Embrace Tiger, Return To Mountain
~Learning Tai Chi to Reduce Heart Disease~
By: J. Chevonte’ Alexander
Cardiovascular disease is clearly an important public health problem, with 1 in 3 American adults affected. Evidence shows that the majority of cardiovascular disease is preventable with healthy lifestyles and modifications of risk factors. Physical activity and exercise continue to be recognized as a prevention of cardiovascular disease. In recent years, there has been a strong interest in tai chi exercise for patients with cardiovascular disease, growing increasingly popular in the Western culture since 1970s as a moving meditation.
“Moving meditation is all about the focused use of breath and movement in order to elicit natural relaxation responses.” says Dr. Jo Lynne Robins.
Moving Meditation Techniques and Cool Down from Dr. Jo Lynne Robins
Tai Chi originated as one of the best-known martial arts from ancient China. It is characterized by contrasting and complementary movements-slow and soft versus fast and hard. It contains explosive power and low stances. Its essential principles are based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which stresses the natural balance in all things and the need for living in spiritual and physical accord with the patterns of nature. The exercise combines gentle physical activity with elements of meditation, body awareness, imagery and attention to breathing.
Dr. Jo Lynne Robins is an Associate Professor for Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Nursing Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems. She has studied the use of tai chi as a mindfulness-based moving meditation intervention in a variety of populations, most recently in women with increased cardio metabolic risk.
“There are five elements in tai chi based on the idea of movement,” said Robins. “They are water, fire, earth, air and metal. They represent the ongoing cycle of life and the transformative power of ending one and starting another.”
Tai Chi is generally taught in a series of movements. The single movement of “embrace tiger, return to mountain” incorporates a portion of all five elements. It means that while we may be afraid to deal with a transition or change in our life, we have the power to open our hearts and surround ourselves with love and move through that transition and fear and come to a place of peace.
“Change and transformation can make human beings stressed.” said Robins. “You do not need to know what the tai chi movements mean, but I use the meanings as a strategy to better relate with my patients to engage the mind and body on a more conscious level.”
Reasons to practice tai chi:
- Delay aging and prolong life
- Improve wellbeing
- Improve cardiovascular function
- Decrease pain
- Decrease fall and fracture risks
- Increase flexibility
- Strengthen muscles
- Movements are low-impact and gentle and put minimal stress on your muscles and joints
- The risk of injury is very low
- You can do it anywhere, anytime
- Anyone can learn the exercise regardless of physical ability
- It requires very little space and no special clothing or equipment
- Very adaptable, you can do standing or seated in a chair
- You do it at your own pace
- It’s noncompetitive
- Improve overall quality of life by helping the body relax
Tai Chi is an umbrella of therapies. If you are looking to learn Tai Chi on your own, Dr. Robins suggests Qi Gong. It is a form of Tai Chi and it is generally easier to learn because it’s very short, discreet movements and if people are studying on their own, they can choose particular movements because of the effects they will have on the physical body. Go out in your community and find a Tai Chi practitioner in your area, or go online and find instructional videos so you can learn basic tai chi principles.
Eastern therapies are very empowering and teach us that there are always things you can do to improve your health. The mind and body are directly connected and if we promote more of a positive psychology where we are aware of the thoughts that do not serve us, this allows us to change those thoughts.
“People with depression have an increased stress level which can cause cardiovascular disease,” commented Robins. “So, I consider Tai Chi as a mindfulness space practice. If we are aware of our thoughts and how our thoughts influence our behaviors, then being aware of that will put people in a better position to change and maintain healthy and positive behaviors.”