From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Tai Chi: Build Strength, Stability and Flexibility,” by Bill Helm, in the May 2010 issue. Article summary: Practicing tai chi involves learning a sequence of movements, or postures, and then performing them at a relatively slow rate of speed in a relaxed, graceful manner. The form is repeated in a choreographed sequence several times. The slow rate of speed allows the practitioner to observe the internal movements of the body and develop balance and timing, as well as lower-body strength. The upper body is relaxed and fluid as it performs the arm movements of the form.

by Jamey Wallace, N.D.

Professional athletes understand the importance of stretching and warming up before competitions. A good warm-up can activate the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems—essentially preparing the mind and body for the activity about to be performed.

As with athletes, massage practitioners rely heavily on the proper functioning of both body and mind. If one or the other isn’t in the game, it’s likely your clients will notice.

Tai chi, an ancient Chinese method of self-defense, can be just the warm-up you need. Tai chi can help you prepare both mentally and physically for your day, while also offering substantial benefits for your health and skill as a practitioner.

From a clinical perspective, tai chi is often described as moving meditation. Practitioners seek to clear the mind and achieve a sense of inner calm and focus through methodical, practiced movements and deep breaths.

From a traditional Chinese perspective, tai chi is the art of gathering qi (which can be characterized in naturopathic medicine as vis, or energy) focusing on it and moving it throughout the body. If we can consider qi as that which animates us, then we can begin to understand how powerful it can be to awaken and direct that energy at the start of the day.

The tangible benefits of tai chi are supported by many Western scientific studies. Massage practitioners who begin their day with tai chi will likely notice it helps to:

• Wake up, energize and more clearly integrate body and mind

• Fight fatigue, stress and overwork (tai chi was developed to increase longevity)

• Foster a sense of calm that spills tranquility over to clients

• Increase balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness

• Correct poor postural or movement patterns that can contribute to tension or injury

With more than 25 years experience as a tai chi practitioner, and as a university faculty member and clinician who cares for patients and students on a daily basis, I’ve experienced these benefits in my own life.

As people, we all strive for emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. As practitioners in the health and wellness field, we desire this not only for ourselves, but also for others. I’ve found a daily warm-up with tai chi provides amazing support for both pursuits.

Jamey Wallace, N.D., has practiced tai chi for more than 25 years. He is the clinic medical director for the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic for Bastyr University and the largest natural medicine clinic in the Pacific Northwest ( Wallace holds a doctor of naturopathy degree from Bastyr University, a master’s in electrical engineering from Boston University and a bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. As a practitioner, he strives to support the healing power of nature through natural therapeutics and a strong commitment to the doctor-patient relationship.