More than 300 different known martial arts styles are practiced in China. There are two Chinese Martial Art systems, the internal and the external systems. The internal system includes Tai Chi, Sheng-I and Pa-Qua styles. The emphasize stability and have limited jumps and kicks. The external system includes Shao Lin, Long Fist, Southern Fist, and other styles. They emphasize linear movements, breathing combined with sound, strength, speed and hard power impact contact, jumps, and kicks.
There are many different styles or families of Tai Chi Chuan. The five which are practiced most commonly today are the Yang, Chen, Wu , Sun, and Woo styles. All Tai Chi styles, however, are derived from the original Chen family style.
Some people believe that Tai Chi was developed by a Taoist Priest from a temple in China’s Wu Dong Mountains. It is said that he once observed a white crane preying on a snake, and mimiced their movements to create the unique Tai Chi martial art style.
Initially, Tai Chi was practiced as a fighting form, emphasizing strength, balance, flexibility, and speed. Through time it has evolved into a soft, slow, and gentle form of exercise which can be practiced by people of all ages.
It is important to note that today Tai Chi tends to be taught as a defensive martial art however in reality Tai Chi is both an offensive and defensive martial art and in many military circles it is taught as such.
Tai Chi Brief History:
The philosophical term, “Tai Chi,” the first known written reference of which appeared in the Book of Changes over 3000 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty (1100-1221 BC). In this book it says that “in all changes exists Tai Chi, which causes the two opposites in everything.” Tai Chi means the ultimate of ultimate, often used to describe the vastness of the universe.
The essential principles of Tai Chi are based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which stresses the natural balance in all things and the need for living in spiritual and physical accord with the patterns of nature. According to this philosophy, everything is composed of two opposite, but entirely complementary, elements of yin and yang, working in a relationship which is in perpetual balance. Tai Chi consists of exercises equally balanced between yin and yang, which is why it is so remarkably effective.
Yin and yang are polar opposites and are found in all things in life. In nature, everything tends toward a natural state of harmony. Likewise, yin and yang are always in total balance. Concepts such as soft, pliant, yielding and feminine are associated with yin, while concepts such as hard, rigid and masculine are associated with yang. Both sides complement each other completely and together form a perfect whole. Things which are perfectly balanced and in harmony are at peace; being at peace leads naturally to longevity. A perfectly harmonized person will show this balance and completeness by his or her tranquility and peacefulness of mind.
Tai Chi and Multiple Sclerosis:
Tai Chi for multiple sclerosis patients tends to be less stressful than Yoga and has numerous characteristics that many people have stated are beneficial towards their MS condition. The slow flowing movements require a level of concentration and relaxation that is thought to lower cortisol levels (a primary stress hormone).
- The slow, repetitive weight-shifting movements and emphasis on maintaining an erect spine in tai chi help improve balance. Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients tend to compensate for dysfunctional body systems by relying heavily on others. Therefore, it’s important to strengthen joint position sense and gain muscle control.
- Reduce risks of falling.
- The thought oriented fluid movements and concentration on body structure and posture are very helpful to coordination of motor functions.
- Fatigue reduction.
- It is thought that the mindfulness, coordination and removal of stress reduces levels of fatigue.
- Depression management.
- Tai Chi through its factors of relaxation, exercise and focused accomplishment has shown in studies a reduction of both depression and fatigue.
- Muscle tone, strength and stretching.
- Tai chi moves must be done slowly and require significant lower-extremity and core strength. The knees are often slightly flexed, which works the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh and the hamstrings muscles in back of the thigh.
- One of the main principles emphasized in tai chi is relaxation. Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing often has a calming effect on participants. The exercise also encourages visualization of energy flow in the body, which can serve as a stress-buster.
- Cognition and Memory.
- Learning Tai Chi is all about perfecting fluid movements and remembering them so they become natural to you just like when you learned addition and subtraction. In engaging Tai Chi cognitive and memory regions of the brain are also worked and thus it is thought that Tai Chi can also impact cognition and memory in positive ways.
A study performed among women in 2014 showed a marked lowered incidence of falling due to balance and equilibrium issues when patients engaged Tai Chi as an MS intervention. Another controlled study took place in 2014 where a sample of 32 MS patients (Expanded Disability Status Scale, EDSS < 5) was examined. A structured Tai Chi course was devised and a Tai Chi group participated in two weekly sessions of 90 minutes duration for six months, while a comparison group received treatment as usual (TAU). Both groups were examined prior to and following the six-months interval with regards to balance and coordination performance as well as measures of fatigue, depression and life satisfaction.
Following the intervention, the Tai Chi group showed significant, consistent improvements in balance, coordination, and depression, relative to the TAU group. Additionally, life satisfaction improved. Fatigue deteriorated in the comparison group, whereas it remained relatively stable in the Tai Chi group.
Tai Chi posture, has recently been shown in a number of random controlled trials to improve balance, posture, vigour and general well-being in a variety of client groups. These are problems commonly encountered by people with Multiple Sclerosis. Some studies have suggested that Tai Chi is also beneficial towards managing spasticity.
It is important to note that Tai Chi can also be applied to MS even if the person is not ambulation safe. Many of the aspects of Tai Chi can be accomplished in a chair or wheelchair even.
One of the really great aspects of Tai Chi .vs. some other forms of similar protocols is you can also practice Tai Chi in your home setting and over some other therapies there is a level of feeling of accomplishment. Not only are you working on your MS but you are also engaging a time honored martial art that has a level of depth you can also explore from its rich history to the various forms and benefits of different disciplines of Tai Chi.
As is shown in the below video via The US National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Tai Chi has many sensory inputs and outputs occur utilizing the central nervous system and more.
Tai Chi is also applicable to virtually all age groups and is a fantastic mechanism as well for friends and family to engage in together. It can create some very unique bonds and have a great deal of fun in doing so.
It is important to note that Tai Chi is not learned in a matter of days though positive effects can be witnessed in a mere matter of weeks. Tai Chi has beginner, intermediate and advanced stages of the martial art discipline so you always have new material to work upon however more is not always better.
Before engaging in Tai Chi or seeking out Tai Chi classes local to you do talk to your physician and neurologist to make sure that they consider it a safe and sound protocol for you to follow given your current health care situation and MS impacts.