Do you fancy a workout that is slow, yet powerful? Slow but impactful Tai Chi exercises get your blood flowing and promote your holistic well-being. Don’t let these simple and relaxing exercises fool you. Tai Chi has more benefits than you may think.
This guide explains the philosophy of Tai Chi and tells you why the Chinese have been practicing these exercises for centuries. It also shares a few techniques that you can do to maintain your focus and stay healthy.
Table of contents:
- What Is Tai Chi?
- Origins and Philosophy of Tai Chi
- Mental and Physical Benefits of Tai Chi
- What You Should Know Before Starting
- Tai Chi Exercises
What Is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi or Tai Chi Quan is an ancient martial art that people practice for self-defense and health. It works on the premise of Yin and Yang, related to a set of movements.
Tai Chi began as a martial art, but people now perform it for many purposes, well-being in particular. As such, many forms of it exist, and some of them involve slow moves. Tai Chi has spread worldwide today. Most modern forms of it have their origins in one of the five traditional schools of Chen, Wu-Hao Wu, and Sun. One can trace their practices to the family which founded them.
Many new styles have developed since their evolution. These are offshoots of the five standard forms. Others include Zhaobao Taijiquan, a cousin of the Chen style but recognized by western practitioners as distinct. There is also the Fu form, created by Fu Che.n Song, an evolution of the Chen, Sun, and Yang styles. It also used movements from Pa Kus Chang.
Most forms of Tai Chi originated from the Chen style, a secret that the Chen Family passed down for generations. The family credits Chen Wanting, of its 9th generation, as the founder of modern Taijiquan. Choy Hok Fang, who learned the art from practitioner Yang Chengfu, was the first exponent to practice it openly in the United States. His son and student, Choy Kum Man, emigrated to San Francisco from Hong Kong and taught Tai Chi until his death in 1994.
Origins and Philosophy of Tai Chi
Practitioners of Tai Chi assert that its principles apply to a student’s lifestyle. Tai Chi, when translated, means ‘boundless fist.’ However, it has a broad philosophical meaning. Practitioners say that it represents opposing forces, or Yin and Yang. The Chinese have perceived life in terms of opposites since time immemorial. It has shaped philosophical schools like Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Legalism. Traditional Chinese medicine and Feng Shui.
The spiritual is the essence of Tai Chi, applied through the metabolic (‘ching’), qi (breath energy), and ‘Shen'( spiritual energy). Tai Chi balances a person’s spirituality with his physical abilities. The two elements are co-dependent. Therefore, Tai Chi doesn’t focus exclusively on either. While spirituality is the principle and guiding force of this form of meditation, the martial in this Martial Art is the external skill.
Proponents of Tai Chi divide practice methods into three levels of attainment, with the highest being the Great Attainment, the lowest, the Lesser Attainment, and the middle level the Level of Sincerity. A practitioner is internally hard but meets his opponent with softness.
The Mental and Physical Benefits of Tai Chi That Explain Why the Chinese Been Practicing It for Centuries
Those of us who practice Tai Chi already know about its benefits, so we present a few that may surprise you. They are apparent to any practitioner.
1. Not Constrained By Age
First of all, Tai Chi is a ‘soft,’ gentle martial art. Anyone, young, old, and in any physical condition can practice it.
Tai Chi has benefits for upper and lower body strength. It also develops flexibility. The advantages are particularly significant for older adults. A study showed that it benefits seniors. Adults over 70 practiced Tai Chi three times a week. They also took a battery of physical endurance tests after three months. Their balance and muscular strength had improved after that time. Indeed, Tai Chi improves a person’s aerobic capacity. Individuals who practice it consistently are better able to complete rigorous exercises than those who are sedentary.
Furthermore, Tai Chi’s benefits for physical strength means that it can treat musculoskeletal disorders like Fibromyalgia. Studies prove that it has more benefits than aerobics.
4. Improves Respiratory Conditions such as Asthma
Also, Tai Chi focuses on proper breathing, making it an ideal exercise form for those who have asthma or other respiratory conditions. Research proves that it enhances pulmonary function.
Tai Chi develops a person’s walking speed, which decreases as a person ages. This exercise suits older adults who pace slowly. Research shows that those who practice it walk significantly faster than those who don’t because it promotes musculoskeletal flexibility.
6. Joint Health
Exercises can be repetitive movements that don’t strengthen the bones or other parts of the body. Tai Chi, which emphasizes proper posture for developing strength, promotes joint health.
7. Relieves Stress
Another benefit Tai Chi provides its practitioners is stress relief. A review of several studies shows that Tai Chi is a viable treatment for mental disorders when accompanied by other treatments.
8. Live Longer
First of all, research has unveiled that Tai Chi is a moderate intensity-exercise that promotes longevity. Those who practice it five to six hours a week gain the most benefits.
9. Improves Flexibility
A review of elderly patients found that Tai Chi found that it has psychological and cognitive benefits. It also encourages balance, strength, cardiovascular, and respiratory functions.
10. Boosts Cognition
Cognitive decline affects older adults, many of whom have Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Evidence supports that adults who practice Tai Chi improve their cognitive and memory functions.
