If you suffer from back or neck pain, you have probably found your ability to exercise somewhat compromised. Aerobics, running and other high-impact forms of exercise may actually increase the pain, because they put even more pressure on the misalignments of your spine, neck, joints and extremities that are causing the pain. There is, however, an effective form of exercise that is performed gently and slowly, with no jarring motions that could impact the spine, and that actually improves your posture and your physical and mental health as you perform it.
Tai Chi is a form of exercise based in ancient Chinese martial arts, but performed slowly and gracefully, almost in “slow motion.” It emphasizes soft and flowing movements that over time improve your posture, the alignment of your body, your flexibility and balance. As you practice the Tai Chi movements – called forms – you also practice focused and rhythmic breathing, which oxygenates the blood and promotes better circulation. This combination of slow, balanced movements and focused breathing also leads to a meditative state of mind that many practitioners find relaxing, and which allows them to dissipate the effects of stress and anxiety that often exacerbate the physical causes of their pain.
You have probably seen images of groups of people practicing Tai Chi together, performing the different standardized forms in unison. This is how Tai Chi is commonly taught – in groups, with a trained instructor helping each student to learn how to perform the movements properly. But once you learn the basic Tai Chi forms, you can do them anywhere, on your own. There is no need for special clothing or exercise equipment; all you need to perform Tai Chi is a little space to move around in.
Many studies have proven the physical and mental benefits of practicing Tai Chi. One of the most interesting for those who suffer from back and neck pain is that its benefits are experienced even when you are not performing the exercises themselves. Tai Chi’s emphasis on maintaining a proper posture and balance while performing the movements carries over into how you sit, stand, walk, and move in your daily life. Many practitioners (and their physicians and chiropractors) report extraordinary improvements to their overall posture and to their ability to move fluidly and easily during the day. Many report not only a lessening of the pain they were suffering before, but also a lessening of the poor posture and movement habits that caused the pain in the first place.
As with any form of exercise, it is good to check with your physician or chiropractor before learning Tai Chi. Classes are easily found in most North American cities these days, and at very reasonable prices. Most experts recommend that you start with a class, rather than learn from a video, because a trained instructor can help you learn to perform the movements correctly from the beginning.