The Incredible Health Benefits of Practicing Tai Chi

Greg Burzynski originally published this post on LinkedIn.


Tai Chi Chuan means “Supreme Ultimate Fist,” a name that harkens back to arts roots as a combat system. Over time, Tai Chi evolved into a meditative art designed more for health and fitness. The Yang 24 form, a shortened version of the traditional kata, was developed more for physical fitness than combative application. Today, people practice the breathing exercises, forms, and drills of Tai Chi as part of a low-impact exercise program. A lot is said in general about the health benefits of Tai Chi, so let’s take a look at the specific ones.

Improved Balance

Performance of Tai Chi movements assists with developing better balance. At first assessment, the connection between improved balance and health enhancements fails to be obvious. Closer inspection reveals improved balance can reduce the chances of suffering an errant fall, the impact of which can cause serious injury. Anything that cuts down on the chances of a fall can be called beneficial.

A Sense of Calmness

Stress reduction remains a major reason why people undertake the practice of Tai Chi. The slow, peaceful movements are performed in conjunction with deep breathing allowing the practitioner to take part in a form of moving meditation. People deal with all different sources of stress, which can be overwhelming, and without an outlet for the stress, a person’s disposition doesn’t exactly become pleasant. Tai Chi serves as a nice, calming outlet for stress.

Weight Loss

Tai Chi definitely does not fall under the category of high-impact aerobics. Those looking to shed significant weight shouldn’t look to Tai Chi as their primary form of exercise. That being said, Tai Chi does involve movement and physical activity helps with burning calories. The addition of Tai Chi into a standard weight loss program certainly wouldn’t hurt and likely would lend an assist toward achieving one’s goals.

Improved Flexibility

Tai Chi does bring about the potential to improve flexibility since the circular and flowing movements could enhance range of motion. Improved flexibility can be beneficial to those hoping to reduce strains while increasing their body’s ability to perform daily tasks and is important for everyone, not just athletes.

Set Up a Routine

Accessing the benefits of Tai Chi practice requires consistency. Even as little as ten minutes of forms work every other day could begin to yield some results. Learning a simple routine from a qualified instructor might be all someone needs to get a good foundation in the art’s basics.

Online Therapy

Psychotherapy is a great tool in mental health and is often used to combat the symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and many other mental health issues. However, for some people accessing a therapist just isn’t feasible, whether due to transportation issues, disability, or physical limitations, meaning that traditional therapy likely isn’t an option. Fortunately, there are new ways to access the same care received with talk therapy without even needing to leave your home through online therapy.

A major benefit the American Psychological Association (APA) has seen with online therapy is the comfortability level of being online rather than face to face. Patients, especially young adults, find that sharing their personal thoughts and concerns with a stranger is less intimidating via email, text, and even video calls.

There is still much to be pioneered in the future of online therapy. One of the most recent developments has been the tool named the  Mind Elevator. “A client enters a thought or feeling, hits submit and the tool evaluates that thought or feeling on a colorful scale that is like a big rainbow with sad and happy faces. The tool then provides a sentence of feedback and encourage the person to modify that thought or feeling to make it more positive, less self-critical or less negative or pessimistic. It also keeps track of several successive entries, so it responds to a whole chain of thoughts and feelings, not just the one that was most recently submitted,” as described by Dr. Sherry Benton in her article titled Reducing mental health disparities through online therapy. Artificial intelligence tools such as this can help aid those who are in need when a friend or a therapist isn’t available. They are specifically beneficial to patients with low-intensity needs and high motivation for engagement.

There are a few factors to be cognizant of when beginning your online therapy. In the United States especially, laws regarding psychiatry, psychology, therapy, and counseling differ from state to state. It is important to check the licensing of any “professional” you seek out as it is easy for someone to imitate these types of professionals online. Because of this, many insurance companies do not support this type of mental health care, therefore will not cover the cost. Just like starting at any other doctor’s office, make sure you do the proper research because the benefits you reap from online therapy can be extremely rewarding.

