In this article we will discuss why the practice of tai chi is so valuable for children, and more importantly, why tai chi needs to be included as a required course of study in the public school system curriculum.
Tai Chi’s Two Functions
No matter one’s age, tai chi has two functions – as exercise for health and healing, and as a martial art for self defense. I will explain why it is important that children learn both the health and martial aspects of tai chi.
Tai Chi for Children – Part 1 will discuss tai chi’s health benefits. In Tai Chi for Children – Part 2 we will discuss tai chi’s benefits as a martial art.
Tai Chi: Health for Life
When we discuss any form of health giving exercise, we must consider whether or not it will be “healthy” for one’s entire lifetime. Many forms of physical fitness and sports activities that children are taught in school as “good healthy exercise” can not be continued in later years because of their damaging effect on the physical body (joints, soft tissues, back, etc). We see this in countless cases later in life in which people become dependent on pain killing drugs and/or orthopedic surgical procedures to “correct” this damage.
Another consideration is the effect of exercise on the nerves, since the nervous system controls all normal bodily function. It is vital to choose exercise that has a soothing/relaxing effect on the nerves. We definitely do not want to stress our nervous system! Does a particular form of exercise have a calming or exciting effect on our nerves? Long term excitation of the nervous system leads to many degenerative diseases and chronic pain later in life.
As a side note, since this article focuses on what constitutes healthy exercise for children, we need to discuss the accepted paradigm that “children need to engage in more strenuous physical activities to burn off that nervous energy that all children have…” The main reason children have all of this nervous energy is due to horrible dietary habits, loading up on sugar, greasy fried junk foods, etc. – but this will be discussed in a future article…
My question regarding this “burning off of nervous energy” in children is, if this is true, then why do the children continue to have this nervous energy every day? If strenuous exercise truly cures this problem, then why does it repeat over and over again?
Having taught tai chi to children on many occasions, I can state here with complete confidence that what the children need is a form of exercise that calms, rather than excites their nervous systems!
Balancing the Autonomic Nervous System
There are two sides to the autonomic nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic side gives us a big boost of energy, for example in an emergency. The parasympathetic side relaxes us and prevents us from burning out. Both sympa and parasympa need to function in a balanced way (i.e.- yin and yang balance). The “normal” way of thinking is for children to engage in exercise that exhausts them physically so that they will become relaxed and calm. Does it make sense to take a nervous system that is already exhausted and further stress it out? Or would it make more sense to focus on developing the relaxing (parasympa) side of the nervous system? You decide!
Silk Reeling Movement: The Healthiest Way to Exercise
Silk reeling is tai chi’s continually spiraling full body movement. In the practice of tai chi, all movements are performed in circles and spirals. This type of movement enhances vital energy (chi) circulation, which in turn, enhances blood flow, and hence healing of the whole body. Silk reeling also eliminates wear and tear on joints and muscles, and improves circulation to all soft tissues (especially tendons and ligaments). The result is increased longevity of all tissues and healthier more vibrant energy for the whole lifetime. This spiraling movement is the healthiest way to exercise the body. It also is the source of internal power for martial art.
Tai Chi: The Best Therapy
The list of health and healing benefits for children that comes from practicing tai chi goes on and on. I have used tai chi with my patients and students for more than 30 years as physical and rehabilitative therapy. I have personally witnessed amazing results in a large number of cases. When children learn and practice tai chi regularly, not only are they building a balanced strong and healthy body, they are also cultivating a unique preventive system of health care.
After extensive research regarding what constitutes the best form of physical fitness for children, I am convinced that for health, healing, and preventive care, there is nothing better than tai chi.
In my next article, Tai Chi for Children – Part 2, I will discuss the importance of practicing tai chi as a martial art for children.