Steady as You Flow – Part 2 of 2

The fine motor control developed by the practice of Tai Chi becomes part of our daily lives. As one continues the practice of tai chi, they become aware of consciously doing things in a stress-free manner. Tai Chi practice emphasizes spinal alignment and postural integrity. These particulars assist the body in efficiently conducting nerve impulses throughout the body. The movement combinations that comprise the practice of Tai Chi facilitate the lubrication of and the flow of nutrients to the joints. Tai Chi flowing movements comprise a high amount of combinations of joint rotations and body shifting, as well as limb extension and flexion. The elbows, shoulders, knees, hips, ankles spine and wrists are all simultaneously and continuously affected during the practice of the routine. In addition to increasing one’s range of motion and flexibility, Tai Chi practice can positively affect the health and functioning of the internal organs.

Those who have suffered some sort of trauma to their brain, or may have balance that is ‘sub-par’ or are functioning at less than an adequate level, can benefit from practicing tai chi. Tai Chi can positively influence the cerebro-neuromuscular patterning associated with balance and coordination.

That tai chi can be of benefit physically and mentally has been and continues to be documented. The literature is available for those who wish to find it. The deep breathing that is part of practicing Tai Chi brings fresh air (oxygen) into the body and expels carbon dioxide out of the body as diaphragmatic breathing is enhanced, posture is improved, balance is improved, the internal organs are aligned and massaged. Also, synaptic connections, associated with balance, coordination and movement, are improved. This is an exercise modality that can enhance many aspects of one’s daily life; in particular, individuals with certain neuromuscular challenges that are a result of brain dysfunction. These are just a few of the reasons to give Tai Chi a more comprehensive look.

Tai Chi has been likened to moving meditation; a system of exercise that combines relaxation, focus and intent through the use of flowing and rhythmic movement. Meditation, per se, is the bringing of the mind to a state of total awareness within the space between the thoughts. The mind is a thought factory. Many people allow their thoughts to wander without giving them much attention. This does not have to be. If thoughts can be viewed as being stepping-stones in a pond, then what we want to achieve, meditatively, is the ability to exist between and above the stones; to suspend the thoughts. In doing so, we are able to cross from one side of the pond to the other with no overt effort. We are able to rise above the mental chatter and clutter that is always with us. In suspending the thoughts we, in effect, uncloud the dross which pervades our conscious awareness and are able to perceive things in a more direct and clear manner.

Steady as You Flow — Part 1 of 2

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.