THE BENEFITS OF TAI CHI
Medical studies on the benefits
of Tai Chi now include :
- Falls Prevention with Tai Chi Programmes
- Beneficial effects of Tai Chi on Traumatic
- Tai Chi's effect on the Immune System
- Medical Research has revealed that Tai Chi
can improve conditions such as Arthritis, Shingles
Our own Research indicates Tai
Chi practise offers :
- Effective Stress Management
- Improved breathing for respiratory problems
- Relief from back and joint pain
- Effect on Asthma
- Overall feeling of wellbeing
- Direct benefit on women's health issue
Below is a compilation of articles
on the significance of Tai Chi to health and personal
Written by Christine Gemmell M.A.Psych.
TAI CHI & STRESS
Christine Gemmell above
(black dress) leads Tai Chi students
Stress can be defined as
any circumstances that threaten or are perceived
to threaten our well being and that thereby tax
our coping abilities- (Weiten, 1989).
It is important to understand this concept because
stress can evoke both positive and negative responses.
Stress is not necessarily caused by major traumatic
events. Many everyday events such as waiting in
traffic, dealing with bills, or even shopping
in a crowded supermarket are also stressful. You
may guess that such minor stresses would produce
minor effects, but this is not necessarily true.
Research indicates that routine hassles may have
significant negative effects on our mental and
physical health (Delongis, Folkman, & Lazarus.
often accompany stress, most commonly the fight
or flight response (Cannon, 1932). This
involves a physiological reaction to perceived
threat in which the autonomic nervous system mobilizes
the organism for attacking (fight) or fleeing
(flight) an enemy. For example our breathing,
heart rate and blood pressure increase, we begin
to sweat, our muscles become tense, and we may
even feel our heart beating fast. This automatic
response was originally adapted for the threat
of predators where a swift response of fighting
or fleeing meant survival. In the modern world
our stress cannot be dealt with that easily. If
stress continues long enough without a coping
mechanism, our body’s resources become depleted
and exhaustion sets in. This can lead to burn
out, mental illness such as depression, and a
reduced immune system resulting in physical illness.
Many people are not aware
that they are feeling the effects of stress and
ignore what their body is telling them.
Some experience days when they get home and all
they want to do is collapse into a chair and have
a few drinks to relax themselves. After a while
we experience the tension running through our
body e.g. neck and muscle pain. The major cause
of this, is the stress that has built up during
the day. Unfortunately the relief of relaxation
where we use alcohol, smoking and/or coffee intake,
to get us through stress, can lead to serious
One effective way of
relaxation is the practice of Tai Chi Chuan.
Tai Chi if practiced correctly can bring us in
tune with, and revitalize our body and mind. According
to Chinese philosophy, everyone has a given amount
of Chi, which permeates through the body as a
life force. Due to stress and other factors, the
pathways (Meridians) become blocked, and this
leads to illness. Through the practice of Tai
Chi, these blockages are cleared, in a similar
way to acupuncture, except that the blockages
are cleared by the cultivation of the energy flow,
(Chi-Gung) (Gemmell, 1992). The flow is correctly
regulated to each organ by the Tai Chi movements.
When beginning Tai Chi, the alignment
of the spinal cord and posture are important factors
in relaxation. The spinal cord as part
of the central nervous system, is responsible
for the communication between the brain and the
body. By relaxing the spinal cord and ensuring
correct posture, the nerves (neurotransmitters)
send signals to the brain, that everything is
functioning correctly and that no stress response
is necessary. Therefore by relaxing the spinal
cord in Tai Chi we can in turn relax the muscles,
which has major significance for our stress levels.
an important part of the spinal cord.
They are chemicals that relay messages from one
neuron to another within the central and peripheral
nervous system. When these chemicals become unbalanced
due to stress and other factors, this can lead
to mental illness such as depression and/or anxiety.
For example people who suffer from depressive
disorders appear to have imbalances in the neurotransmitters
Norepinephrine, Serotonin and Dopamine. By incorporating
Tai Chi as a model of relaxation, and with regular
practice, we are more able to deal with stressful
events in our lives. This also has the benefit
of maintaining the chemical balance in our central
Research has also shown
that Tai Chi has marked psychological effects
including, improvements in self reported tension,
depression, anger, fatigue, confusion and state
anxiety (Jin 1989). It is also effective
in reducing nightmares (Slater, & Hunt, 1997)
and treating posttraumatic stress disorder. (Gruetzner,
Footnote : Christine
Gemmell M.A. Psych. teaches Tai Chi at the Jade
Centre, 44 Huanui Street, Porirua, New Zealand.
BENEFITS OF TAI CHI
LONG LIFE WITH TAI CHI
(Courtesy of Insights into Martial Arts Magazine)
Long life with Tai Chi or long life because
of Tai Chi? That is the question.
