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Why Practicing Tai Chi May Benefit Your Recovery


When recovering from an eating disorder, strenuous exercise may not be an option, but a gentle activity such as tai chi might be suitable and beneficial.

The movements of tai chi are slow and will not leave you breathless, yet this form of exercise improves flexibility, balance, and muscle strength and provides some aerobic conditioning.

Talk to your doctor before beginning tai chi to make sure the activity is right for you.

What Tai Chi Is Like

Tai chi consists of a series of motions performed slowly and without pause – one movement flows into the next. During the movements, people breathe naturally and deeply, and are attentive to any sensations felt in the body.

When doing tai chi, the muscles and joints stay relaxed. The movements are smooth, never forced, and many of them involve a soothing circular motion. It benefits people of all fitness levels and can be adapted for those with mobility issues.

A series of movements in tai chi is called a form. Some forms are short, made of 13 to 40 motions, while long forms may contain hundreds of movements. Most beginners start by learning basic motions and short tai chi forms.

Taking a class may be the best way to learn, but there are plenty of books, websites, and videos available for home study.

Tai Chi and Eating Disorder Recovery

Besides being a low-impact activity, tai chi may suit those recovering from an eating disorder for several other reasons:

  1. Tai chi, although it is often practiced in groups, is non-competitive. The focus is on one’s own movement, breath, and physical sensations. This creates tranquility within and without. Classes tend to be supportive and encouraging.
  2. People of all ages, shapes, sizes, states of health, and fitness levels practice tai chi, and it is generally done wearing loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.
  3. Some individuals with an eating disorder feel disconnected from their bodies. Tai chi not only develops awareness of bodily sensations; it also helps people sense the position of their bodies in space (called proprioception). Plus, increased awareness of physical sensations helps some individuals get in better touch with their emotions.
  4. Research suggests tai chi helps people maintain good bone density, and bone density can be an issue in some eating disorders.
  5. For those who struggle with sleep problems, regular tai chi practice may improve both the length and quality of sleep.
  6. Learning even a short tai chi form is a mental and physical accomplishment, and accomplishments are usually accompanied by a boost in self-appreciation.
  7. This type of gentle, compassionate, physical exercise has the potential to reshape a person’s self-image and how he or she thinks about his or her body.
  8. Learning tai chi is a mental discipline. It takes people’s minds off their problems, worries, and pressures – a healthy distraction that, over time, can nurture a habit of mental tranquility.

Source: Harvard Health Publications
Photo credit: Steven Depolo