We recently ran several polls in the community – thank you to all who participated. One of the most requested types of support was movement ideas for people with knee pain.
(Standard disclaimer: It’s always important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new type of exercise or physical activity, and it’s good for them to be your partner in these choices).
One of the first things we’d like to suggest that you learn about tai chi.
We live in a world full of new technology, and you are probably reading this on your mobile phone right now. But some of the most effective types of movement that help us keep our mobility and strength are hundreds of years old, such as yoga and tai chi.
Tai chi (also called shadow boxing) originated at last 700 years ago. Since then it has been refined into a movement routine that has proven benefits for the whole body and mind.
Tai chi has now become a complete system of movement in which the practitioner’s mental concentration, breathing and actions are closely connected. It has paved the way for its current popular use as an ideal form of exercise for all aspects of health care.
Oprah Winfrey likes to practice tai chi and meditation often and has helped make tai chi a popular and mainstream practice. Often learned and practiced in groups, Tai chi needs no special equipment at all, just comfortable clothing and someone to lead new people who are learning.
New technology helps more and more people access Tai chi by video – if you search YouTube for tai chi there are hundreds of free instructors waiting to help you. We’ll include some links and suggestions at the end of this article to get you started.
What about tai chi for chronic knee pain and osteoarthritis? Most doctors and physical therapists recommend it. Here are some of the benefits:
ACCESSIBLE: Tai Chi is a gentle, proven method for building both body strength and mental strength that is easy for anyone at any age to find and learn. Classes are offered by most YMCA’s, health care providers, many church groups and more, and many are free.
SUPPORT: Learning Tai Chi can reduce the load on the painful part of your knees by making all the parts that are connected to your knees much stronger (such as muscles and ligaments).
FLEXIBILITY: The gentle movements of Tai Chi mean that you are moving your joints and making them more flexible. This is very beneficial and helps reduce stiffness and reduce chronic knee pain.
BALANCE: As we get older and move around less we can lose our sense of balance. This can result in stiffness and falls. The movements of Tai Chi will stimulate your sense of balance by making your mind and body talk to each other and become more connected.
SOCIAL: Joining a Tai Chi group at your local YMCA or church group is a great way to be social, and being social gives you a lift. A group also gives you lots of encouragement to learn new skills and tips for a healthy lifestyle.
MEDITATION: Clearing your mind of stress and anxiety has many benefits. When you concentrate on the gentle movements of tai chi your mind takes a break from worrying. It’s amazing how positive and strong that can make you feel. You may also feel less aware of chronic pain. Tai chi is a type of moving meditation that some people prefer to still meditation.
TAKING CONTROL: Before, during and after meditation you can think about your intentions for the coming days, and weeks, or for an important part of your life. Oprah Winfrey is a big believer in intention and how it helps you take control through willpower (see video link below). Why not try setting the simple intention of moving every day to strengthen mind and body? This is a great way to take control of your health.
Hopefully this article and peaked your interest in tai chi. Once you start to look, tai chi is everywhere! Your local YMCA almost certainly offers it. Your church might. Your community center might. Or you can follow a video on YouTube at home. Here are some suggestions that you should be able to view on your phone or computer:
Tai chi walking: one of the simplest types of tai chi movement that is focused on leg and knee strength (Under 2 minutes):
Tai Chi Walking Examples
How joining a tai chi group at a YMCA helped someone with depression feel better, and be more social and active (Under 4 minutes):
Oprah talks about intention
Sitting down. A nice introduction to sitting tai chi and yoga:
Very clear introduction to tai chi (30 minutes):
Another great video recommended to us:
A brief introduction of Tai Chi by Start Moving Start Living Ambassador Shawn Tucker:
(Modern) Tai Chi, also known as health Tai Chi. Modern Tai Chi was modified and simplified in recent decades so that everyone especially older people can practice and stay healthy. Among the various types of health Tai Chi, 24-form Yang-style is one of the most popularized ones. Master Jared has developed an 8-form program based on the traditional Yang style.
Six Basic Principles for Practicing Tai Chi
1. Go slow (慢man): move gently and circularly, looks like moving when submerged in water, here water is your life energy Qi, so the performance looks like fairy dancing in clouds. The feeling of life energy Qi is essential for practice, you can obtain the feeling after a long time continual practice.
2. Relax (松song): In relaxing we want to let the weight of our bodies sink into the ground, “relax” does not mean “collapse”. The downward movement of the weight is balanced by an upward supportive energy that reaches up through the top of the head, Baihui. In relaxing the areas in the upper body and pelvis, we allow the weight to sink. The muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched.
3. Body Upright (正zheng): We imagine a string lifting us up from the top of the head that our body can always keep straight and centered, “Head Upright, Spirit Rising”. Meanwhile, sinking allows the weight of the body to drop along the line of gravity all the way through the feet into the ground. Another way of describing this principle is simply balance. If the body is in balance, it is aligned with gravity (and it is also relaxed).
4. Shift weight (活huo): Also called separate weight, separate Yin and Yang/full and empty/substantial and insubstantial. As we move through the Tai Chi postures, we do so by shifting the weight from one leg to the other. We allow the upper body weight to sink to Dantian, driven by moving or turning the waist, the body can shift as a unit.
5. Keep mindful and quiet (静jing): When you are practicing, concentrate on the holistic movements, feel the internal energy and body Qi, follow the rhythm of the background music and enjoy and enter a peaceful, wonderful realm. That’s the reason why practicing Tai Chi can relieve stress and improve mental health.
6. Integrate movements (整zheng): The essence of Tai Chi movements are described as “rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, directed by the waist, and manifest in the hands.” which needs long-term gradual practice. In the beginning, focus more on the movement of the hands with a fixed step, then pay attention to the legs and hips as the source of the movement of the hands, then try holistic practice with side steps.