Without going into aspects of Chinese wisdom,
physical whys and wherefores, or the medical reasons
for feeling good, we decided to talk to a woman
who, before taking up Tai Chi under Robert Gemmell
had already lived a long, thoughtful, and fulfilling
life, but in her latter years felt drawn to this
art form. We leave our initial question begging,
but decided that in looking at this persons’s
life, we may gain a clue, firstly as to why some
people remain mentally alive and motivated to
remain in touch with what is going on in their
life, with art, with music, with writing, and
with relationships, and why the practise of Tai
Chi should bring such fulfillment and stimulation
to someone who has already lived fully, sensitively,
in touch with herself and with the world around
We talked to Gwyn Rivers using the following
parameters as a guideline.
Gwyn, you are now an
elderly lady of some eighty five years of age.
What are the sum total of your parts? Walk us
through your life and point out the cross roads,
the influences, the background and the decisions
that have brought you to the point in your life
where you are today.
I was born, by home birth, on my grandmother’s
farm at Foxhill in 1919. My ancestry is of mixed
descent, English, Jewish, and gypsy background.
My father, was a kind, loving,
quiet and patient man, who never raised his voice.
He was an engineer, with an intense interest in
making things. I remember when I was seven. It
was January 1928, and he took me out in to the
night’s darkness where under a clear sky,
he held my hand and we both listened for the plane
of Hood and Moncreiff, who were flying for the
first time across the Tasman. They never came,
but I think it was the first time that I knew
what it was like to stand under the night sky,
something I have done many times since, for the
feeling of belonging it gives to me. My mother
was of the Victorian era. Her family background
was middle class and financially they were well
off. Victorianism meant I was brought up to be
obedient, honest, clean and well mannered, and
to do what I was told.
Perhaps it was this strict upbringing
that led me to an inclination to run away, even
from a very early age. I have always been happy
by myself, and have never felt afraid of being
alone with nature.
When I was four and a half, we moved to Paponga,
and this was like stepping back in time. No electricity,
running water, medical care, and no shopping.
I loved being at Paponga right from the start.
We lived almost on the beach where the tide flowed
in and out over sandy flats. Immediately I went
“walk about”, following the tide until
my father found me.
The death of my little brother had a profound
influence on me in those early years. He became
very sick and we had to take him to Nelson, driving
by car, a Model T, for 8 hours over gravel roads,
where he was operated on for a mastoid, but unfortunately
he died. I just remember a little white child
in a little white coffin before my father carried
him away in the car to be buried. I felt a great
sense of loss and of being left out.
I think that had much to do with
my attitude to my health. I learned very early
in life not to make a fussover mishaps, of which
there were a few. I broke both arms when I was
five and my father set them as we were unable
to go to a doctor.
However, I was strong because I climbed cliffs,
hills and trees, and learned endurance as my father
had a long stride and if I went with him I had
to keep up.
Being deaf, almost from birth,
meant I never really caught up with what was happening
and I became a loner. There were no close neighbours
and I had no friends. At school there were few
girls and certainly no one my age or with my inclinations.
At twelve I was sent to Boarding School. I hated
it. It was like prison. I suppose I did badly
at school, but no one queried my deafness. However
became an avid reader and I gained most of my
learning from reading. Most but not all. I have
always been very observant and always looked for
things where ever I went. On my way to School,
I knew where the toad lived. I knew how to creep
up on the bittern who lived in the swamp, and
I knew how to touch trout as they lay supine in
As I look back, it appears that
I learned early on in life to have stamina and
endurance, and to stand alone and never give up.
There was never anyone to lean on, and I never
expected anything of anyone. All of my early experiences
formed how I developed later in life. I suppose
the most dramatic choice I have ever made was
getting married, very much against my parents
wishes, and at the beginning of the war. Perhaps
if I had made another choice in a different direction
who knows where I would have been today. I was
pointed towards teaching by my mother. She wanted
me to have a certain independence and be able
to earn my own living. Although I was relatively
pushed into this occupation, I discovered that
I loved to teach, especially children. I was happy
in the classroom and really had no ambition other
than I wanted to paint and be creative. Looking
back I realise I could have been an Art Teacher
but that didn’t happen to girls in my days
at school. But still, I have always been creative
in my own way, painting, clay modelling, and fabric
You ask about my philosophy. I don’t really
know what my philosophy is. Basically, although
I tried to write it down, it appears as a moral
guide to living. Honesty, of not lying and being
prepared to accept responsibility for actions.
Not to be unkind or nasty to anyone. To give rather
than to take, and to accept
others who are a different race or colour.
On a deeper note, Buddha in the
Four Reliances says ...
Rely on the teacher,
not his personality.
Rely on the meaning, not just on the words.
Rely on the real meaning, not just on the provisional
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary
It has come into my mind that
I have been led along the Way to finally live
where I have the chance to learn Tai Chi.
