Meditation in Motion
By Joe Brady and Jacqui Shumway
“T’ai-chi is often described as meditation in motion,”but it might well be called medication in motion. There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice … has value in treating or preventing many health problems.” – Harvard Medical Health Publication 2013
This ancient Chinese exercise therapy can be summarized as a moving meditation that combines the health benefits of physical activity and “stress redirection and balance” into one neat little exercise. Performed with slow rhythmic motions, T’ai Chi balances the frantic pace of modern life by giving us permission to slow down.
A Moderate Aerobic Mind/Body Exercise
From a modern scientific perspective, the ancient Chinese art of T’ai Chi Chuan is a moderate aerobic exercise that benefits both mind and body without the wear and tear associated with many other exercise methods. The American Medical Association states that “[T’ai Chi] is characterized by physical movement and mental concentration; it’s purpose is to moderately exercise all the muscles and achieve integration between mind and body.” The China Sports editorial board defines T’ai Chi Chuan as “physical exercises of consciousness.”
Evidence Based Medicine: T’ai Chi Mastery and Self Efficacy
A randomized clinical trial was conducted on the effect of supervised Tai Chi intervention compared to a physical therapy program on falls. The study sought to assess some fall-related clinical variables (balance, gait, fear of falling, functional autonomy, self-actualization and self-efficacy) that might explain the fact that supervised Tai Chi has a better impact on preventing falls compared to a conventional physical therapy programs.
Both exercise programs significantly improved fall-related outcomes but only the Tai Chi intervention group decreased the incidence of falls. For both groups, most variables followed the same pattern, i.e. showed significant improvement with the intervention however, self-efficacy was the only variable that improved solely with the Tai Chi intervention (p = 0.001). The impact of supervised Tai Chi on fall prevention can not be explained by a differential effect on balance, gait and fear of falling. It appeared to be related to an increase of general self-efficacy, a phenomenon which is not seen in a conventional physiotherapy program.
By the nature of its slow motion focus on presence of mind, T’ai Chi floods the normal consciousness with millions of bits of information that are ordinarily ignored. The position of knees and elbows, overall posture, awareness of breathing and a host of other factors are slowly brought into conscious awareness. The slow movement allows the mind to make corrections in body mechanics, balance, agility and many other variables. The resulting exercise is a more efficient and less stressful use of the body.
The T’ai Chi principles can create a sense of mastery. The principles can enhance performance in a wide variety of circumstances and activities of daily life. To those who can perform it well, T’ai Chi becomes a joyous artistic performance where all separation between mind and body disappear. By teaching the mind to take better control of the body, we gain back a sense of control over our lives. We feel a sense of mastery over our fate and it is deeply enjoyable.