Tai Chi is viewed by most western exercisers as a non-effective discipline; As something that cannot assist with the maintenance of their physical or their mental well-being. We can attach the principles of Tai Chi to our exercise routines and intertwine a more relaxed focus and an inner physical-mental connectedness to our physical endeavors. As a result, we can improve our overall well-being. For our purposes here, we want to focus on the neuro-physical benefits of practicing Tai Chi as it applies to those seeking rehabilitation and neural repatterning options.
The faculties that bring about clarity of the mind are very important to our day-to-day functioning. As we age, these faculties begin to wane; therefore, it is incumbent upon us, as care takers of our bodies, to work to maintain said faculties to the best degree possible.
Over the last two decades, neuroscientists have begun to reveal how physical activity – whether it be endurance, strength or skill training – can change the neurochemistry, structure and function of the brain. We are starting to understand how these changes in brain biology affect our cognitive, sensory, motor and emotional behaviors.
Neurons are arguably the most high-maintenance cells in the body. They require a constant supply of glucose and oxygen or they begin to die. The brain represents 3% of total body weight but uses 20% of total blood supply and 25% of total oxygen supply. Thus, it would seem that Tai Chi is a most adequate exercise modality for supplying oxygen to the brain and to the peripheral neural system.
There is one family of neurochemicals known as growth factors. So named because they can make neurons “grow”, these neurochemicals have been clearly shown to increase in the brain in both number and size during exercise. If exercise and oxygen are good food for neural stimulation and growth, then Tai Chi, with its emphasis on gentle rhythmic movement and full breathing, would be an excellent addition to one’s exercise regimen.
Tai Chi is a gentle aerobic exercise modality as well as a discipline that demands and develops mental focus and mind-body coordination. I am defining aerobic exercise as any activity that involves continual deep breathing. The neuromuscular benefits of Tai Chi practice include the development of fine motor control. Tai Chi enhances the production of the synovial fluid and has a positive effect on balance and range of motion.
Tai Chi can be part of a part of a rehabilitation program for those with neural challenges. Studies have shown that exercise can enhance cognitive functioning. Because our neural cells require a majority of the oxygen that we breath in, Tai Chi practice can greatly facilitate oxygen uptake for neural rehabilitative purposes. Also, the gentle nature of Tai Chi practice and the amount of coordination that can be developed by the practitioner is something that should be considered when an individual is needing an exercise modality that will assist with their rehabilitation.