Integrative Medicine in Pediatric Care

Integrative medicine is being practiced more and more regularly as a part of a holistic approach to medicine for adults, and recently it has begun making waves in pediatric care as well. 1 in 10 children receive integrative medicine, and more than 50% of children with a chronic illness partake. As I am not a pediatrician but internal medicine doc, and realize toddlers are not just little people I do respect the opinion of those that have been trained in this tender age group. Most recently our son came down with a cough which lasted a bit longer than a few days, and I was strongly recommended by the many women in our family to take our young son to the urgent care “just to make sure” there was nothing else making him ill given my limitations. I was nicely surprised when the pediatrician recommended tea with honey to relieve a post nasal drip cough which was the final diagnosis. Therefore, it is vital to understand how integrative medicine works and why it can be useful for parents to incorporate it. In order to understand the positive effects, let’s look at some examples.

Massage

Nobody is going to complain about getting a massage, but did you know massages do more for your body than simply make you feel good? Livestrong posted an article about the positive effects of massage therapy. Some of the most common include decreased stress, pain relief, increased circulation, and immune system function. All of these benefits are good for anyone at any age, but starting massage therapy at a young age can increase the benefits as time goes on.

Nutrition

Diet is an important part of everyone’s life, and instilling good diet habits early can set a child up for a healthy, happy life. It is shown that a poor diet has lasting negative consequences in children. This includes both physical and mental troubles, which can range from obesity to depression. Poor nutrition can also correlate to a number of eating disorders down the line, and studies have shown that eating disorders are popping up in younger children all the time. In order to combat diseases down the line, stick to a well-rounded nutritional plan.

Yoga

Exercise is good for everyone, but yoga is a specific type of exercise that incorporates flexibility, strength, and mental focus. The physical benefits of yoga can often be greater in children than in adults, as children are continuing to grow. Furthermore, yoga can be incorporated with meditation to provide an outlet for calm introspection, which children may not naturally have.

Art/Dance/Music

Art and music are some of the most popular forms of self-expression. There are numerous studies about the positive effects in children, at Arts.gov recently there was a published study linking art and music involvement to lower alcohol and marijuana consumption, higher optimism about attending college, and less engagement in delinquency. Dance is also lumped into the arts, and even better it has the added benefit of exercise.

Integrative medicine is a large topic that includes many categories. Not every category is right for every child, but exploring the possibilities can allow you to make the best decision on what is right for your family. At the end of the day, it is crucial to understand and acknowledge that integrative medicine is an important part of life and it is unlikely to go away.

The Importance of Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Better physical health

Physical health and mental health are tightly connected. Many mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, can worsen your blood pressure and put a strain on your heart. People with these illnesses are more likely to die from heart-related illnesses. According to the WHO, poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions, including chronic pain and chronic fatigue.

And this connection goes both ways. So, if you develop a chronic physical condition as a result of your chronic mental health issues, the stress of the physical conditions can cause your mental health to worsen. On the other hand, working to improve your physical health, for example through careful eating and exercise, can have a positive impact on your mental health by reducing your stress levels, improving your memory, releasing mood-boosting endorphins, and improving your sleep.

More productive

People experiencing mental health conditions struggle to be productive. Mental illnesses can make it harder for you to motivate yourself to work, and harder to focus on the work once you’re doing it. And over time, mental illnesses can severely decrease your sense of self-worth, leaving you feeling like you wouldn’t be able to produce anything worthwhile even if you could put the time in.

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, you’ve probably noticed this phenomenon in your own life. Everyone has good days and bad days, and you’ve probably realized that you work better on your good days. And inversely, you’ve probably realized that when you are most productive, you feel better.

Better relationships

Bad mental health can cause your relationships to suffer. Mental illness can cause you to miss engagements, lash out at loved ones, or isolate yourself for long stretches of time. The overall stress of dealing with a mental illness, like any chronic illness, can also saturate your personal life. On the farthest end of the spectrum, people with severe mental illnesses can wind up completely isolated or stuck in an abusive relationship.

Again, even if you don’t have a mental illness, you will find yourself struggling socially when you’re tired, crabby, or stressed. Improving your mental health improves your relationship with your friends, your families, and your romantic partner. And having that support network there to help you is essential in maintaining your mental health.

