Fitness From Within
Tired of your regular fitness routine? Finding that your motivation to work up a sweat is lacking? Maybe it's time to take an old approach. Look to Eastern philosophies for the answer to your fitness dilemma in the forms of qigong, yoga and tai chi.
All types of exercise are generally good for you. Aerobics, strength training and sports can all contribute to a holistic lifestyle. Exercises such as qigong, yoga and tai chi bring body and mind together. They focus on movement, sensation and breathing, so practicing these techniques integrates all the different parts of the self,"
Something for everyone
What sets Eastern exercise methods apart is that they not only strengthen the body, but they also help quiet the thoughts, focus the mind and rejuvenate the spirit. All three of these methods offer health benefits to people at any age and fitness level. Beginners and professional athletes will appreciate the stress relief and mental focus that these exercises bring to their workouts and even to daily life. In addition, you don't need any special equipment -- just comfortable clothes -- so that once you learn the basics, these techniques are easy to practice at home.
To help you choose whether you want to try qigong, yoga or tai chi (or all three), here's a brief overview of each. Don't forget to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Qigong (pronounced chee-kung) is part of traditional Chinese medicine and was developed thousands of years ago. According to this tradition, chi is the life force or energy that circulates through the body. Qigong describes the hundreds of mind-concentration techniques and slow-movement exercises used to help a person's chi flow freely. You can perform qigong while walking, sitting, standing or sitting in a wheelchair, so it is particularly helpful for people who are recovering from an illness or injury. Exercises like qigong are very gentle, and although they do involve repetitive movement, they don't strain the joints and connective tissue which makes these exercises a good choice for people of any fitness level or age.
A practice developed in India thousands of years ago, yoga involves postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and mental techniques to focus awareness. There are many types of yoga, including gentler, meditative styles such as Kripalu and vigorous, athletic styles such as Ashtanga and Jivamukti. All forms focus on deep, rhythmic breathing coupled with either holding or moving through specific postures with the goal of uniting the body, mind and spirit. Some studies have shown that in addition to building strength, flexibility and endurance, yoga may help reduce stress and anxiety, help lower blood pressure and decrease risk factors for heart disease.
Tai chi is a specific and popular form of qigong, and it has its roots in the martial arts. Unlike yoga and qigong, which may involve exercising while standing, sitting or lying down, the slow, graceful movements of tai chi are performed while standing. These movements are done in a specific sequence, while shifting weight from one leg to another and stepping forward and backward and from side to side. Longer forms may involve up to 100 movements, while shorter forms may involve only 20 to 40. Tai chi may help ease pain and stiffness, improve balance and may help reduce falls in older adults.
How to get started
Books and videos can be helpful, but taking a class is a good way to learn the proper postures and breathing techniques. Check local fitness clubs, college recreation departments, newspapers, the YMCA, community centers and martial arts schools.