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Taiji Quan is a safe and beneficial exercise without risk of sports injury. From time to time, we read from the newspapers about cases of sudden deaths of people while exercising, which are mainly associated with cardiac arrest during unaccustomed strenuous exercise. One can expect to maintain good health and physical fitness and relieve stress from the practice of Taiji Quan on a regular basis.

Besides, Taiji Quan has many medical benefits which have been medically proven to be effective. For example, Taiji Quan is the only exercise/activity which showed a statistically significant decrease in the number of falls among the elderly study participants as published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) on May 3 1995. While preventing falls may not be high on your list of reasons for learning and practising Taiji Quan, it is certainly an important goal for the senior population. Anyway everyone of us will grow old one day. Hence it will be beneficial to start early.

Medical benefits of regular Taiji Quan exercise include the following :

Helps to lower high blood pressure

Taiji Quan exercise helps to lower high blood pressure but more serious cases of hypertension need other additional treatment.

Increases muscular strength and endurance

Taiji Quan improves the muscular strength and endurance of the lower limbs, back and chest muscles. Increases occur both in the vascularity of the muscles and in the number and size of their enzyme containing mitochondria. Furthermore, trained muscles use more lipids and less glycogen as their source of energy - a change which probably underlies the known effect of regular exercise on the ratio of high and low density lipoproteins so as to reduce the incidence of coronary artery disease.

Corrects some spinal deformity and prevents osteoporosis, lower back pain, rheumatism and osteoarthritis

Regular exercise can help skeletal growth and development with resultant thickening of bones and improved mechanical function of various joints. The end result is that the bones will be able to withstand greater pulling and pushing forces and have greater resistance to fracture, bending, compressing, pulling and twisting forces.

There are many joints in the human body. The joints are surrounded by ligaments and muscles. Taiji Quan can strengthen the muscles and ligaments around various joints so as to withstand injury.

In practising Taiji Quan, correct body posture with attention to the centre of body gravity is of paramount importance. Some studies have shown that regular Taiji Quan exercise can reduce the incidence of spinal deformity, osteoporosis and its complications.

Lower back pain is frequently associated with fatigue, overuse and incorrect posture in performing manual work. Rheumatism and arthritis are common complaints. There are many causes of arthritis. Most people who have had a reasonably active life have some osteoarthritis and some soft tissue degenerative changes particularly affecting the spine, shoulders, knees and feet. By and large, acute joints should be rested. Depending on the cause, some chronic arthritis can benefit from regular exercise to avoid muscular atrophy, the slackening of ligaments, diminution of joint fluid and osteoporosis. Regular Taiji Quan can produce thicker articular cartilages particularly around the spine and major weight bearing joints, resulting in a more robust skeletal particular structure. The strengthening of various periarticular muscles can improve symptoms of lower back pain, rheumatism and osteoarthritis.

Relieves bronchial asthma

Abdominal breathing is an integral part of Taiji Quan exercise and this has the benefit of strengthening diaphragmatic muscles. Small airways in the lungs are often not completely open in obese people, cigarette smokers, or those with early chronic bronchitis. Taking deep breath as practised in Taiji Quan can improve the function of small airways where absorption of oxygen and expiration of carbon dioxide take place. Vital capacity and other lung functions generally can be improved, resulting in slower respiratory rate. For asthmatic children, swimming and Taiji Quan are both very beneficial exercises.

Improves the digestive system

Regular physical exertion can enhance gastric and intestinal secretion as well as increasing intestinal motility and blood supply. Taiji Quan breathing and movements serve as a constant message to the stomach and intestine and are beneficial not only in increasing appetite and weight gain but also in overcoming constipation. However, those who are overweight, can also lose weight simply by training harder with greater energy expenditure and by burning up excessive fat in the body.

