FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Relax, breathe, balance. In tai chi, these movements focus the mind and body to relieve stress and strengthen the core. To an onlooker, the exercise may seem redundant, but recent studies show tai chi might be more helpful than assumed at first glance.
Tai Chi instructor Richard Martin demonstrates the details of Tai Chi during a Warrior Activity Recreational Sports class at Towle Gym, July 7. (Photo by Hope Myers)
These studies show tai chi to improve the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder as well as other injuries Soldiers often experience. According to research published in Psychology Today, “Exercises such as tai chi or meditation treat the whole person. Tai chi ... may be a good adjunct to psychiatric and/or cognitive-behavioral treatment of PTSD.”
Tai chi originated in ancient China as a form of martial art. The training involves five elements:
Taolu (solo hand and weapons routines/forms)
Neigong and qigong (breathing, movement and awareness exercises and meditation)
Tuishou (response drills); and
Sanshou (self defence techniques).
Most of tai chi’s movements are slow and continuous, meant to maintain balance throughout a sequence. To move through the sequence, the person shifts from one state of balance to another. Consistent practice of tai chi can improve the strength and flexibility of the body.
Fort Bragg has recognized the benefits of tai chi for wounded veterans struggling with PTSD. Towle Physical Fitness Center offers a tai chi class every Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. The class focuses on the five elements of tai chi.
Richard Martin, a longtime Fayetteville martial arts instructor, spends his time with Soldiers who are looking to strengthen their core and experience the benefits of the ancient art.
The class is free, but attendance has been low over the summer, said Martin, who wants to encourage participation.
“Tai chi is a lot more than relaxation,” said Martin. “It can be tailored specifically to any level of fitness and you don’t have to be young to practice it.”
Martin has worked with Soldiers and civilians of all ages, many of whom have various injuries.
“Tai chi focuses on the the spine, back, ankles, and knees. Many Soldiers have problems with exercising after injuries. Tai chi can slowly build your strength up without straining the body,” Martin explained.
When training injured Soldiers, Martin focuses on gentle stretching and relaxation techniques. He said he’s seen much improvement in his students, many of whom are tense with stress.
A major benefit of tai chi is how it teaches a person how to progressively relax. Combined with breathing control, clients’ breathing pattern shifts to a deeper state, which induces a chain reaction of the nervous system, brain function and the hormones of the participant.
“I’ve seen the health benefits in many of my clients,” said Martin. “After a couple of months, there is improvement in posture and breathing, as well as spinal alignment.”
Focusing on the movements of the form can help bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. Martin said he has seen
Soldiers relax as they work through an hour of tai chi. Their entire stance changes, their breathing pattern is altered to a deep diaphragmatic exercise, and they are far more relaxed.
“I believe tai chi can change your life,” said Martin. “The word ‘chi,’ literally means breath or energy. It gradually repairs common injuries and relieves the tension and stress every person experiences, especially Soldiers. I’d love to see more people feel the peaceful benefits of tai chi,” he said.
So, if you would like to experience the change Martin is talking about, show up to Towle Physical Fitness Center on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, at noon and sign up for his tai chi class. The class is open to all Soldiers and ID card holders.
Hope Myers, Special to the Paraglide