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Movement meditation: Which tai chi form suits elderly people the best?
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Movement meditation: Which tai chi form suits elderly people the best?

Tai chi’s slow and gentle movements make it a great exercise option. However, not all its five styles or forms suit older people since some are more vigorous than others 
Tai chi, also called moving meditation, is an ancient Chinese martial art form.
From enhancing strength, mobility, coordination and balance to making a person relaxed, calm, and focused, tai chi has many physical and mental benefits. (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

The ancient martial art form of tai chi has its roots in China but is practiced across the world. The two syllables in tai chi best explain how it enhances the fitness and well-being of its practitioners. ‘Tai’ means supreme and ‘chi’ means energy.  

Tai chi allows you to become aware of the body’s energy and its flow within. The best part: there is no age bar. In fact, tai chi is considered a perfect exercise for elderly people. 

However, there are certain forms of the martial art, dubbed movement meditation, that are better suited for older people. While all the five forms of tai chi have the potential to strengthen the body and mind, picking the right one that suits your age will ensure the body does not undergo any stress while practicing.    

Types of tai chi  

Tai chi has five main styles: chen, yang, hao, wu and sun.  

One of tai chi’s tenets is that all movements must be done in a relaxed, calm, fluid and balanced manner, in tune with its spiritual dimension. 

“This art form is also called moving meditation because it has a spiritual dimension to it,” says Meera Krishna, a tai chi teacher and founder of Taichi a.l.i.v.e. Academy, Bangalore. “The body, which is not just a physical entity, has a divine energy called ‘chi’ associated with it. While practicing this art form, the mind relaxes and one feels a connection with everything within and around. Circulation of the energy helps one to be fit, improving overall health.”  

Tai chi for elderly adults  

While there are many physical activities that can be done, after a particular age it becomes difficult to do fast-paced, intense or high-impact activities. Enter tai chi. 

Cicily Thomas, a tai chi-qigong master at Vital Force Taichi Academy, Bangalore, has been working for over two decades with older adults. 

“They start realizing the value of exercising in the later years, and a simple beginning point for that would be through tai chi, simply because of how soft, gentle, slow and easy it is do those movements,” says Thomas. 

The injury risk while doing the movements is very low. The low stance in tai chi helps strengthen the lower-body muscles and can prevent osteoporosis. 

“The gentle movements enable better circulation of chi, blood flow and joint lubrication,” says Thomas. “One gets the benefits of a cardiovascular workout without any high impact on the joints. Tai chi has worked wonders for people with all kinds of ailments like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, etc. Many who have real difficulty with even nudging or moving their body feel so much ease and wellness. Bilateral movements in tai chi enhance and promote the working of both the left and right hemispheres of the brain.”  

Which tai chi form suits elderly people?   

Tai chi’s relaxed movements have made it a popular physical activity. The forms have also been modified over the years (reducing the number of moves and the complexity of movement) to suit older adults physically and mentally. This was done considering the decline in physical function generally seen among elderly people. 

Among the five styles, the yang is best suited for older adults because of its slow movements.  

For instance, if we compare the yang with the forms in the chen style, it becomes evident that the latter can potentially be harmful for older people. In yang, movements are relaxed, evenly paced and graceful. Chen has alternating slow movements with quick and vigorous movements, with restrained and controlled actions. Chen has a more martial purpose to its form, while yang revolves around wellness, fitness and rejuvenation. 

However, regardless of the form and its suitability, warmup is a prerequisite.  

“While practicing tai chi, one also must do a warmup routine to loosen the joints and remove any energy block,” says Krishna. “The basic level has eight tai chi forms, which is the foundation to do other techniques in the art. In the advanced level, which is a full tai chi routine, there are 85 forms and that take about 21 minutes to complete when done continuously.”   

Tai chi forms derived from nature 

Being inspired and derived from nature, tai chi movements and forms involve imitations of nature — like whirlpools, tornadoes and animal and bird frolics. 

“Some forms like the tiger form help to expel excess chi in the liver,” says Thomas. “So, when we imitate tiger hunting, we move the body in such a way that we are able to harmonize the chi and use it in the right direction. There are also bird forms like the white crane form that mimic how birds open and spread their wings. It gently improves the lungs and any breathing-related issues that you might have. Many other forms involve twisting and spiraling movements that mimic whirlpools, tornadoes or even the whole universe which moves in spirals.”  

Krishna adds: “Tai chi provides holistic wellness. Physically, it adds to your fitness by enhancing your strength, energy, mobility, coordination and balance. The mental benefits will make you feel more relaxed and stay calm.”   

Takeaways 

  • Taichi is an ancient Chinese art form that works on the internal energy called chi.  
  • The movements are slow-paced and gentle, making it one of the best-suited fitness routines for elderly people. Among the five styles of taichi, the yang style suits them the most because of its slow and graceful movements.  
  • Taichi also strengthens the whole body and promotes good body posture, coordination and balance.  
  • Being an internal art form, it nourishes and energizes the organs and heals from within.  

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