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Sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging)
Adults over the age of 50 lose approximately 1% of muscle mass each year as a natural consequence of aging.
The only way to offset this is to engage in a strength building regime that can be sustained throughout your natural life. Qigong and tai chi qualify as ideal methods for accomplishing this goal.
However, daily practice is a must.
Muscles turn energy into motion, enabling us to speak, move and perform tai chi. To move bones, one muscle releases (lengthens) and the other contracts (shortens) - this is healthy and normal.
The problem arises for people when they fail to release the contracted muscle after it has moved the bone, or when they over-use one muscle group at the expense of another; causing imbalance and weakness.
'Tensing-up' is the habitual over-contraction of a muscle, such that it impedes joint movement. Flaccidity is almost as bad; failing to support the bones properly.
Our approach to tai chi uses opposing muscle groups to balance and tone the body.
The ideal measure of tone is that you employ only as much contraction or release as is required to accomplish the required task. This is usually far less than you think.
One side-effect of learning our style of tai chi is that it will change your muscles considerably. Some muscles will grow larger and others will transform through relaxation.
Tai chi should make your body substantially stronger. Your arm muscles will not develop unduly unless you do a lot of stick work or standing qigong every day.
However, your legs, back, shoulders and mid-section will substantially increase in size. Casual practice will not produce this.
One major advantage of consistent on-going home practice is the cultivation of muscle memory. Rather than having to recall every movement, the exponent's body knows where to go and what to do.
This is the first step in moving in a tai chi way... What's the catch? To accomplish this, frequent, mindful practice is needed. There's no other way to attain this skill.
The more often your body performs tai chi movements, the more likely it is to remember them automatically.
High repetition of qigong and tai chi movements results in muscle memory. The muscles are familiar with how and where to move and the brain directs the action.
It will feel as though they moved by themselves. This is essentially no different to what happens when you drive a bicycle or a car.
However, with tai chi you are learning long, complex sequences of movements/combat drills/applications, so the challenge is greater and more diverse. The advantage of muscle memory is habit.
You do not have to think as much. You can become immersed in the event itself.
Oddly, the most passive exercise of all may just have the biggest effect on your body. Most people have a very constricted chest, hunched or lifted shoulders and an over-developed upper-back.
When you lie down daily, your chest begins to open in the middle as it learns to relax. This is not muscle growth, but relaxation. Supple muscles are longer and healthier in tone.
As your chest opens-up you will breathe better and feel more upright, your chest will relax and your shoulders drop naturally. The bunched tension at the top of your spine will diminish.
There is a great danger in
pushing forward relentlessly.
If energy is used to excess, exhaustion follows.
This is not the Way.
Whatever goes against the Way ceases to live.
(Lam Kam Chuen)
Psoas exercises & connection
A healthy psoas muscle will increase the benefit of all other movement by providing a stable base from which your body can operate.
Taking the time to practice the simple exercises will amplify the effect of your routine. The psoas exercises will help your body to tie the extremities into the centre.
When lifting your arms during form, it will feel as if the movement can be felt right down to the hip joint. This may feel mildly challenging at first.
It tones the front of the torso from the abdomen to the chest.
Standing qigong will strengthen your back, legs and torso. Although the exercise is relatively passive in nature, it requires tremendous strength to hold the arms in place for 15-40 minutes without fatigue.
Breathing naturally and easily oxygenates the blood and this will reduce fatigue in the muscles.
The various postures of full circle qigong challenge your body to maintain the position without tensing-up.
As you become stronger, your body relies more upon the elastic tissues to assist the muscles: tendons, ligaments and fascia.
By cycling through 6 postures, different muscle groups are challenged to release their tension and relax whilst working.
Ba duan jin is tremendous for building-up strength. By imagining an obstacle to lift or move and getting your body beneath or behind it, you increase muscle workload without lifting weights.
Slow motion movement is necessary for this. The 15 moving qigong exercises are good for developing the legs and back; rippling the spine requires a very good connection throughout the entire body.
Healthy muscles are not simply larger in size, they need to be mobile, flexible, supportive and supple.
created 17 April 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023