I didn't realize that 2,000-year-old gentle movements could keep my body and mind in shape in my massage practice today. I studied tai chi while attending massage school many years ago. It was a mandatory part of my education at that time. I could not completely understand why or how it could be applied in massage, and found myself not wanting to go to class. However, I now wish I could thank every teacher I gave a hard time to, since I now practice and use the form every day.
Tai chi is an ancient practice that involves breathwork and body movements used originally in self-defense. When applied in massage therapy, tai chi can reduce stress on joints, increase stamina and also help those achy feet.
As massage therapists, we all know the importance of adapting to the area we work in. Working in tight places or hospital beds can be challenging. With the help of tai chi and by remembering its principals, we can easily adjust our bodies with ease and little or no stress. Tai chi gives us the tools to use our bodies to the best of their capabilities, therefore, allowing better treatments, longer treatment time and reduced stress both mentally and physically.
Tai chi originated in China, and is sometimes called Tai Chi Chuan. Tai Chi is a dance. The dance, or practice, of tai chi, involves stretching and breathing while focusing on body postures. The form is done upright and can be completed in about 10 to 15 minutes. Ideally, a longer, slower practice is preferred; however, it is more difficult. Tai chi is considered a martial art, although there are several other forms to be learned.
Tai chi incorporates soft postures that flow into one another and have many different forms. Its principals teach the connection between the hands, foot placement and body postures where there is no excess, no deficiency or unbalances. When applied in massage practice, this can enable the practitioner to increase his or her stamina, as well as decrease stress on the legs, shoulders, neck and feet.
Numerous studies have revealed the benefits of tai chi, including:
- Reduction in anxiety and depression
- Improvement in balance and coordination
- Reduced number of falls
- Improved sleep quality, such as staying asleep longer at night and feeling more alert during the day
- Lowered blood pressure
- Slowed bone loss in women after menopause
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Relief of chronic pain
- Improved everyday physical functioning
Because tai chi promotes body awareness, I often refer my clients to the practice as part of their own therapy. The form and principals are a benefit for everyone to learn and practice on a regular basis. The best part is, these principals can be applied while standing in line at the supermarket or while performing a massage.
I often reflect on the principals of tai chi while evaluating my clients. My own body awareness allows me to adjust my stance and upper body, so I can work more efficiently and longer without being in pain at the end of the day. By practicing the form, I have learned to shift my weight more evenly and to use my center as my source of strength. It has also helped ease tension in my lower back if I've been waiting or standing for long periods of time.
Check some of the adult education classes in your area to locate an experienced teacher of tai chi, and you can begin to incorporate the benefits of tai chi into your practice and everyday life.