I feel that I have been moving
towards this for some years and sometimes I think
I have known Tai Chi in another life. My age,
I am eighty five, means nothing to me. I live
each day as it comes. Of course I will die. I
am not afraid. I never think of dying just living
out my span here.Originally I had moved to be
close to my family. I was already interested in
Chinese philosophy, Buddhism and Tibet, and when
I saw the advertisement for Tai Chi I decided
to give it a try.
TAI CHI GRAND
At first I was rather shocked. I felt I was too
old, and not physically up to it, but I persevered,
because I wanted so badly to do this. I needed
something to focus on, because after my retirement
I missed being occupied. Plus I wasn’t interested
in the usual retirement activities. Then I began
to also do Tai Chi at home outside of the usual
class environment, not for advancement but because
I liked doing the movements. I feel very good
when I do Tai Chi.
I don’t say practise because that is not
what I am doing. Whether it is one Form or a series,
I am doing it, not practising. Internal or External,
the feeling is always there now. I just feel an
inner well being which seem to flow with me as
I move or whatever I do. An outward flow from
an inner source, very calm, very peaceful. I have
no inner me, I am just being.
I don’t think I view the world differently.
In some ways I feel detached from the world and
the people around me. It is as if I have a centring
which remains untouched. Through Tai Chi I have
been strengthened physically and emotionally.
I also feel as if I have found myself. I do not
need to struggle in any way, just live each day
happily adjusting to whatever is or will be.
As Gwyn took us through
some of the aspects of her life, we can perhaps
pick out those elements which helped form her
character, her attitude and her determination
to “live out her span”.Tai Chi came
for her, later in life, and although she appeared
relatively well prepared, having had an interesting
and balanced life, and had come to terms with
some of her own personal drawbacks, never the
less the study of Tai Chi still enhanced her life’s
quality and gave it a depth and dimension she
may never have experienced without it.
Gwyn also has a word specifically for women and
how they can meet some of their lifestyle challenges
by the practise of this unique art form.
BENEFITS FOR WOMEN WHO PRACTISE THE ART FORM TAI
observations by gwyn
been associated with Tai Chi classes over
some years, I have become aware of the
many people who have gained from this
Some more than others of course, but I
think this is more a matter of how life
has treated them.
The women who train,
have gained so much in self confidence
and self worth, because they are achieving
a mastery of something, even in a minor
For hundreds of years,
generally speaking, women have been subservient
to men, and their own children.
generation was brought up at the end of
the Victorian era.
Being a wife and a mother, can dim a women’s
Now in their older years,
these women have the time and a chance,
not to blossom, but to find
their inner self again, the girl who was
once a personality.
They move easily, lose
that questioning demeanour and feel like
There is immense satisfaction in gaining
some mastery in Tai Chi and that becomes
Footnote : Gwyn Rivers
learned Tai Chi under the guidance of Robert Gemmell.
She assists other students at the Insights Centre
in Picton, New Zealand.
OF THE SPINAL CORD AND OUR POSTURE
SUNG - “LET
In keeping with the
philosophy of Tai Chi, relaxation is an important
aspect in coping with stress. In today’s
changing society it is a fact of life that we
will regularly have to deal with stressful situations.
The philosophy of “Sung” (relax, let
go), in Tai Chi is important in dealing with the
build up of stress. A story is recounted about
a pine tree and snow. When the snow falls onto
the tree, its branches bend allowing the snow
to slide to the ground. The branches then return
to their original strong upright position ensuring
This story can be
likened to our own lives where the snow is the
stress that falls upon us. When we practice Tai
Chi we are gently letting the stress fall off
us. We go with the flow and resume our lives.
(The tree is resuming its original position).
Tai Chi need not be a long process as we can easily
adapt it into our daily routine. We can take individual
techniques that we have learned and apply them
during the day. For example the “monkey
washes face” technique (see figure 1) is
a good way to relax and “let go” (Sung)
when we are aware of the tension that stress brings.
By washing away the stress with the hands as the
monkey washes its face, we incorporate the idea
of sung. It takes less than 30 seconds and can
be done virtually anywhere. And the benefits,
if practiced correctly, are instant.
“MONKEY WASHING FACE”
HELPS TO RELEASE TENSION.
HOW TAI CHI BENEFITED ME
BY MARILYN TUCKER
"I started Tai Chi at
the beginning of this year and am enjoying it
immensely. I work full-time as a pharmacist, have
a number of additional part-time teaching jobs
and am still studying. So life is full on, and
although enjoyable is always hectic, and rather
stressful at times. Stress levels have risen sharply
this year for a number of reasons, and Tai Chi
has helped me to cope with them.
Not only has Tai Chi helped
me to cope with tension and pressure, but it has
also lifted my energy levels. I have gone to gyms
fairly regularly over the last twenty years but
in the last eighteen months or so I noticed a
sharp drop in my energy levels mid-afternoon which
lasted about an hour. That stopped shortly after
starting Tai Chi.
My one regret about Tai Chi
is that I didn’t start it ten years ago
when I initially intended to."
(Marilyn trained with
Christine Gemmell at the Jade Centre in Porirua.)