TAI CHI - FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
By Frank Petrillo Jr.
This article was retyped from an article in Black Belt Magazine, Feb 2000 without permission.
I hope that Frank does not mind, but I felt that his article was a great explanation.
Since tai chi chuan was created, numerous claims have been made about its health benefits. The Chinese have believed them for years; That’s why they say a person who practices the art regularly and correctly will gain the pliability of a child, the health of a lumberjack and the peace of mind of a sage.
In Tai Chi Chuan: Its Effects and Practical Applications, author Yearning K. Chen stated: "Tai Chi Chuan clears the mind and strengthens the brain. It promotes deep breathing, tones up the heart, improves digestion and makes unusually sound kidneys. It also lowers the blood pressure, softens blood vessels, prevents lime formation in the bones of old people and regulates blood circulation."
Although many of these assertions have yet to be substantiated, others have already been corroborated by rigorous testing.
Chinese research has shown that tai chi enhances circulation and reduces blood pressure, hypertension and other stress-related illnesses. In an article in the May 1994 issue of Self magazine, Beth Livermore wrote, "Experts believe that tai chi chuan may help to prevent injuries and make any which do occur heal faster."
She continued: " Research by the National Institute of Health, conducted at Northwestern University School of Medicine, is currently investigating tai chi as a treatment for people with balance disorders. Ken Cohen, a tai chi master in Nederland, Colorado, is working with head-injury patients. He is trying to determine whether or not tai chi can unblock electrical pathways in the body and thus promote recovery."
Ralph La Forge told Elena Rover in the August 1995 issue of Natural Health magazine, "Tai chi builds neuromuscular fitness."
La Forge, who is the exercise physiology professor at the University of California at San Diego and the director of health promotion at the San Diego Cardiac Center Medical Group, said, "The fluid, focused movement will reduce blood pressure in eight out of 10 hypertensive patients."
He further stated that tai chi practice reduces stress hormones. "The benefit of this is reduced anxiety and improved sense of control," he said.
In her article, Rover mentioned that one study had found that regular tai chi practice (three times a week) can improve balance and help prevent falls in the elderly. Moreover, a study conducted at the Research Institute for Sports Medicine in Beijing found that people who practice tai chi have stronger skeletal systems and better metabolic scores than people who do not exercise.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is by far the most important of the body’s systems. It regulates and coordinates the activities of all other systems as well as the organs.
The central nervous system extends from the base of the spine to the brain. It regulates and coordinates the activities of all other systems as well as organs.
The central nervous system extends from the base of the spine to the brain. It receives information from inside and outside the body. It also transmits the body’s actions and reactions and directs the limbs and sensory organs. Any exercise that strengthens the function of the central nervous system has a positive effect on the health of the whole body. It has been proved that long-term practice of tai chi has a salubrious effect on the central nervous system.
The high degree of concentration required while doing tai chi benefits the functioning of the central nervous system. Furthermore, because tai chi trains the mind and body simultaneously, it stimulates the cerebral cortex and causes excitation in certain regions and protective inhibition in others. The cerebrum is thus able to rest. That relieves the cerebral cortex of the pathological excitation caused by ailments. In this way, tai chi can help cure certain nervous and mental disorders.
Training the nervous system along with the body also makes adjusting to heat and cold easier. That, together with the overall improvement in health, can strengthen the body’s immune system.
The autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic nerve and the vagus nerve, which act antagonistically. When the sympathetic nerve is stimulated, more adrenaline is secreted in the body. That causes an increase in the pulse rate and blood pressure. The relaxation and stillness produced during tai chi practice increases the activity of the vagus nerve, thus causing the blood vessels to dilate. More blood can then circulate, lowering the blood pressure.
The Digestive System
A sound digestive system is another key to good health and longevity. The digestive system provides nourishment for the entire body. When it functions properly, we are able to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. Good digestion affects calorie usage and the excretion of waste. Faulty digestion prevents nutrients from being absorbed. Undigested food in the stomach and intestines causes many ailments, ranging from minor disorders such as cramps, indigestion and constipation to more serious illnesses such as gastric ulcers and stomach cancer.
The correct practice of tai chi greatly facilitates the digestive and peristaltic processes. Lee Ying-arng explained it well in Lee’s Modified Tai Chi for Health: " Since the waist and abdomen act as the mainsprings of the tai chi movements in conjunction with deep diaphragmatic breathing, they exercise the digestive organs. This promotes the secretion of gastric juices in the stomach, liver, pancreas and intestines. Thus, the chemical digestion of food is improved."
The tai chi movements called "single whip," " play guitar" and "white crane spreads wings" are especially beneficial to the digestive system. As Da Liu explained in The Tao of Health and Longevity, "These movements expand and contract the body in an opening and closing motion. In so doing, they vibrate and stimulate the stomach and intestines. Even though digestion is an involuntary process, it can be affected by deep diaphragmatic breathing used in tai chi chuan."
Tai chi can also be used to treat ulcers because the secretions in the stomach are controlled by the sympathetic and vagus nerves.
The Respiratory System
The respiratory system is vital to good health. The air we breathe is our primary source of chi (intrinsic energy). Therefore, the manner in which we inhale and exhale affects the length and quality of our life.
