Tai Chi for everyone

More and more research is showing how Tai Chi can help you to stay healthy or to help older people to maintain balance, a normal blood pressure, a healthy heart and much more.

In fact, most people still see Tai Chi as something for old people. Even in China, most people forgot about the benefits and the ancient art of Tai Chi and see it just as exercise for the old to keep fit, a bit like aerobics for the elderly.

Nothing can be more from the truth. Tai Chi is more than that, as I will tell you from my personal experience.

When I was younger, I was already interested in martial arts, so I practiced judo and karate, but just as a recreational sports, not for competitions. So, I only practiced twice a week. I was sometimes into running, but was never good at it (2 or 3 km, at most 5km, and I was as red as a tomato and was panting for the next hour).

I loved exercise and I went to the gym frequently, but now I realize that I was never pushing myself. I was never trying to improve much. I just went along with the coach, e.g. during a spinning class, or was just trying to lift heavier weights, but never enough to improve my fitness level.

Until now, I didn’t realize what I was doing. I thought I worked on my health and that I was fit enough. Little did I know.

I hang out with people nIMG_20150531_063721ow who are into mountaineering, marathons and ultraruns. Compared to them, I am in really bad shape. But, I am also amazed at my current fitness level. I can’t run a marathon, but the girl who could only run 2 or 3 km, can all of a sudden run 16km without much preparation. Rock climbing? Ok, I’ll try and to my surprise I can finish routes that are a bit above beginner level (with pushing myself hard and people shouting encouragement from 20m down, yes, it’s also about overcoming a fear of heights).

How come that I can run 16km in 33 degrees celsius, while my more than 10 years younger self was panting at 3km in a colder climate?

The answer I got after reading some books and after some self-evaluation, is because of my Tai Chi.

Tai Chi gives you good balance, so I will put my feet and my body in a good way, which will make me less prone to injuries. The most important change is my breath. Tai Chi teaches you to breathe deeply and properly, the abdominal breathing. This way of breathing gives me more oxygen, which gives me more endurance. Tai Chi is a fully integrated system: the different movements let all your muscles work and because you practice them in a soft flowing way, you are more aware of what is going on in your body. If you put a foot or other body part in a different position, you will be more aware of it and you will adjust it faster. Another important feature is that it gives you a better posture, so my back is straight all the time. Every time when I curve my back or I slouch a bit, my body will correct itself immediately. This is important for running, but also in our every day life. As we are spending more time behind the computer or on the couch, a good posture is inevitable to stay healthy and fit into old age.

So, Tai Chi gives you a lot of advantages and not only when you are old, you can benefit from it at any age. That said, Tai Chi is no miracle cure too. You should always listen to your body and give your body enough rest after you do strenuous exercise like running. But, as Tai Chi will teach you, be aware of what is going on in your body and you will know when to stop or when to take a rest for some days.

I invite everyone to try some Tai Chi classes and feel the difference yourself.

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4 important tips to get you through summer, the Chinese way

1. Take an umbrella

Chinese people, and especially women, don’t like to be tanned and are holding an umbrella against the sun. At first, I didn’t understand this habit. Why not just put on sunscreen? But now, that I live here already many years and know how hot and humid summers are, I understand. Sunscreen doesn’t help: within a couple of minutes you sweat so much that the sunscreen washes off you. So, now, I find myself holding an umbrella against the sunshine as well. With all the skin cancer warnings and because of the beauty feature (you don’t want to get wrinkles), the umbrella doesn’t look that bad at all!

2. Take your flask everywhere

You see every Chinese with the inevitable flask filled with water or tea. It is good that you have shops everywhere where you can buy water, but if you are on a hike and forgot to bring some extra water, then the habit of having a flask with you is a lifesaver. You need to stay hydrated enough all the time, so you need to drink a lot of water. Before, I didn’t take my flask with me, and sometimes I just forgot to buy water, because I didn’t feel thirsty. But, you can’t wait until you are thirsty. You have to drink enough throughout the day. Water is the most important thing your body needs. Now, that I have the habit to take my flask with me everywhere, I notice that I drink more. Because I carry it, I am always conscious about my water intake, so I sip from it every 15 min. When my flask is empty, I refill it at a refill station (in China, you have certain areas in stations or even just public toilets where you can refill your flask for free) or I buy a water bottle and refill my flask with that.

3. Take a nap after lunch

Chinese do this every day, all year round. Before, I would get myself a cup of coffee, but in this hot weather that’s not a good idea. Coffee is a diuretic, so it will dehydrate you more. Instead, you can take a nap after lunch for about 15 to 30 min. It’s good for digestion and it will freshen you up. This hot weather makes you less energetic, especially during the hottest hour of the day, which is around lunch time. Many hot countries hold a siesta. Time for the rest of the world to follow their example and leave the coffee, or other stimulants, aside.

4. Eat or drink to cool your body down

Chinese still know which foods will heat your body and which ones cool you down.

Our diet is full of saturated fat, sugar, salt and processed food, as we hear or see every day in the media now. We have to cut down on them to stay healthy and to lose weight. But, why is that exactly? The main cause of weight gain and of most stress-related diseases is chronic inflammation.

What the Chinese call, heat in the body, so after we have eaten some food that heats our body (read: cause inflammation), we have to eat some food to cool it down. In summer, watermelon is the number one fruit to cool our body down, but mainly all natural food is good for cooling our body down. So, a diet rich in vegetables and fruit is the best for your body. Not only will you lose weight (or just stay on a healthy weight), you will feel more energetic and you will beat your stress and disease more easily.