Exercise is a vital part of living a healthy lifestyle, but for those with limited mobility or poor balance, exercise can be a daunting idea. If you're looking for a winning combination of low-impact and high-quality exercise, there is a perfect solution that invigorates the body, works the heart, strengthens muscles, and improves balance. You may know about it already.
It’s called tai chi.
This ancient Chinese martial art is the perfect option for folks looking for low-impact, gentle exercise options. While it is a form of self-defense, the only thing you’ll be defending yourself against is poor health. In fact, tai chi has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of falls among the elderly by up to 43%. That’s because tai chi has mega benefits for your feet.
The slow, graceful moves of tai chi are all based in your feet. It is through the feet that energy is transferred upwards, through the legs and core, into the shoulders and arms. Proper “grounding” is the key to successful tai chi. Grounding is the act of achieving and maintaining balance through ground contact.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Gently press your toes into the ground. Don’t curl or force them. The idea is to connect the pads of your toes to the ground naturally. Now, shift your weight back slightly so your heel pad is exerting equal pressure toward the ground as your toes. It may be good to try this barefoot at first to really feel the connection. If you are properly grounded, balance is easily achieved.
The second thing grounding your feet does is raise your arch. A properly raised arch will stretch the foot and promote the movement of Qi. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the energy that flows through every living thing. The major pathways in the body that Qi flows through begin and end in your feet. This is the basis for foot reflexology. Tai chi is said to activate these pathways and improve general health.
Footwork in tai chi is slow and controlled. The graceful motions are easy to follow and will build accurate footing, flexibility, and strength. Changes in position draw attention to the feet, their angle, weight distribution, and placement. Increasing awareness and sensations in the feet can help improve balance.
Many people choose to practice tai chi barefoot to increase their sensitivity and awareness. For many people, this can be detrimental, so shoes are strongly suggested. Make sure your shoe is flexible and flat. Shoes that pull up at the toes will not allow for proper grounding. A broad sole can be useful for maintaining balance. Some specialty martial arts shoes are available for purchase.
If you would like to try a free tai chi class, visit the FAAWC on Wednesday, September 26th from 3pm to 6pm. We will be offering free tai chi demonstrations along with our balance challenge. Read more HERE!