Tai chi is a martial art, though it may seem unlike any other martial art you have seen. It combines breathing techniques and gentle motions of the body to heighten the immune system rather than depressing it, such as through exhausting physical activity. It is through these deliberately soft movements that the benefits of tai chi can be attained.

“Tai chi can be practiced by anyone in just about any condition,” says Steve Oliver, a health and wellness consultant from Nova Scotia who has focused on improving the wellbeing of others since his early twenties. “Tai chi has been rated by the World Health Organization as the form of exercise with the lowest impact to the body yet providing a high degree of health benefits, both mental and physical.”

Oliver teaches an introductory form of tai chi called “24 Form – Yang Style.” It is the most practiced form of tai chi in the world and is a complementary community program in Thailand.

The most striking benefits of practicing tai chi are the ones that happen almost immediately. On the first day of practicing tai chi, people feel more relaxed and are more at peace. Continuing to practice leads to enhancing the health of internal organs, falling asleep easier and the reduction of blood glucose levels.

Oliver began a trial program teaching tai chi at the HomeBridge Youth Society in January of 2010 after discussing how tai chi could promote wellness among their clients.

HomeBridge Youth Society, a non-profit, community driven charity, provides at-risk youth with residential care, educational support and therapeutic programs. The organization operates six residential facilities in Nova Scotia and teaches youth how to address their difficulties in an acceptable way.

“In the first year of the trials they decided to make tai chi and meditation a core approach with the youth,” says Oliver. “The practice of tai chi helps your nervous system ’calm down’ and your overall body to function more efficiently.”

The Society noted that, after just a single 45 minute session, the clients and instructors who participated, as well as those who were observing, appeared calmer and more relaxed. The results were positive and Homebridge now looks to implement the tai chi program in all their facilities.

“We want less structured physical activities,” says Renee Stevens, communications and development officer at HomeBridge Youth Society. She explains that HomeBridge has used non-traditional types of physical programming in the past including circus training, yoga and parkour. They have now decided to train staff members in tai chi instruction.

“I had been conducting similar ‘train the trainer’ tai chi projects in long term care facilities. I was asked if the approach could work for the youth at HomeBridge,” says Oliver. “In addition, I started my interest in meditation when, as a teen, I participated in an innovative children’s theater group.”

Oliver’s goal is to use the project as a model for organizations to address the wellness of their clients. He tells us that when people, particularly the young, are left with their body’s “stress response” on, it leads not only poor decision-making but potential disease. Few other forms of exercise are as beneficial to the health of your body as tai chi has proven to be.

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