Most people breathe only with their chest. That means they fill only the top portion of their lungs and leave the middle and bottom portions unused. That can cause the lungs to enlarge, eventually crowding the heart and causing heart disease.
Tai chi employs deep, diaphragmatic breathing, which strengthens the associated muscles and increases the capacity of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing has several other benefits. The abdominal muscles change the pressure in the abdomen continually. When the pressure rises, the veins in the abdominal cavity carry more blood to the right ventricle of the heart. When the pressure falls, blood returns more rapidly to the abdominal cavity. Thus circulation is improved.
In addition, the movement of the diaphragm massages the liver. That improves its circulation and function, and is believed to be effective in removing blood clots from the organ.
The tai chi breathing method also delivers more oxygen to the body and removes lager quantities of carbon dioxide.
The Circulatory System
The circulatory system is connected to the respiratory system. It transports blood to all parts of the body through a network of veins, arteries and capillaries.
As Da Liu explained in his book: " Blood cannot move itself. It is guided by the chi. When breathing stops, the circulation of blood also ceases. The tai chi chuan movements guide the chi so that more oxygen enters the blood. With continuous, slow motion, fresh blood cleans, repairs and nourishes every part of the body."
Tai chi has also been found to aid in preventing the type of heart disease that is associated with cholesterol deposits. As Douglas H.Y. Hsieh explained in Combat Tai Chi Chuan Joint Hands and Self-Defense Techniques: " The risk of heart attacks can be reduced over time by non-strenuous, regular practice of tai chi chuan. This is partially due to the improved metabolism of cholesterol and lipids, as well as to the increased efficiency of the heart and other muscles."
Dr. John Painter added: "when the movements of tai chi chuan are performed quickly or in a lower formed stance, They strengthen the cardiovascular system as effectively as jogging or high-impact aerobics but without the stress and strain."
The Urinary System
The kidneys are two of the most important organs in the body because the filter waste products out of the blood and excrete them in the form of urine.
As Lao Cen explained in the December 1994 issue of Tai Chi: "according to traditional Chinese medical theories, the kidneys are to the body as roots are to a tree. The deeper and firmer roots, the more luxuriant the leaves. Only when kidneys are strong can the other internal organs be in sound condition. That is why few victims of chronic ailments do not suffer from kidney deficiencies."
The waist-turning movements of tai chi increase the flow of blood and urine through the kidneys, and that action strengthens their function.
The Glandular System
The glands regulate bodily functions and secreting chemical substances known as hormones. Exocrine glands secrete hormones through ducts, while endocrine glands secrete them directly into the blood stream. The blood then carries them all the body’s organs, regulating their growth and activity.
Although the pituitary gland is only about 1 centimeter wide, it controls all other glands. Its hormones affect skin pigmentation, the protein in long bones and the maturation of male and female sex organs. Pituitary hormones also stimulate the thyroid and adrenal glands. The posterior lobe of this gland stores hormones secreted by the hypothalamus. One of these hormones, pituitrin, reduces urine and lowers the blood pressure. The pineal gland is even smaller then the pituitary gland. Although its function is not know to Western medicine, the Taoists believe its purpose is to retard the aging process.
The movements of tai chi - especially the posture known as "step back and repulse the monkey" – are believed to help these two glands function properly.
Located in the neck, the thyroid gland stores most of the body’s supply of iodine. Its hormones increase the rate of oxidation and sugar metabolism and aid in weight control. They also stimulate the central nervous system, the adrenals and the gonads, as well as the development of bones and teeth.
A serious disease of the thyroid is goiter. Its results when iodine deficiency causes the gland to swell. Correct positioning of the head during tai chi practice helps prevent this disease. Also, the function of the thyroid is helped by saliva, which contains chemicals that prevent goiter. By placing the tongue against the palate, more saliva lubricates the thyroid.
The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. Some adrenal hormones maintain the body’s balance of sugar, potassium, sodium and other minerals in the blood. Others constrict the blood vessels, which can stimulate the heart and increase the blood pressure. The adrenal glands also relax the respiratory muscles to control asthma and allergies. In addition to combating infection and regulating the body’s water content, they duplicate hormones of the testes and ovaries. Fatigue and nervous tension overestimate the adrenals, making the body less able to fight disease.
As Da Liu explained: "The adrenal glands are found in the middle part of the central nervous system. Unless this area is kept very warm, the kidneys and glands cannot function properly. When people become old and sick, they frequently cannot produce the necessary warmth and calories. This causes excess water to collect, and diseases such as diabetes result. The practice of tai chi chuan can help prevent these problems. The movements stimulate the kidneys to remove wastes. They also activate the adrenals to release more hormones to the systems of the body.
"Moreover, by concentrating the mind and chi in the abdomen, warmth is provided, "Da Liu wrote. " This helps to evaporate excess water and to purify the urine."
The Skeletal System
Tai chi strengthens the bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. Dr. Wen Zee elaborated in the June 1988 issue of Tai Chi: "When people get old, the bones become decalcified. This causes them to become brittle and break easily. In the practice of tai chi chuan, you sit on the legs. If you use more force in the muscles, the bones become stronger because of an increase in calcium."
The Verdict Is In
After reviewing the above-cited evidence, it becomes apparent that the practice of tai chi chuan can benefit most every facet of your health. Isn’t it time you sampled this priceless gift from ancient China?