According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one third of older adults fall, and falling is the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for persons age 65 and older. One of the central elements of Tai Chi is the development and control of BALANCE.
Accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. In the senior population, falls are the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries. One of the key elements of Tai Chi is balance. As mentioned in the page on ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF TAI CHI, the weight of the body is balanced almost entirely on one leg, shifting the weight back and forth as a person transitions through the movements. The shifting and balancing of the body’s weight help develops balance and can help to prevent falls.
The development of balance is particular to those styles of Tai Chi that focus on being “single weighted.” If the form does not focus on this element, benefits for balance may be diminished or even eliminated. When the weight of the body is balanced equally between the legs, this results in being “double weighted.” The reason for being single weighted lies in the martial origins of Tai Chi, but the practical effect for health is that by letting the weight of the body shift entirely to one leg (for example the right leg), the rest of the body can be allowed to relax entirely – the left leg, the hips, the torso, shoulders, arms, neck and head. This enhances blood diffusion, and muscular relaxation. As the movement transitions through to the opposite leg (for example, the left leg), the other side relaxes.
An analogy is often made of the idea of imagining one leg being “full” of water, and the water “pouring” into the “empty” leg as one shifts through to the next movement, until the full leg becomes empty, and the empty leg becomes full. This transition of empty and full occurs throughout the entire form. Essentially Tai Chi is the act of balancing on one leg and then the other, while relaxing the opposite leg and the entire body. This is the reason Tai Chi is such a valuable exercise for enhancing balance. The below link will take you to a video demonstrating the “three step” Tai Chi walking exercise demonstrating the above principles.