Thursday, February 10, 2011

The History of Tai Chi and Health-Part V: Tai Chi in Western Culture

This is the last article in the history of Tai Chi and Health series

The current view of Tai Chi in Western popular culture is that it is primarily a Chinese exercise for elderly people, and not one particularly ideal for cardiorespiratory fitness. Some people who are interested in martial arts see Tai Chi as a viable form of martial arts training. The definition used commonly by both Western and Eastern researchers is that “Tai Chi is a low impact, low to moderate intensity exercise incorporating elements of balance, strength, flexibility, relaxation, and body alignment” (Taylor-Piliae and Froelicher, 2004, p.49).

A broader view, however, is presented in a 2002 demographic survey done in the United States, which found that more than 2.5 million people practiced Tai Chi and 500,000 practiced Qigong (Birdee et al., 2009). The age range was evenly split throughout all age groups, countering the stereotype that Tai Chi is primarily for older adults. Birdee et al. posit that because Tai Chi has roots in martial arts, it increasingly may be viewed as masculine and attractive to younger people (2009). The majority of the Tai Chi and Qigong users was Caucasian, but proportionately there was no difference in race or ethnicity; most had a healthy BMI and self-reported good health. The authors also found that 11.4% of the users practiced Tai Chi for a cardiovascular workout. From this study, it would appear that a large number of people perceive Tai Chi as a cardiovascular workout and good for health maintenance.

It is really important to stay open and re-invent yourself and re-invent Tai Chi. Many people, especially physical activity researchers want to place activities into categories. As a researcher myself, I understand the rationale for this. There has to be some kind of standardization so other researchers can test hypotheses. The problem is then the practice becomes limited. As a Tai Chi practitioner and someone who wants their life to be a work of art, I seek to be unlimited. Tai Chi is fresh and new NOT only an ancient exercise for elderly people.

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