Corrects neurasthenia, insomnia and mild psychiatric illness

Overworked people, some of whom suffer from neurasthenia, are not uncommon in our society. Such individuals often experience a variety of symptoms such as weariness, irritability, nervousness and sleeplessness. Regular Taiji Quan exercise can relieve tension and weariness and is a very good "mind and body" relaxation exercise. It helps to abolish non-specific symptoms of neurasthenia.

Taiji Quan has been shown to be beneficial to patients with certain psychiatric illness such as anxiety state and mild depression. In fact some psychiatric hospitals in America include Taiji Quan in the daily activities of some of their patients with remarkable benefits. It gives them a sense of purpose and achievement resulting in a calmer mood. In practising Taiji Quan, concentration is of paramount importance. That part of the nervous system concerned with active movement is put on full alert while the other parts are in the restive phase.

Prevents backache during pregnancy

During pregnancy, besides preventing backache, it will strengthen the pelvic muscles and will promote stronger contraction, easier birth and early ambulation. Breathing exercises involved in Taiji Quan helps to increase fetal blood circulation and oxygenation, and thus a healthier baby.

Brief History of Taiji Quan

The principles of all Taiji Quan styles contain the philosophy of "yin" and "yang". However, the names of the various styles of Taiji Quan took on the family-name of their main teacher or leader. There five major schools, namely "Chen", "Yang", "Wu", "Wu", and "Sun".

Chen's style

The CHEN family style was formally recorded as the oldest practice of Taiji Quan. Most scholars theorized that Wang TsungYueh was the first to transmit the knowledge of Taiji Quan to the Chen family in the 18th century. The Chen style has evolved into several routines, with some of the movements retaining much of the "martial" emphasis of the original boxing forms.

As was common practice in ancient China, the family of Chen kept the fighting art that Wang had taught them a family secret and it was never taught to anyone outside of the family until the arrival of Yang LuShan (1799-1872), who became the founder of Yang style Taiji Quan.

Yang's style
The YANG family style is one of the most popular style of Taiji Quan and also the most fragmented style, with major differences in the choreography and postures of the routines between various groups within the style. The Yang style is commonly referred to as the "big" frame style because of its original wide stance and open movements.

Its founder, Yang LuShan(1799-1872) was highly respected and had the nickname of Yang WuTi, which was translated as; "Yang with no enemy and no rival". He became the first instructor to teach Taiji Quan to the public. His Yang style stressed the health, physical fitness, as well as the self-defense and fighting aspects of the art. In his later years, he witnessed the improvement of his students' health and realized that Taiji Quan could play an important role in saving his nation by strengthening the weak.

Wu YuXiang's style

The WU YuXiang family style (sometimes referred to as "Hao" family style) was founded by Wu YuXiang (1812-1880). Wu YuXiang learned Taiji Quan from Yang LuChan (of the Yang family style) after seeing a demonstration of his martial skills. Later he studied with Chen QingPing. His style is characterized by compact, rounded movements with relatively high postures, making it easier for those who are sick or elderly to practise. It was based on the Yang sequence of movements, with some quick movements breaking the normal slower rhythms.

Wu JianQuan's style
The WU JianQuan family style is also one of the most popular style of Taiji Quan. Wu JiangQuan(1870-1942) was taught by his father, Wu QuanYu who was one of Yang LuShan's (of the Yang family style) top students.

In later years, he continued to refine his form, removing some of the quick movements and made it more even in speed.

Sun's style
The SUN family style is often called the "active step" form because of its quick and mobile stance and footwork. It was developed by Sun LuTang, (1861-1932) an amazing martial artist who was also famous for his skill at the other internal martial arts of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan (Neijia) as well as external Shaolin forms. The Sun style is the most recent of the five major schools of Taiji Quan.

Sun LuTang learned Taiji Quan from Hao WeiChen (Wu YuXiang style), then continued to study and refine it using his knowledge of the other internal styles. The Sun family style retains most of the original Wu YuXiang style postures, with more emphasis on quick footwork and waist methods from his other martial styles.

(The above picture icons do not represent the specific style of each school.)

Posted on 9 January 2007

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