Tai Chi During PregnancyA Safe Mind-Body Workout
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to deal with stress, especially during pregnancy. But finding a safe type of exercise that you enjoy can be a problem. Walking and swimming are always popular, but if you'd like to try something different, a gentle form of martial arts called Tai Chi might just be what you're looking for.
With its combination of fluid movements and deep breathing techniques, Tai Chi offers a complete mind/body workout that builds strength, improves balance and increases flexibility without strain. Tai Chi is very gentle-there are no harsh, strenuous or jerking motions involved, making it the perfect exercise during pregnancy, even if you've never exercised before.
The concept of "chi" (a vital life energy that runs through the body) is a very strong belief in Chinese medicine and philosophy. The primary aim of Tai Chi is to improve the circulation of this "chi" throughout the body and by doing so, improve your health and vitality.
Tai Chi, as it is practiced in the west today, can best be described as a combination of yoga in motion and meditation. Tai Chi consists of several so-called forms or sets, which are made up of a sequence of continual movements. Many of these movements originated from the natural movements of animals and birds, which are performed in a slow, graceful manner with one movement flowing gently into the next.
One well-known part of Tai Chi is the two-person "push-hands" exercise, which helps develop sensitivity to another person's "chi" or vital energy. This exercise allows each participant to channel potentially destructive or unhealthy energy away from themselves (by means of a punch or a kick) and dissipating the negative energy so it is no longer a danger.
In Tai Chi, you're always moving, but always under complete control. The whole body moves as one, with each part of the body balanced in circular movement-the weight of the body shifts continuously throughout the form as the next movement begins in one fluid motion.
Often referred to as "moving meditation", this ancient form of martial arts has been practiced in China for centuries. Tai Chi is an ideal pregnancy workout because it:
A typical Tai Chi class will teach you meditation, as well as how to coordinate your breathing with each movement-and this knowledge of controlled breathing can later be used during labor. If you're interested in learning Tai Chi, it's important to find an instructor who understands the special needs of pregnant women. As always, check with your physician before beginning any fitness routine.
"During my second pregnancy, I couldn't handle all the pounding of aerobics but I was still looking for a workout to improve my general well-being and physical fitness," says Stephanie Woodhouse of Tallahassee, Florida. "After my first Tai Chi class, I knew I'd found the answer. Its low-impact movements were easy to do but still gave me a very thorough workout. And learning how to focus my mind and my breathing came in handy when it was time to give birth."
For more information about Tai Chi:
Beginning Tai Chi by Tri Trong Dang describes the "Simplified Tai Chi" form, a set of 24 movements specifically designed for beginners by China's Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports.
Tai Chi for Health by Dr. Paul Lam, available here.
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