Tai Chi for Weight Loss

Tai Chi can play an important role in weight loss, from several different perspectives. In this article, we are going to look at the way Tai Chi can be a part of your overall fitness and health regimen in 3 ways. We’ll look at the way Tai Chi:

  • Helps you transition into exercise if you’ve been hurt or out of practice for a long time.
  • Refines your sense of movement, alignment, and flow.
  • Reduces your overall stress level, which is essential from a hormonal point of view in the weight loss process.

When you understand the very specific role Tai Chi plays in each of these dimensions, you’ll see how Tai Chi can be an important component in your overall weight loss strategy. Let me be clear, though, Tai Chi as your sole tool for weight loss is not the best approach. You need to refine how you eat and how you move to be successful. Tai Chi will help you with the latter.

Tai Chi Gets You Moving Again

Recently, I did an interview with Dr. Mark Cheng, who is launching a Tai Chi program designed to teach you the foundations of healthy movement. In part 2 of the interview, he explains:

I’m not reinventing the wheel, as much as going back to what Tai Chi was supposed to be originally. From what one of my teachers said, Tai Chi at its inception was taught so that you understand that all the basics, all the fundamentals of movement, all of the baseline of skill that we’re supposed to be laying is actually the secret to high performance. If you want to perform well, if you want to build skill, but you don’t have that solid foundation, in Chinese, they say, lian wu bu lian gong, dao lao yi chang kong which means, if you train martial arts, but you don’t establish a foundation of functional movement, as you get older you’re left with nothing.”

These movement fundamentals are essentially what is missing for most people who have not exercised for a long time. Sadly, almost everyone who tries to get in shape as an adult runs into injury, and gives up, within six months of trying to get started again. Really, I’ve seen statistics that put the number close to 90%.

And if you don’t weigh what you did when you were 20, but you haven’t been very active, your body is actually a little confused about how to use the body that you now have. You need to re-learn movement any time you go through significant body composition change or you’ve taken long breaks between being active.

The first step to using Tai Chi for weight loss is as a tool for re-learning how to move your body. The gentle, slow motion movements are ideal for this process.

Cross-Training Tai Chi and Western Fitness

The main reason Tai Chi is done in slow motion is so that you can develop better body awareness. You learn to pay attention to your bones and joints and how they move through space. This kind of refined movement awareness can carry over into other traditional Western fitness activities like running and lifting weights. When you are trying to change body composition, these are essential activities, because you do need to work your body into new, challenging movement patterns.

If you’ve laid a good foundation with Tai Chi, you’re past old injuries and you feel stable, balanced, and you can move with precision and control, then you might be ready to add more activity to your weight loss routine.

Here is one example of a movement principles that you learn in Tai Chi and can carry over into other activities:

Can you see the same femur bone rhythm at work in this Tai Chi movement?

When you hit the weight room, you take the same awareness of movement, in this case, femur rhythm, and put it into squats and lunges. When you first start out, moving under control through a full range of motion, using only your body weight for resistance, will be plenty.

As you progress, be sure to follow these healthy movement principles drawn from Z Health’s Elements of Efficiency, but completely consonant with Tai Chi principles:

  • Keep breathing.
  • Maintain alignment as you move.
  • Execute each repetition with perfect form (in this case, the bone rhythm should be smooth and consistent in terms of speed and balance).
  • Balance tension and relaxation (if you’re doing a squat, you don’t need to tense your facial muscles or clench your fists, you’re working your hips).

There’s much more to be said about carrying Tai Chi principles into lifting, running, or even swimming. The best bridge I’ve come across are the training DVDs put out by Z Health Performance. I’m a certified Z Health trainer I use these drills and concepts with my Tai Chi students all the time to help them refine and expand their movement vocabulary.

Tai Chi, Stress, and Weight Loss

At this point, I hope you have a clearer picture of how Tai Chi helps you become a better mover. Through the gentle, slow-motion movements of the Tai Chi form, you are opening the door to fitness again. Eating well is obviously another big component, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.

The third piece to this puzzle, though, which Tai Chi does address well, is your stress level. Here’s how Tai Chi can play a role in managing stress:

The connection between stress and weight loss is very direct. Dr. Arya M. Sharma, Professor of Medicine & Chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, explains the link here.

Stress has both a psychological and physiological impact on weight management as it affects a patient’s eating and exercise behaviors.

Physiologically, stress increases serum cortisol, which in turn affects appetite. Eating can be an appropriate response to stress as it decreases serum cortisol levels.

Psychologically, stressed individuals may find themselves more distractible with decreased ability to focus, concentrate and plan — abilities that are essential to lifestyle-based weight management. As well, individuals under stress may fall into more disorganized patterns of eating and miss meals or snacks, thereby allowing hunger to influence their eating decisions.

Teaching patients stress-reduction techniques, or directing them to appropriate stress-reduction resources may help with their weight-management efforts. Meditation, yoga, deep-breathing techniques, exercise and professional counseling can all be considered. (source)

As you integrate dietary changes, movement, and Tai Chi into a complete body composition change strategy, the meta-lesson from a Tai Chi perspective, is that stable change happens slowly, gradually, and with as little tension as possible. In your Tai Chi practice, you learn to appreciate small steps every day.

Want to learn more about Tai Chi? Check out other articles here in the archives.

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