John Wesley wrote in his book “The Desideratum: or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful”, published in 1759, “there cannot be in Nature any such Thing as an absolute Panacea: A Medicine that will cure every Disease incident to the human Body.” Today, 254 years later, we still find our culture obsessed over panaceas–ways to cure all of our ills, especially that of mortality.
Tai Chi, that wonderful set of Chinese exercises which evokes images of energy, golden health, and long life, is frequently billed as a panacea for many physical issues in modern life. This idea of curative properties of this ancient art is scattered throughout much of the literature supporting the art, and is echoed across the internet. Search either Google or Bing the words “tai chi cure”, and you find loads of articles about Tai Chi being the best thing for Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Cancer, and of course, Old Age.
Naturally, many of these headlines are meant to draw eyeballs to the articles themselves, which may go on to explain some new ideas called “yin”, “yang”, and “chi/qi” or reference the use of Tai Chi exercise in some medical study which has subsequently been published in a leading medical journal. The truth of the matter, though, is that Tai Chi itself will cure nothing, other than perhaps the empty purse of the person seeking to teach it.
How can I say this horrible thing, flying in the face of centuries of Tai Chi/Qi Gong practitioners and Traditional Chinese Medicine healers, educating the West on this rich history of cure? While this next statement may appear obvious, it is the last idea that anyone arrives at: Tai Chi and related arts _are_ potentially curative, but only as one facet in an over-all curative lifestyle change or focus.
Ahhh. Lifestyle change. Yeah, that’s what all the soothsayers say. But I’m a modern person. Surely I just need to pop some antioxidant pills to ward off disease and early death. Oh, and a glass of red wine, too, right?
Wrong. Lifestyle change means more than seeking the latest fad, and Tai Chi can be seen as just a fad, if it is not part of a sweeping change to the way we live and view our lives. Our lives are cyclical month to month, season to season, year to year, and react to environmental effects of water, air, food, climate, and human society. HFCS aside, our children are actually on the right track by pursuing all sorts of sports alongside education – a high level of exercise along with good diet and strenuous mental challenges are the three legs of an ideal lifestyle. If you include Tai Chi in your “high level of exercise” leg, then it can be seen to be “curative”. But if all you focus on is Tai Chi, and stick to an unhealthy diet and no mental challenges, the Tai Chi is just as effective as the latest antioxidant craze.
So, here is your recipe for using Tai Chi to extend your life, in three parts:
1. Develop an overall exercise plan, to include
- a continuous movement art like Tai Chi, dancing, Karate (other martial art), swimming, bicycling, etc.
- a cardiovascular-specific workout to enhance heart health, increase endurance/stamina
- some form of meditation to give your mind wakeful rest
2. Develop an overall dietary plan, to minimize heart disease potential and cancer potential
- high in fiber and protein, using least-processed foods
- low in alcohol (1-2 drinks per week, instead of per day, if any at all)
- higher than normal consideration for water
3. Exercise your mind more than average
- learn an art, like writing, painting or Tai Chi (learning the Tai Chi forms can be very challenging)
- full-time employment or volunteering much of your time allows you to interact with other people and accomplish tasks which will keep your mind active
- attend social activities weekly, such as a church, club, volunteer group, or business/breakfast group.
Implementing these three legs, while time-consuming, is absolutely imperative to not only extending your life (whatever that means), but also enhancing the likelihood for you to actually say “Tai Chi did it for me!” or “my new diet did it for me!” or “joining XYZ social group did it for me!”. The goal here is extending “the quality” of life by building in disease-avoidance. After all, it’s the journey itself and not the destination that is the goal.