If you are planning to join the growing legion of over 2.3 million Americans who practice tai chi, know that you are on the right path!1 Tai chi is an eastern form of exercise and awareness that’s great for both your physical and mental health. But before you dive in, here are some facts about tai chi that you may not know, plus tips and information to get you started.
Tai Chi Can Improve Balance, Strength, And Flexibility
Tai chi can help your ease joint stiffness, improve balance, and may reduce falls. It is even being explored to counter balance issues and improve cardiovascular and bone health.2 Tai chi can also be the perfect antidote if you’re stressed out, easing anxiety and improving your mood3 Here’s a more detailed list of its benefits.
It Isn’t Just For Seniors!
Contrary to what you may imagine, not all tai chi is slow-paced and undemanding on your fitness levels. Done right, you could have a workout that burns 120 to 180 calories every 30 minutes – that’s the aerobic equivalent of a brisk walk!4 5
Some styles of tai chi are also more challenging and involve kicks and punches and tougher stances. Pick these or some more difficult movements and you’ll find yourself needing to work hard at it even if you are young or agile!
Work With An Instructor At First To Avoid Injury
While tai chi is a gentle form of exercise, you must first learn the basic techniques in a class so an instructor can correct your stance and movement. Once you have this down, you can use instructional videos or books to learn more movements and forms.6 There’s no single certifying body for tai chi, so it may be best to rely on recommendations from friends and family or to meet the instructor, ask them questions, and judge for yourself. You could ask to observe a class in session or take a trial lesson before you formally enroll.
Attend classes for about 12 weeks, with sessions about twice a week plus practice at home to get a sense of whether or not tai chi is for you. This is the typical duration of beginner’s tai chi courses and interventions.7
Tai Chi Can Be Taught In Multiple Ways, So Pick One That Suits You
Not all instructors teach tai chi the same way. So you will have to shop around for a class and pattern that work for you.8 For instance, some classes may teach more movements per class, requiring you to do a lot of practice at home and learn quickly. Others may stick to teaching just one movement per class, helping you mastering it over the week.
In addition, there are some basic variations in styles of tai chi like chen, yang, hao, and wu – and a combination of these. Depending on what you sign up for, the way you hold your body and the speed of movement will vary significantly. Here are three that are most common9:
- Yang is the most popular in the west and is what you probably picture when you think of tai chi. The tempo is steady and involves large frame movements, where your knee is slightly bent throughout and your stance is wide.
- Chen is the oldest style. It is also more challenging and physically demanding, making it better for younger practitioners or the more physically fit. It involves kicking, punching, jumping in the air, moving with force, and using internal power. It blends hardness and softness and fast and slow movements.
- The sun style is one of the newest styles and involves far less punching and kicking and instead focuses on the qigong aspect more. Stances are also higher. Overall, this makes it good for older people wanting to try tai chi.
Don’t Skip Warm-Up
As with any form of exercise, you should always begin your workout with a warm-up. This will mean some simple exercises to loosen up your body and get your circulation going – for instance, shoulder rolls or turning your head from side to side.10 Bypass these and you could end up with cramps or find it hard to get through your workout.
Tai Chi Forms Can Be Short Or Long And Comprise Lots of Movements
Tai chi has some core forms that you’ll learn over the course of many weeks of classes. Each form has multiple movements that you need to master before you move on to the next. You’ll probably end up picking up one or two movements every week and adding these on to whatever form you are currently learning. To give you an example, one of the most fundamental forms you will learn is the simplified form and it has 24 steps to it!11 Here’s what a beginner’s regimen would look like.
Repeating A Form Doesn’t Mean You Do The Same Thing Over And Over
When you do repetitions of a certain form, you can try to do it a little differently each time. Try and change which body alignments you focus on with each repetition. Also turn your attention and energy flow to different parts of the body as you do this. You may choose to focus the flow to your extremities like your feet or hands, or you may focus on the proper alignment of your knees or spine, for instance.12
While You Move Physically, Don’t Forget To Reflect Inward
Tai chi hinges on finding a harmonious balance between the opposing forces of yin and yang, emptiness and immersion, action and rest. When you do tai chi, you should also try and reflect internally to find a balance between these opposites. You will have to make a deliberate effort to strike a balance between these opposing forces and states. If that sounds complicated, you needn’t worry because the exercises of tai chi have been designed to help you do just that, naturally.13
Gear Up For Classes With Loose-Fitting Clothes And Flexible Shoes
Your clothes must be loose enough that you aren’t restricting your range of motion. For your feet, tai chi shoes are one way to go, but you could just as easily wear any comfortable, flexible, and light shoes from your own collection. Check that they give you good grip and won’t interfere with your balance. The soles must not be thick because you need to be able to feel the ground. Going barefoot is also fine. Just avoid running shoes because these aim to push your body forward.14
Find A Place That Has A Moderate Temperature And Isn’t Too Windy
Try and practice your tai chi in a place that isn’t overly hot, cold, or breezy. These extremes of temperature and conditions can adversely affect your body, according to traditional Chinese medicine.15
Stop If You Feel Uncomfortable Or Dizzy
If you feel any kind of discomfort or pain when you are doing your tai chi, stop. Inform your instructor and sit it out if you need to. Do not push your body. Tai chi should feel gentle, natural, and flowing. It must not strain the body. If you feel like your knees or legs are getting stiff, stand up between movements. Squatting becomes easier with time as you keep up your practice.16
If You Have Any Health Problems, Check With Your Doctor Before You Start
In case you have some health concerns or conditions for which you are being treated, you may need to take special precautions. This also applies to women who are pregnant and anyone with severe osteoporosis, back pain, or hernia.17 Those with diabetes or hypoglycemia must also be careful and check with their doctor before they begin tai chi.18
That said, even if you have a disability that confines you to a wheelchair or bed, there are ways to adapt some of the movements and do them. You will just need the help of a qualified tai chi instructor to guide you.19
|↑1||About Tai Chi. Tai Chi Health.|
|↑2||Easing Ills through Tai Chi. Harvard Magazine.|
|↑3||Wang, Chenchen, Raveendhara Bannuru, Judith Ramel, Bruce Kupelnick, Tammy Scott, and Christopher H. Schmid. “Tai Chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine 10, no. 1 (2010): 1.|
|↑4||Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑5, ↑8||Try tai chi to improve balance, avoid falls. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑6, ↑17, ↑19||A guide to tai chi. National Health Service.|
|↑7||The health benefits of tai chi. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑9||Comparing Chen and Sun Styles. Tai Chi For Health Institute.|
|↑10, ↑14||The health benefits of tai chi. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑11||Tai Chi 24-Form Movements. Yang’s Martial Arts Association.|
|↑12||How to Optimize Your Tai Chi Workout. Beginners Tai Chi.|
|↑13||History of Tai Chi. Tai Chi for Health Institute.|
|↑15, ↑16, ↑18||Lam, Paul. Tai Chi for beginners and the 24 forms. BookBaby, 2008.|