Start the day with Tai Chi, Qigong

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Over the past few years I have written so on many different health and fitness subjects it really becomes challenging to find points of interest for such a wide audience. I am a big fan of yoga and the fact that I lack flexibility and still manage to get my morning dose of Ashtanga yoga in is no small thing. My morning ritual is a great way to stretch, strengthen and find balance before I start my day.

Recently I have become interested in Tai Chi, yet another way to jump start my day other than yoga.

Like Yoga, Tai Chi can build flexibility, strengthen your body and help you practice mindfulness. Tai Chi is an amazing activity that brings both health, fitness and mindfulness to your body with simple flowing movements. These movements have been used as an ancient wellness practice for more than 600 years. Tai Chi incorporates physical exercise to align and support your bodies natural energy. Most people think of Tai Chi only in terms of martial arts training for fighting or defense. In fact the contemplative practice of Tai Chi is practiced more as a part of traditional Chinese health and medicine than a method of hand-to-hand combat. The slow rhythmic movements of Tai Chi stimulates and aligns the body's natural energy. These structured movements form a supportive flow around posture, balance and strengthens mobility. The other positive aspect of Tai Chi is its ability to stretch muscles and create flexibility for your joints, spine and connective tissue.

Tai Chi is also an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety. There are a number of styles or schools of Tai Chi and it is considered "meditation in motion" which is calming and promotes a strong feeling of inner peace.

There are many styles or schools of Tai Chi each having their own separate methods and practices behind them. With names like tang-style or sun-style these practices are considered to be safe for people of all ages since the movements do not put undue stress on your muscles and joints. The movements are also slow and measured so it does not stress the cardiovascular system. The other very nice thing about Tai Chi is like yoga it simply takes a little space and does not require sports gear or specialized machines to be able to workout.

In many cities around the country and even here locally it is not uncommon to see one or more people in a quiet area of a park practicing those slow well designed movements. It can be done in groups or by yourself and best of all it does not take a great deal of time to practice.

An older form of Tai Chi is a discipline that is not as well-known in the west, called Qigong. Qigong is a somewhat less structured method of "moving meditation" that uses the same type of rhythmic movements to focus posture, breathing and center your mind. There have been many studies done regarding the overall health benefits associated with Tai Chi and Qigong. In particular the movement exercises improve balance, joint function and overall stability in older adults which can help with mobility and prevent falls.

Many health and fitness professionals have incorporated Tai Chi and Qigong into their sport medicine, physical therapy and mainstream medical treatment practices. The New England Journal of Medicine for example did a study that showed patients with Parkinson's disease that practiced Tai Chi showed improvement with their mobility.

Learning and practicing either Tai Chi or Qigong is pretty straight forward. There are a number of martial arts schools that offer face-to-face instruction, or you can self teach by watching YouTube videos or following book instructions. The simplicity of Tai Chi or Qigong makes them fairly easy to grasp and start practicing. The main thing here is our bodies are made to move and doing any form of exercise is key to better health and your fitness.

Judd Jones is a director for the Hagadone Corporation.

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