How Effective is Medication in the Treatment of Addiction

Treatment for addiction with medicine-based therapy does not amount to pushing the envelope in the process of curing any addiction but it can make people productive again and lead normal lives as opposed to craving and seeking an illegal substance.

Misinformation or a lack of knowledge on Medication-Assisted Treatment/Therapy (MAT) may drive you to search for other methods of recovery from addiction.  This is why it is necessary to get well-versed with MAT.

Medication-Assisted Treatment/Therapy works by using opiates that are released in the neurological system. They cross the barrier of blood-brain and attach to receptors that are present on the brain cells. This process triggers an outpour of neurotransmitters and generates a high that is felt by the receiver.

This medicine-based treatment technique generally works in one of the two ways:

  1. Doctors may prescribe patients opioids that will trigger the same receptors that but are      absorbed in the blood over a longer period of time, rebutting the withdrawal symptoms and breaking a psychological link between consuming a drug and instantly feeling high.  Methadone is an example of such a medication, and is officially referred to as a full mu-opioid receptor agonist.  Another example isbuprenorphine which is a partial mu-opioid agonist.
  2. Doctors may prescribe antagonist opioids such as naltrexone or naloxone. They are drugs that cover the same receptors and creates barriers against them. And if the condition of any patient deteriorates or relapses, they should not feel euphoria if an illegal opioid is used, unless that dose is large enough to displace the blocking drug.  Opioid cravings are reduced as well and there is no abuse potential with naltrexone, or naloxone.

Is MAT genuinely the way to go to cure any addiction?

So far, the data and the statistics that show the success rate of MAT is significantly high enough to outweigh any drawbacks. Better outcomes are seen with this form of therapy than those without medication assistance. It reduces the danger of relapses, has the potential to prevent grave diseases like HIV, and has been known to be effective in preventing overdoses.

In spite of all the positive outcomes, experts believe there are quite a few gaps in this technique. One of the gaps is determining the suitability of each drug for an individual. It is of utmost importance to choose the right drug for the right patient. Each drug has different risks and benefits for different psychological states. For instance, the patient can overdose and die on methadone whereas they cannot have any such ill effects from naltrexone and with buprenorphine it becomes less likely.

Ultimately, the decision is made through discussions between the patient and the medical professional who decides the best course of treatment. Working together is the best course to determining what the right treatment for each patient will be.

A Look into Mind-Body Medicine

In most Western medical practices, mental health and physical health are viewed as two separate entities; physical health is handled by a primary care physician and mental health is covered by a psychologist or psychiatrist as needed. However, newer practices are pulling from centuries-old beliefs that the health of the mind and the health of the body are more interconnected than we’ve been practicing.

Mens sana in corpore sano.

In ancient Greek times, there was a firm and widely held belief that the mind and body are connected and influence the health of one another. A well-known Latin phrase was developed from this belief: “mens sana in corpore sano” translates to mean “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” In essence, total, holistic wellness is wellness in both your mental and physical health. This duality between mind and body remained the common belief and practice until the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods when they were separated into two different entities. In the 17th century, Rene Descarte described humans as being comprised of two contrasting substances which could not unify with one another; the mind being sentient and able to reason but without substance, and the body with substance but constricted to the physics of earth whereas the mind is not.

Reconnecting the mind and body.

As medical knowledge progressed and our understanding of health deepened, the importance and influence of the mind began to creep its way back into discussions of physical health in the 20th century. They began to study the power that the mind has over the body in the wake of studies on how placebos can affect the body’s ability to control pain.

Mind-body health today.

Today, an entire sector of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is devoted to researching the connection between mind and body health. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) studies the impact that mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect a person’s health.

Some mind-body medicine practices from the NCCIH include mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, yoga, deep breathing, massage, and homeopathy. Mind-body practices also promote the use of natural products like herbs, minerals, probiotics, and vitamins.

The designation that mind-body health practices are “alternative medicine” presents a misinforming picture of the power that incorporating these holistic practices in life can have. “Alternative” gives the impression that all typical Western health practices are abandoned when in reality it just expands the scope through with which we view these practices and understand their impact.