11. Reduced COPD symptoms
An Australian study revealed that Sun-style Tai Chi boosted a practitioner’s capacity for exercise and reduced the symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). They added that it has effects on a person’s endurance.
12. Better Sleep
13. Improved Cardiovascular Fitness
Also, the regular practice of Tai Chi exercises promotes cardiovascular health. A review of twenty studies shows that it increases heart efficiency and respiratory function.
14. Reduced falls
Falling is an ever-present concern of older adults. A 2016 survey of controlled trials found that Tai Chi exercises have some effect of preventing falls.
15. Reduced Pre-Natal Anxiety
A 2013 study found that Tai Chi practice reduced anxiety in pre-natal women. They experienced fewer bouts of depression and sleep disturbances as well.
16. Reduces neck pain
17. It enlarges the brain
First of all, Tai Chi makes your brain bigger. Researchers from the Fudan University in China and the University of South Florida studied seniors who practiced the art. They found it slows down the aging of the brain and improves cognition. The Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness also researched seniors and came up with similar results.
18. It keeps you alert
Also, the concentration needed for Tai Chi keeps your mind awake. It helps you retain more information and stay focused. You’ ll also be able to make quicker decisions. The Massachusetts General Hospital found that people who meditated had thicker cortical walls in the brain than those who didn’t. They could focus attentively on tasks.
Tai Chi improves neuroplasticity and organizes the neural pathways in the brain. It also makes you emotionally stable. The University of Wisconsin found that people who meditated in the way Tai Chi develop gamma wave activity in the brain. The gamma waves prevent them from being stuck in ruminating thought patterns.
What You Should Know Before Starting
What does the practice of Tai Chi entail? Here’s what you must do to perform the art successfully.
What you should do before taking a class:
1. Check with your doctor
If you have musculoskeletal problems, your doctor may have given you medication that makes you lightheaded. Ask him or her if practicing Tai Chi is advisable for you.
2. Observe a class
Observing, then taking a class is one of the best ways to learn Tai Chi. With group support and feedback, learning this ancient Chinese art isn’t daunting. You may ask about classes at your senior center or other locations in your area.
3. Have a chat with the instructor
There is no standard licensing or accreditation for Tai Chi instructors, so you will have to exercise discretion when looking for one. Seek recommendations from your doctor or friends who attend Tai Chi classes.
4. Wear comfortable clothes
Wear loose-fitting clothing that allows you freedom of movement. Your shoes should be light, flexible, and comfortable. Make sure that they have a firm grip so that you will not slip.
5. Track your progress
Most Tai Chi programs last for 12 weeks. You should know if you enjoy the art by that time and would experience positive psychological and physical changes.
Things to do when taking a class:
6. Warming up
Warm up by centering yourself and breathing well. As with all martial arts, Tai Chi isn’t about successful fighting. Instead, it is about clearing the mind. Proper breathing will help you focus your Tai Chi.
Focus on all parts of your body, one at a time. Once you can do this, relax every part of your body. Begin with the feet and work your way to the top of your head. Focus on tiny parts of your body, like your fingernails, if you wish. You will release pent-up tension. Adjust your stance if you start to sway. Find your balance and steady yourself.
One of the essential elements of Tai Chi is staying rooted. Imagine roots growing out of your toes. Tell yourself that you are part of the ground. Keep centered and don’t lose focus. You should feel your limbs swaying like the wind, unhesitating and secure. However, you aren’t stiff. Instead, you have freedom of movement because you are rooted.
9. Experiment with the different styles
All Tai Chi exercises promote well-being, so you should do any instead of worrying which suits you. Once you become immersed in the art, experiment with each of them. The Chen style has an erratic rhythm, varying between slow and explosive beats. The most well-received is the Yang style, which has a steady tempo. It utilizes large movements. It is the best-known Tai Chi form today. The Wu form uses tiny movements and focuses on energy flows and slow, deliberate moves.
11 Simple Tai Chi Exercises That Have Mental and Physical Benefits
Another name for Tai Chi is Meditation in Motion. You can practice it almost anywhere. If you are feeling the need to boost your physical and mental capacities, here are a few simple Tai Chi workouts and techniques that still your mind.
1. Starting Posture
As the name suggests, this is the first move you should master. It helps you to develop a sturdy back, and therefore, a well-developed posture. Stand, your feet a shoulder’s distance apart. Pigeon your toes with them slightly toward one another. Round your neck a bit and tuck in your hips. You should feel as though you are about to sit on a barstool.
2. Balancing on One Leg
The most valuable benefit of Tai Chi is its ability to improve balance. This perk is particularly important for seniors because they are susceptible to falls. The one-leg balancing posture keeps them upright and develops leg strength.
Stand, with your feet under your hips. Hold a chair if your balance is shaky. Lift one leg so that your thigh is parallel to the floor. You should bend your knee. Shift your weight to the other leg slowly. Extend the amount of time you spend on each leg.
