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Have you ever seen someone doing what looks like a slow non-combative form of karate? If so, you were probably watching them do Tai Chi. You may even remember one of Tai Chi’s brief appearances in the famous movie “Remember the Titans”. Sunshine, the quarterback, practices his forms in the courtyard. Though Tai Chi is relatively uncommon in the US, it is becoming more popular. In fact, the Google search “Tai Chi near me” has reached a whopping 10k-100k searches per month. But why are so many people interested in this ancient art form?, what is it?, where did it come from?, and how do you do it? In this article, I will answer these questions with a brief overview of Tai Chi.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is an ancient form of martial arts that typically involves slow graceful movements. Further, practitioners perform these movements as a sequence. Usually, when you hear the word “martial arts” you think of combat. However, combat is not the main purpose. Though some of its movements and principles can be used for fighting, Tai Chi is mainly practiced as a way to cultivate physical and mental health. Normally, it is practiced in groups during the morning. Since it is a great way to limber up for the day, you will often see large gatherings in the park at the crack of dawn in China. If you ever find yourself on the sidelines during one of these gatherings, feel free to jump in and try for yourself. 

Tai Chi Photo by Lukasz Saczek on Unsplash
Photo by Lukasz Saczek on Unsplash

History

In addition to being a form of exercise, Tai Chi also encompasses a philosophy and way of life that is central to Taoism. Taoism is a Chinese philosophy that began thousands of years ago. More specifically, it is based on the teachings of Lao Tzu. In fact, “Lao Tzu” literally translates to mean old master. Lao Tzu is not one person. Instead, the name is used to represent a group of people who wrote the Tao Te Ching. Though Taoism is not traditionally called a religion, to a Taoist, this book is comparable to what the Bible would be for a Christian. In it, you will find the teachings of Taoism laid out in poems that are still being interpreted today.

The most consistent principle in these poems is the concept of the Tao. “Tao” translates to mean: the way of the universe. This way results from a balance between opposing forces “yin” and “yang”. Taoists believe that the right way to live is by mimicking and tapping in to this way. Therefore, according to a Taoist, since the principle that governs the universe demands balance between yin and yang, you can only know and experience the truth of the universe if you also practice this balance. In doing so, you will live a long, healthy, and satisfying life. This principle of Tao is central to Tai Chi. Its movements are based on this balance. Most traditional Tai Chi masters believe that this is why Tai Chi has such impressive health benefits.     

How to do Tai Chi

Similar to any martial art, Tai Chi has many different movement sequences. Some of these are more difficult than others. Overall, this exercise requires balance, patience, and a little practice. All forms begin with a strong foundation. Your stance is the basis for proper technique. Once you are in your stance, the movements begin as you lean in to your first step. Similar to yoga, Tai Chi encourages you to synchronize the movements with your breathing. Below is a video of a basic sequence that you can practice for 10 minutes each day. If you want to skip the introduction and go straight in-to the movements then go to 1:35 in the video.

Common Moves 

Perhaps you don’t want to commit to learning an entire sequence. If you just want to learn a few moves then below are some that you can practice at home. 

Cloud Hands

Cloud hands is one of my favorite moves to do when I am feeling stressed. This is a great way to get up and move around. Fortunately, this move is done standing in one place so you don’t need a lot of space. It is said to help with relaxation, focus, and digestion. Rather than describing the motion to you, here is a video that will teach you how to do cloud hands. 

Rising and Sinking

This is a simple motion that you do at the beginning of a form. Fast forward the video to :35 to learn Rising and Sinking.

Holding Ball

There are many variations of this move. This video shows a basic variation of holding the ball. Fast forward to 3:29 in the video to go straight to this move. 

Why should you do Tai Chi?

Even if you don’t subscribe to Taoist philosophy, Tai Chi has many benefits that still make it worth your time. Check out this review of studies done on its health benefits between the years of 1993–2007 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085832/. This review is a powerful reminder that Tai Chi has many mental and physical health benefits. Please see a brief list of them below.

Benefits:

  • Use it to improve bone density.
  • A study that compared the effects of Tai Chi to that of brisk walking or usual care showed that it improved VO2 max more effectively.
  • Studies show that it can improve heart health.
  • It has also been shown to reduce depression.
  • Strengthens joints
  • It can help reduce symptoms of arthritis after extended practice.
  • Studies show that Tai Chi can reduce inflammation.
  • It improves your mood and overall emotional state.

Tips

  • When you first start out, don’t worry about whether or not your moves are perfect. You can view this as a form of moving meditation. So, instead of worrying if you are doing it right, use it as a way to exercise and get to know your body. 
  • Don’t give up! Whether the goal is to master a 24 move sequence or just get a little exercise, try to practice everyday for at least 10 minutes.
  • Find a local Tai Chi instructor. Believe it or not, there are classes available in many cities. Try searching “Tai Chi near me”. A lot of what you will find is martial arts or yoga studios that also offer Tai Chi classes. If you are genuinely interested; a qualified instructor will be able to give you the information needed to take your practice to the next level.
  • Meditate after you finish doing Tai Chi. This is a great way to balance your mind and body. It will change your meditation experience.

Conclusion

Tai Chi began hundreds of years ago from the principles of Taoism. Today, it is still practiced and studied for its physical and mental health benefits. This article only scratches the surface. For a more comprehensive overview of this art form I would recommend finding a local teacher. Nonetheless, I hope this post gave you some useful information. If you decided to try any of the moves above; please write about your experience in the comments section below.

References