With over 16 million Americans experiencing at least one episode of major depression each year, it's easy to see that we have a mental health crisis on our hands. A lot of people just aren't happy, and are seeking an avenue to boost their mood. Many turn to medication as the initial step. After all, it's pretty easy to just take a pill once a day, right? The truth is, medication is effective in a lot of situations but also comes with a series of negative side effects. Physical activity of any kind can be as effective - or even more effective - than medication.
There are a lot of ways to get a workout, and martial arts is a great way to enhance both the mind and the body. Tai Chi, however, specifically makes a big difference in mental health for a lot of people. As a low impact sport with a focus on building strength both mentally and physically, it's a perfect activity to improve life for people of any age or condition.
This page focuses on the benefits of Tai Chi for mental health. By the end of this short article, you should have a sense of how this ancient practice can be a great addition to your modern-day life.
What is Tai Chi?
Before we go into the various health benefits of practicing Tai Chi, it makes sense to go over exactly what this practice is. Tai Chi is what's known as an "internal" martial art, emphasizing its focus on mental and spiritual well being. The sport revolves around the idea of "Yin and Yang", and the movements reflect the ebb and flow of these two aspects.
Tai Chi has its origins way back in the 16th century, and has since branched off into a number of different schools of thought.
The main forms of Tai Chi are as follows:
- Chen Style, named after Chen Wangting (1580–1660)
- Yang Style, named after Yang Luchan (1799–1872)
- Wu Hao Style, named after Wu Yu-hsiang (1812–1880)
- Wu Style, named after Wu ch'üan-yu (1834–1902)
- Sun Style, named after Sun Lu-t'ang (1861–1932)
These styles all vary a little bit in style with some leaning more towards combat and self-defense and others focused on health and self-improvement. More information on the specifics of each school of thought can be found here.
In recent years, a number of hospitals, clinics, community and elder centers have started incorporating the practice of Tai Chi for its benefits to physical and mental well-being.
As a discipline that originated hundreds of years ago, its impacts and benefits are still very much alive today.
Which Form of Tai Chi is Best for Mental Health?
This is a difficult question to answer, as each style has its benefits and drawbacks. Which style of Tai Chi is best for you will vary based on your fitness and your needs, but we feel that the most beneficial form for mental health improvement is the Yang style.
Yang Tai Chi emphasizes slow, fluid movements with a focus on relaxation. The relatively low impact of Yang style is perfect for beginners and works for practitioners of all ages. Yang Tai Chi has seen a big boost in popularity as elders turn to the practice to keep in shape both in body and mind.
How Does Tai Chi Improve Mental Health?
There are many benefits to Tai Chi as the discipline encompasses all of the mind, body, and spirit. This article focuses on the mental benefits, but keep in mind while reading that there's much more to this martial art than improvements to the mind. You'll find that Tai Chi is all-around a great addition to anyone's life. With that said, let's go into further detail about how Tai Chi enhances and improves the mind.
Tai Chi, no matter how relaxed and "zen", is still a form of exercise. Any sort of exercise has proven benefits in improving mental health, and Tai Chi is no exception. Getting your heart rate up and improving your strength improves your physical health, but it also releases endorphins that give practitioners a happy feeling as they move forward with their day.
Tai Chi as a practice focuses on a variety of flowing movements combined with changes in mental focus, breathing, coordination, and relaxation. This martial art has been studied extensively - particularly in its application for relaxation. As mentioned above, any form of exercise releases endorphins, and these endorphins reduce stress and promote relaxation.
A large part of Tai Chi is the idea of mindfulness. Mindfulness revolves around being centered in the present. Much of our time is spent worried about the future and the past, and the truth is that we can't change either of those! Repeatedly reflecting inward and pushing yourself towards living in the moment can have remarkable mental health benefits.
Mindfulness as a practice on its own is used widely in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - one of the most well-researched and evidence-based psychological methods for improving mood and reducing anxiety.
It's clear that Mindfulness is a legitimate way to improve mental health, and Tai Chi - and many other martial arts - incorporate it into daily practice.
As we mentioned above in our discussion of what constitutes this discipline, we mentioned that many medical and community centers have started to host Tai Chi classes that focus on wellness and longevity.
While the benefit of Tai Chi on its own is undeniable, practicing it with a group of your peers fosters good relationships and a feeling of connectedness. Being part of a group goes a long way towards boosting a person's mood and reducing loneliness.
Tai Chi: A Mental and Physical Phenomenon
Like most martial arts, there are schools of thought in Tai Chi that focus on self-defense. However, in modern application the discipline is unique in that it's widely practiced for its health benefits. Incorporating regular practice of Tai Chi should lead to marked improvements both in the body and the brain, and cements this martial art as a mental and physical phenomenon.