En español | The Indian tradition of yoga, just like the Chinese practice of tai chi, is not just another workout. Both can be rigorous exercises that only athletes and martial artists should attempt. But the popular forms of these practices offer gentle variations that make them accessible to just about anyone.
In yoga—most commonly practiced in this country as hatha yoga—one incorporates breathing techniques while moving and holding a series of poses, or asanas.
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In its most popular form, tai chi incorporates choreographed sequences of slow, dance-like motions. Rooted in a philosophy of harmonizing opposites, tai chi was developed originally in the martial art tradition. Now, it is commonly used to promote general well-being.
“It's like a moving meditation,” says Miami journalist Susana Barciela, 47, a longtime devotee of tai chi. “It brings energy to all the right places.” Florida physician Nilza Kallos practices both yoga and tai chi. She has witnessed their healing power firsthand. Kallos is a nationally respected breast health specialist who has watched her patients suffer through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, and even die from it. She realized that her cancer patients and those in high-risk groups would benefit from a more holistic approach to their health, one that would complement annual mammograms and sonograms, and serve not only in healing but also in prevention. In 1999 she started the Within Wellness Center. It offers yoga, tai chi, meditation, nutrition consultations, massage, and even shamanic healing.
“The energy from these exercises comes like a light. Boom! Yoga helps you calm down. It's great for people with respiratory problems because it helps them control their breathing," says Kallos. “And scientifically, tai chi has been known to decrease blood pressure by 10 points or so. It can be as effective as aerobic exercise.”
She and other experts note that both practices improve balance, circulation, and flexibility; increase muscle strength; combat depression; and sharpen one’s ability to focus. They generate a kind of internal massage for all the vital organs. The meditative value of yoga and tai chi, they say, may prevent strokes and boost the immune system by increasing T cells and disease-fighting lymphocytes.
As people age, they tend to lose range of motion and their spatial orientation. “Some people are not aware of how they move and where they are in space, so they have accidents and missteps,” says New York City yoga instructor Luis F. Sierra, Ph.D., who has been practicing yoga for 25 years and devotes much of his work to hospital patients and senior center residents. “Doing yoga and tai chi helps us know, understand, and develop awareness of where we are in space.”