The horse stance is another essential Tai Chi move. It builds leg and back strength. Therefore, you create a firm foundation for your body and improve your physical functions. Stand, keeping your feet wider than your hips. Squat as low as you can, keeping your spine at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Firm gently through the pelvic floor as you squat deeper to support yourself.
4. Brush Knee
Tai chi offers the health benefit of improved flexibility and a greater range of motion in the arms and shoulders. It combats the stiffness that can make it hard to raise your arms overhead as you age. Brush knee is an example of a movement that helps with this benefit.
Stand with your feet a hip’s distance apart, keeping your weight centered. Stretch out your arms and turn your right palm towards the sky. Your left palm should face downwards. Step forward. Turn your torso and change your arm positions in a rolling motion.
5. Raising Power
This ancient martial art centers your mind and enhances concentration. This stance encourages you to focus on the body’s energy. Begin is the primary starting position. Rub your hands together, then slowly pull them apart. Feel the energy between your hands as you repeat this movement.
6. Basic Stepping
Tai Chi improves cardiovascular fitness, particularly in sedentary seniors. It has the same benefits as walking if practiced consistently. It boosts hear functions. Tai Chi exercises also enhanceperception and balance. Put one foot in front of the other, keeping a low center of gravity. Step and roll the whole foot from the heel to the ball. You may step sideways, forward, or backward.
7. Single Whip
This stance strengthens the arms and improves circulation to the fingers. It helps you if you have arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Use it if you have connective tissue injuries in your arms. Form a beak with your hand by placing it palm facing downwards. Extend a leg forward and face it to the side. The arm and beak hand should move forward. Bend the wrist up as you open and close your fingers.
8. White Crane Spreads Wings
This quintessential Tai Chi form develops your balance. You shift your weight from one foot to another. It requires concentration and enhances your focus.
Start with the beginning stance. Step forward on your right foot, and turn your waist a little to the right. Raise your hand with your palm facing your body. Press your left palm to the floor and take your left foot off it at the same time. Turn completely to the side and keep your right hand just above your head. Your left hand should be towards your thigh.
9. Standing Meditation Technique
The Standing Meditation Technique will ground and center you. It will help your mind be still even as you move.
- Stand with your feet a shoulder ‘s width apart. Your toes should point straight ahead, and your knees should bend.
- Tuck your hips slightly forward. Relax your shoulders and hold up your head.
- Breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Keep your eyes closed. Think about your feet and how they connect with the Earth.
- As you meditate, think about how your feet pull away from the earth.
10. Breathing Exercises
Breathing well is an integral aspect of Tai Chi. It helps concentration and meditation. You should focus on the giving and taking of energy as you do. As you inhale, you should think about taking life energy into your body. Release that energy when you exhale. Use this straight forward technique as you practice different Tai Chi moves.
a. Buddha’s Breath
Inhale, extending your abdomen and filling it with air. Contract your stomach as you exhale, and expel the air from the base of your lungs. Inhale for a slow count of eight and exhale for another count of sixteen. Imagine your Qi energy flowing through you. Use your mind to guide the flow.
b. Daoist’s Breath
This exercise is the opposite of Buddha’s Breath. Contract your abdominal muscles as you inhale. Relax your torso and lungs as you exhale.
11. Awareness Exercises
There are Tai Chi exercises that enable you to calm your mind and be aware of everything around you.
a. The Accordion
Clear your mind, concentrating on your palms. Let your breath flow smoothly and don’t use force. You create a light trance. Touch your palms with your fingers pointing upwards. Feel the energy flowing through your Palm Chakras, at the centers of your palms.
Move your hands and align your chakras. Bring them together slowly using as little effort as you can. You will compress the air like an accordion. You should feel a warm sensation at your chakra points. Move your hands back and forth. Repeat this vertically, horizontally, and diagonally.
b. Making the Point
This exercise involves using your finger to direct your Qi energy. Point it at the palm of your hand. Keep that hand perpendicular to the floor; your fingers should point upward. Put your fingertip about 8 inches from your palm and swab it, moving it close and far as you do. You may feel a tickling or cooling sensation.
c. Extending Qi (energy)
This exercise builds up your qi and helps your awareness. Note that it can be intense and cause qi to leak out of your eyes.
Inhale quickly through your nostrils, keeping your eyes half-closed as you exhale. Once you can sense your energy, use your mind to move it out of your body. Expand it to your comfort zone. Allow it to drift out as you exhale and hold it as you inhale. Move it outwards in increments of about six inches, beginning at an inch from your skin.
d. Blending Qi
This exercise allows you to sense your qi and focus too.
Stand, keeping your feet a shoulder’s width apart. Bend your knees slightly and hand your arms from your sides. Shift your weight to the balls of your feet and be aware of the front of your body. Concentrate on the energy channels that pass along your legs and torso. Shift your weight to your heels after about a minute. Now become aware of the back of your body. Do this to the right and left of your body as well.
Repeat the first three steps, using just your mind to shift your feet back and forth. Feel the Qi flowing along it.
In all, Tai Chi exercises will keep you mentally and physically fit. All they require is consistency and patience. You can check this video that shows a few basic workouts for beginners to make sure you perform them right: