What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that integrates mind, body and spirit. Tai Chi practitioners use deep breathing and meditation as they move through a series of continuous exercises known as "forms", which bear a resemblance to a slow-moving ballet. Being a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tai Chi works in improving the flow of the internal energy (Qi) throughout the body.
How Does Tai Chi Work?
Tai Chi is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle exercise and stretching. Each posture will flow into the next one without pause, which ensures that the body is in constant motion. It has several styles, with each style subtly emphasising the different Tai Chi principles and methods. Also, each style has their own variation. Some styles may focus on the martial arts aspect while others may focus on health maintenance.
The practice of Tai Chi can help in improving physical fitness, reducing stress, and providing people with better coping skills for the challenges of everyday life. There are several different types of tai chi that differ according to the way the body holds the postures and the movement's speed. For the most part, the movements are gentle and many are performed in a position similar to squat.
The three most common Tai Chi styles are Yang, Wu and Tai Chi Chih. Yang consists of 24 movements that require the knees to be bent throughout the practice session. Wu has up to 36 movements and is gentler than the Yang style. Tai Chi Chih has 20 movements and requires a higher stance and less shifting of body weight from one leg to the other.
What are the Benefits of Tai Chi?
The slow, integrated movements of Tai Chi promote balance between the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of a person. The opposite response for every action, such as inhale and exhale or step backward and then forward, supports mind and body coordination that helps address a variety of conditions such as the following:
- Back pain
- Parkinson's disease
- Chronic heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Digestive issues
- Skin diseases
- Fall-related injuries
- Joint pain
- Fatigue and other side effects of cancer treatments
- Emotional distress
- Chronic pain
What Can You Expect From Tai Chi?
For beginners, a Tai Chi session usually takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, but a seasoned tai chi practitioner can practise for hours on end. Before starting the practice session, the Tai Chi instructor will guide the client through warm-up exercises, which are necessary to maintain focus, intent, and breathing. Warmups include head rolls, simple stretches, shoulder rolls, arm circles, picking fruit posture, knee circles and hip rolls.
Tai chi can be performed in a face-to-face class setting or at home via online tai chi classes. It is recommended to wear comfortable clothing with a stretchy material for ease of movement. As for footwear, opt for light loafers, like kung fu shoes, or practise with bare feet.
If you've never done Tai Chi before, be gentle with yourself. Keep in mind that it's impossible to grasp the movements in a single session; tai chi takes time and practice as with many things in life. Do not hesitate to let your instructor know if you're lagging behind class. Constant repetition of the movements is the key to retention. It is recommended to practise Tai Chi at least three times a week to reap its benefits quickly.
Is Tai Chi Safe?
Tai Chi is extremely safe and suitable for people of all ages. Even those who have a disability or use a wheelchair can carry out the Tai Chi forms. However, if you have a medical condition which might be a contraindication for this mind-body therapy, consider talking to your doctor first.