Tai Chi and Arthritis: A few thoughts that may help

They say that age-related conditions such as arthritis have genetic origins. This is only partly true. How you use your body throughout your life is just as or more important. Genetics matter less when the body is damaged by improper use. Most people drive their bodies too hard (like an animal of burden), wearing themselves down. As we age and injuries add up, we end up with chronic pain. So many of us waste away into decrepitude simply because we are at a loss of what to do.

Often, if we are more observant with our bodies, we will move the body in different ways in order to alleviate the pain. Tai chi is an excellent practice to learn to help alleviate the pain by learning to move in new and more beneficial ways. Actually, these ways are not as new as they are forgotten, because as infants we all moved naturally, which is what tai chi offers us…natural movement.

For a taiji practitioner adjusting the body to alleviate and even eradicate some arthritic pain is partly a matter of alignment. The Chinese taiji masters use the term “zhong ding” to refer to the concept of alignment. More than mechanical or biomechanical, alignment can also be related to qi, or intrinsic energy. It is “equilibrium,” more three-dimensional rather than linear in concept. It is active movement that is effortless. As my teacher Master George Xu says, you aim for maximum movement with minimum effort in your tai chi practice.

Energy flows and motion occurs where the attention is placed as we observe the results of motion through our bodies and beyond in ever-more new ways and places and configurations.

We experience the world with the body. Our senses are conduits of our experience. What is you goal for exercise? After spending years in my youth beating my body up, I am now reaching for the benefits of longevity and quality of life as I age.

Arthritis is not the only ailment that tai chi can help manage. It may help with Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, injuries. My teacher and fellow practitioner, Susan A. Matthews, offers seminars that have helped many see the way through chronic pain. Take a tai chi class and ask the instructor about “Zhong Ding” or central equilibrium. Listen to the answer and how you can incorporate it in your practice.

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