipline and accountability. For any form of exercise to benefit you, you must be disciplined enough to observe a regular routine. Joining a class rather than going it alone will help you be accountable and develop the consistency required to yield results.
- Keep Learning. You can’t possibly master the entire Tai Chi in one sitting. On the contrary, it might take you years. Learn something from time to time. After all, every little lesson learned will still be of great benefit to you.
There are very few disadvantages of Tai Chi if any. This explains why its popularity keeps increasing across the globe. While in this article we have majored on Tai Chi for seniors, just anyone can get involved and benefit immensely from its different forms. Tai Chi is easy to start because it doesn’t come with numerous demands. In addition, its movements are gentle and fluid making it a good option for seniors. That it comes with all-round benefits is another reason why even those with chronic conditions are turning to it as a remedy. However, it takes determination and persistence to see positive results. Look for a Tai Chi class in your local area enroll today. If not, get help from the widely available resources like DVDs, YouTube videos, and books.