tai chi and qigong for wellbeing

If you’re looking for a way to improve your balance (and relax and have some fun at the same time!), both tai chi and qigong are worth considering. Tai chi, an ancient Chinese tradition, involves deep breathing while performing a series of movements in a very focused manner. Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is also an ancient Chinese form of exercise that encompasses movement exercises with controlled breathing and meditation.

“One of the many wonderful things about tai chi is that literally everyone can do it because it is modifiable,” says Lisa Rawson, shown front-right in the above photograph leading one of her classes. As proprietor of the Westchester Tai Chi Center, situated at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, Rawson explains, “You can even do tai chi while seated or in a wheelchair.”

Tai chi can very definitely improve one’s balance, says Dr. Yang Yang, founder and director of the Center for Taiji and Qigong Studies in New York City and a clinical specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY, where he teaches patients and staff. “In China, many see and admire the strong and healthy elders who practice tai chi and qigong,” he says. “People see that these practitioners are vital and energetic, and carry themselves like people many years younger. So in China, people make time to nurture themselves in mind and body, thus preserving their youthfulness.”

Studies on tai chi, sometimes referred to as “meditation in motion,” indicate that it can help improve an individual’s balance. “Tai chi is also good for the aches and pains of osteoarthritis, it helps people maintain bone density, and it can improve the quality of your sleep,” says Rawson. “It can reduce stress and while it’s not a cure, it can reduce some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia.”

Qigong offers many of the same benefits of tai chi, says Molly Olivia Roffman, PT, MA, owner of StepWISEnow Balance Fitness in Briarcliff Manor. “It is considered to be the foundation of tai chi,” she explains. “The practice of qigong strengthens one’s internal power.”

At the Westchester Tai Chi Center, Rawson does not advocate the concept of pushing through pain. “Tai chi isn’t physical therapy. It’s about helping energy move through your body. You want to keep your energy pathways open and you don’t want to create pain, stress, or tension in the body.”


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Tai chi features slow, graceful movements that can improve posture, strength, stamina, and stability while calming the mind, enhancing breathing and improving one’s overall well-being, says Roffman. “It is an all-inclusive mind-body fitness practice for older adults,” she explains. “Tai chi has proven to be effective in reducing the risk of falls. Because falls are the main reason older adults lose their independence, tai chi is an essential part of any fitness practice for older adults.”

Maria Sarro, tai chi instructor at Millenium Medical and Rehab on Central Avenue in White Plains, says, “For me, tai chi/qigong is meditation in motion, from stillness comes movement.” She also cites the many research-based studies about the health benefits of tai chi and credits the practice of it with helping her own knee and shoulder pain.

Unlike some forms of exercise, tai chi doesn’t require any special clothing or equipment and it can be done anywhere, notes Roffman. “It’s best to wear shoes with light, flexible soles that are secure on your feet to get the most benefit,” she says, adding that tai chi can be practiced either while standing or sitting.

“Be patient with yourself while learning,” she advises. “Before very long, you will realize the benefits of tai chi.”

Rawson notes that the qigong movements tend to be a little simpler and more accessible than those of tai chi. “You do the movements repetitively, eight or 10 times,” she says. “It offers many of the same benefits as tai chi.”

Whether you opt for tai chi or qigong, you will see improvement in your balance and strength early on. Says Rawson, “As soon as you start getting engaged, balance connections start to be made,” she says. “Your body and mind are connected in a new way.”

Get more information about tai chi and qigong classes in Westchester by visiting westchestertaichicenter.com, stepwisenow.com, and mmrclinic.com

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