Mental Illness in America

We’ve come a long way as far as cultural perception and stigma surrounding mental illness are concerned. As far back as ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, mental illness was viewed as divine punishment or unholy possession, and this perception continued on through the Middle Ages. In America, by the time the 18th century rolled around the perceptions had changed but the stigma had not. Although supernatural factors were no longer believed to be the common cause of mental illnesses, the lack of understanding and preconceived ideas about mental illnesses perpetuated the desire for the confinement of these individuals.

The first major move in the treatment of mental illness in America came from Dorothea Dix, an American teacher and author turned activist who sought to expose and change the horrific conditions of the mental institutions that existed throughout the nation. In the 1800s, the stipulations for institutionalization were vast and arbitrary. On top of the horrific terms on which people could be committed, the conditions in these places were shockingly terrible. One example of this occurred at Auburn Prison in 1821where the majority of 80 male patients in solitary confinement either broke down mentally or committed suicide. Dorothea saw the injustices these people faced — in her words, being kept “in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!” —and pledged to help them the best she could.

Over a 40-year period, Dorothea was directly responsible for the United States government’s funding of 32 state psychiatric hospitals across the country. While her work did wonders for the advancement of people who are mentally ill, it also lead to mass institutionalization where any people seen as public nuisances or were viewed as dangerous were committed to these institutions.

The early 1900s offered some strides as well as some fallbacks. The use of electroshock therapy became widespread in the treatment of mental illness, often without the use of anesthesia. Patients were also subjected to frontal lobotomies and hydrotherapy where patients were submerged in or blasted with water as means of treatment. However, in the 1950s, new medications that could help stabilize unstable patients mixed with funding cuts to large, scandal-ridden state hospitals lead to deinstitutionalization which dramatically reduced the number of patients being held at these centers.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the series of Mental Illness in America.

How Common are Mental Health Problems?

Mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; every year over 42 million people in the U.S. suffer from some kind of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia. Other types of mental illness are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders and personality disorders.

Additional mental health problems include stress response syndromes. Stress response syndromes happen when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms when faced with a stressful event or situation. Stress events that cause stress responses are a major illness, a natural disaster like a tornado, death of a loved one, divorce or marriage, or a major move overseas. Those who suffer from these dissociative disorders suffer with severe disturbances or changes in memory or identity.

Keep in mind; there are many things which can cause mental illness such as inherited traits. It probably is no surprise that mental illness is more common in those who have blood relatives who have a mental illness, and genes linking certain conditions are being described frequently. Another factor is exposure to environmental stressors before birth such as alcohol or drugs.  In utero exposure or circumstances can bring about epigenetic changes which will shape one’s life for better or for worse.  Imbalances in neurochemistry or brain chemistry are often biochemical reason or a cause of mental illness.

It’s no surprise, I’m sure especially to the younger generation which carries much school debt that stressful life situations include financial problems and can be an additive factor to one suffering from mental illness.  A childhood with abuse or neglect, and a limited social network can set the stage for mental illness.

There are several effective strategies that can be taken that reduce and in some cases reverse mental illness.  One of these pillars is psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy is when mental illness is treated by a trained mental health professional through counseling discussions. Psychotherapy delves into a person’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors to begin heal or improve a person’s well-being. Medication is also prescribed for some mental illness conditions. Case management is another way to treat mental illness and coordinates services for a person with the help of a case manager which can be likened to a “project manager”.  Hospitalization may be necessary for certain patients given circumstances.  Group therapy through support groups, or peer support also may be beneficial in numerous cases.

Other treatments that you can do for yourself, include treating yourself with respect and kindness, not being overly critical of yourself, making time for hobbies or other relaxation strategies.  Even small things like finding time to read a book or do a crossword puzzle. It can not be emphasized enough how important it is to eat nutritious food, exercise, get enough sleep, and to be surrounded by positive or nurturing people; those who are family-oriented and those who support you with your way of life.  Giving back by volunteering to help others, being mindful and learning how to deal with stress through journal writing or simply looking for the humor in life. Taking a moment to be grateful or just going outside for awhile and appreciating what you see; all are activities that can help treat and prevent certain mental health problems.

To conclude, mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; however, there are many effective treatment strategies which can mitigate mental illness or ideally prevent.