Health & Wellness Articles

An Introduction to Tai Chi

Meditation in Motion

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High-flying fighters. Hand-to-hand combat. Is this what you picture when you think about Tai Chi? Perhaps it is time to re-examine your notions about this ancient Chinese discipline, which is most commonly used as a system of meditative movements practiced as exercise—not quite the aggressive martial arts you might have imagined.
 
Tai Chi, also known as Tai Chi Chuan, has a rich history. Historians debate over when this form of martial arts first appeared, but experts believe it goes back well over 1,500 years when fighters initially imitated the movements of a snake and crane clashing. Originally, Tai Chi was used as a form of combat, but today, it is often used as a gentle form of exercise, popularized in the Western world in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, people of all ages use these movements to gain strength, balance and flexibility.
 
As a low-impact exercise, Tai Chi is great for people with joint problems because it can help strengthen connective tissue and improve circulation. Additionally, this form of exercise improves balance and posture, by emphasizing correct form with each movement. Instead of developing bulky muscles and brute force, exercisers tackle tension and stress while improving body awareness.
 
Sometimes called “meditation in motion,” a Tai Chi workout is a series of soft, flowing movements choreographed into a slow routine. Each specific movement corresponds with either the inhalation or exhalation of a deep, gentle breath. This coordination of movement and breath is believed to free the flow of “chi” (also spelled “qi”), a life-force energy that when blocked, purportedly can cause stress and illness. By improving the mind-body connection, Tai Chi brings the yin and yang of a person back into natural harmony, exercising emotions just as it does the muscles.
There are many different styles of Tai Chi, each named after the different families in China that perfected them. Some of the most common styles include Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. These different styles use distinctive paces, stances, and movements, but all emphasize the same basic principles. Furthermore, different styles employ weapons into training, including swords, spears and sticks. However, typical Tai Chi participants, like the ones you may have seen practicing in a park, do not employ these weapons.

Tai Chi revolves around a series of movements called forms, which can last anywhere from five to 20 minutes. There are over one hundred different stances to learn. Although there are videos available for purchase, it might be best to take classes, often taught by experts known as “masters” with years of experience. This master will be able to lead you through the forms and help correct you along the way. While some learning centers require certain clothes, most classes can be taken in everyday sweats with other beginners like you!


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Member Comments

  • Interesting! Thank you.
  • I wonder if I can learn from a DVD instead attending a group which is far away!??
  • WONDER IF I COULD DO SOME OF THESE FROM A CHAIR
  • I live in Washington state state, where recreational marijuana became legal a year or two ago. (Sometimes now, when I'm bored while driving around Seattle, I count to see whether the marijuana shops outnumber the Starbucks: it's usually a tie.) When I saw the teaser "A Joint-Friendly Workout" for this article, I briefly wondered what Tai Chi could have to do with marijuana. :)
  • LOULOUWLG403
    I may try it if t's not too expensive. I'm on a fixed income. I'm trying to lose weight. Excuse me, I am losing weight. So if I go to the class and learn how to do these exercises, then I'll do my cardio & strengthening exercises also! Have a Blessed Day on
    the Lord's Day!
  • I just remember years ago my sensei's sensei telling us that if we didn't have to learn this just do kata verrrryyy verrryyy sssslllllooowwwll
    lyyyyy.
  • CEVIZAGACE
    I always hated exercise (except dancing) but a year ago, I discovered tai chi and this was wat my body really wanted: the slow, controlled movement, the focus and the balance. It's like slow ballet. While I needed all my courage to drag myself to the gym, now I can hardly wait till my next tai chi class. It doesn't help with weight loss, but since I'm into tai chi, I don't really care too much anymore about calories burned.
    In my experience, videos can help with exercising at home, but can't replace class instruction.
  • There are many health benefits to Tai Chi. It improves: immune system function, blood pressure, blood sugar, mood, arthritis pain, balance, bone density, strength, flexibility, and more.

    While most people choose to practice Tai Chi for its health benefits, it is important to recognize its martial origins. The gentle flowing movements are derived from effective self-defense techniques. Every movement has applications for defense. Some people consider it to be the ultimate martial art.

    -----

    Sparkers: You're welcome to try 2 weeks of free tai chi classes at Jing Ying Institute in Arnold, Maryland.. There are a variety of classes that are suitable for different levels of fitness and interests. A broad range of ages attend, mostly from ages 22 to 92.

    Go to http://www.jingyi
    ng.org/TaiChi
    .htm for more information.

  • PUGGLEMONKEY
    Sounds like a wonderful way to improve joint issues and work on the mind/body connection as well. As someone with joint issues - and general lack of coordination, lol - I think this may be an option for me. Thanks for the article!
  • Giving Tai Chi a try on Monday.
  • Anyone ever tried TaiCheng system?
  • WOLRING
    Tai chi can vary WIDELY from instructor to instructor. People need to understand this. And beware of tai chi taught in gyms or community ed centers - usually (though not always) they are taught by people who do it on the side, apart from their real jobs and careers. That's going to be very different than tai chi taught by a real, full-time instructor who lives the lifestyle and keeps educated about human anatomy and health conditions - even if for martial arts training. I invite everyone to explore and comment on this on my free tai chi blog: www.internalgarde
    ns.com. And beware that ALL tai chi instructors - me included! - are biased about how tai chi should be taught and with what degree of client care and professionalism. :-) After all, an art cannot be standardized. This is both its beauty as well as its curse.
  • WOLRING
    Tai chi can vary WIDELY from instructor to instructor. People need to understand this. And beware of tai chi taught in gyms or community ed centers - usually (though not always) they are taught by people who do it on the side, apart from their real jobs and careers. That's going to be very different than tai chi taught by a real, full-time instructor who lives the lifestyle and keeps educated about human anatomy and health conditions - even if for martial arts training. I invite everyone to explore and comment on this on my free tai chi blog: www.internalgarde
    ns.com. And beware that ALL tai chi instructors - me included! - are biased about how tai chi should be taught and with what degree of client care and professionalism. :-) After all, an art cannot be standardized. This is both its beauty as well as its curse.
  • SANDIBETTS1
    Thanks for the article--the comments were very informative as wel.

About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.