Investment Executive - - FRONT PAGE - BY JADE HEMEON

This gen­tle ex­er­cise has many ben­e­fits.

tai chi is an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar sys­tem of gen­tle ex­er­cises that’s cred­ited with a host of health ben­e­fits. Bar­bara Tay­lor can at­test to its power. She be­gan prac­tis­ing tai chi 23 years ago at age 50, when she re­al­ized she was los­ing flex­i­bil­ity and was seek­ing re­lief from stress in both her per­sonal life and work.

“I can say, with­out a doubt, that now at age 73, I am more flex­i­ble, men­tally and phys­i­cally, than when I be­gan,” says Tay­lor, who is head of the Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi So­ci­ety’s Toronto chap­ter. “I have more stamina, and feel young and vi­brant. [Tai chi] has helped me man­age my blood pres­sure with­out the use of drugs.”

Tai chi is a highly chore­ographed se­ries of de­lib­er­ate, flow­ing move­ments that com­bines a se­quence of pos­tures and gen­tle move­ments with men­tal fo­cus. It is a cen­turiesold prac­tice orig­i­nat­ing in China that re­quires no heavy ex­er­tion, high-in­ten­sity aer­o­bics or speed. Prac­tised reg­u­larly, tai chi im­proves bal­ance, mus­cle strength, cir­cu­la­tion, range of mo­tion and flex­i­bil­ity. Per­form­ing tai chi has helped peo­ple with a va­ri­ety of ail­ments, in­clud­ing Parkin­son’s dis­ease, Alzheimer’s dis­ease, fi­bromyal­gia and heart dis­ease. Tai chi im­proves im­mu­nity, aids re­lax­ation and eases mood dis­or­ders such as anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and post-trau­matic stress.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of tai chi’s ben­e­fits have been cor­rob­o­rated by re­search, in­clud­ing sev­eral stud­ies done jointly by Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal and Har­vard Med­i­cal School, as well as re­search by the U.S. Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health.

There are sev­eral forms of tai chi, and al­though the style may vary, all share com­mon prin­ci­ples of in­te­grat­ing men­tal con­cen­tra­tion with a se­ries of body pos­tures, each flow­ing in con­tin­u­ous mo­tion to the next move and stim­u­lat­ing the flow of qi (a.k.a. ch’i), the life en­ergy through­out the body. Peo­ple of any age or fit­ness level can per­form tai chi in some form.

“Tai chi is the most gen­tle, bal­anced and com­plete full­body and mind ex­er­cise,” says Jus­tine Vo, acupunc­tur­ist, os­teopath, di­eti­tian and owner of CHR Health Clinic Inc. in Oakville, Ont. “It im­proves phys­i­cal and men­tal health; it in­creases the flow of en­ergy, oxy­gen, blood and other flu­ids through­out the body with slow, sym­met­ri­cal move­ments. Tai chi helps re­lax the mind and clear the spirit in a man­ner sim­i­lar to med­i­ta­tion.”

Tai chi works dif­fer­ently from other forms of ex­er­cise, which can be more stren­u­ous and in­volve l ong hold­ing po­si­tions, ex­treme stretch­ing, repet­i­tive move­ments or fo­cus­ing on only cer­tain parts of the body, Vo says. If mus­cles and soft tis­sues have been in­jured, she says, more stren­u­ous ac­tiv­i­ties can ag­gra­vate in­juries fur­ther, re­sult­ing in chronic con­di­tions.

“When ev­ery­thing flows flu­idly, all parts of the body are able to re­pair, re­build and strengthen,” Vo says. “Hence, phys­i­cal and men­tal ail­ments will im­prove.”

Tai chi in­volves a full range of mo­tion, in­clud­ing turn­ing of the hips and spine and ex­tend­ing the arms and legs. Even fingers are in­volved in the moves.

The se­quence of 108 moves in­volved in Taoist tai chi were de­vel­oped by a Taoist monk, Mas­ter Moy Lin Shin, based on tech­niques de­vel­oped and passed on through thou­sands of years in China. Af­ter many years of train­ing in China, he brought his meth­ods to Toronto in the 1970s and the or­ga­ni­za­tion he launched has since ex­panded to 26 coun­tries. Classes in var­i­ous forms of tai chi are avail­able at com­mu­nity cen­tres, re­tire­ment homes and fit­ness clubs.

Tay­lor says she can do things now that she couldn’t at 50, such as gar­den­ing all day, lift­ing heavy things and sit­ting cross-legged.

“My pos­ture has changed and be­come more up­right,” she says. “When I worked, I suf­fered the ef­fects of sit­ting all day at a desk, but tai chi has coun­ter­acted that.”

Tim But­ler, 81, dis­cov­ered tai chi six years ago through a class of­fered at a lo­cal shop­ping mall in Toronto. He had been ex­peri- enc­ing lower back pain and re­ceiv­ing chi­ro­prac­tic ad­just­ments reg­u­larly for five years. Soon af­ter he be­gan per­form­ing tai chi, his back im­proved and he gave up the chi­ro­prac­tor.

“I hoped tai chi would loosen up my back — and it did, but it did a lot more than that,” says But­ler. “I’m more fo­cused, I feel stronger and I have bet­ter bal­ance and pos­ture.”

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