Perhaps you’ve seen or heard people talking about Tai Chi. You might have even heard that health benefits are associated with this meditative exercise. However, with the deluge of information available, it can be difficult to determine what is real, and what is, well, wishful thinking. I hope, with this blog post to give you a few basics, and tips on how to learn and thrive with this ancient art form.
What exactly is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi, also known as Tai Chi Chuan, or Taji Quan is a Chinese martial art. However, unlike other martial arts like Karate, Akkido, or even boxing, the movements associated with Tai Chi are often slow, flowing, and focus on improving the internal strength and health of the practitioner. While it can certainly be used for self-defense, it is most often used for its self-improvement, meditative and health benefits.
Like many martial arts, there are distinct “styles” associated with Tai Chi- named for the most part after the families or people that developed them. The most common ones are Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun, and Hao, with the most popular one being Yang. Each one has its own distinct style, strength and weaknesses. In addition, there are dozens of minor styles, each of which add there own flavor. A former sifu (that’s the Chinese word for instructor or teacher) told me once that the styles can be thought of as spaghetti sauces. Each style uses the same basic ingredients, but they combine them in new and different ways.
So, Why Should I Try It?
Well, for starters, Tai Chi has been medically proven to help a person reduce and manage the effects of stress, help with joint and bone health, flexibility, and hand eye coordination. The focused movements of tai chi has also been indicated to help with increasing a person’s energy and stamina, and help with balance as well.
However, beyond the physical health benefits of tai chi, there is also the mental and spiritual aspects as well. Many practitioners, after only a short while of daily practice indicate that they feel calmer, more focused, and more at peace in their overall lives. Plus, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or even if you are an atheist- Tai Chi has been shown to promote the same peaceful feelings.
Plus – it’s fun!
Ok- My interest is piqued. What Now?
First thing first- and I cannot stress this enough- start with a visit to your doctor or medical professional. Tell him of your plans, and discuss any concerns he or she may have, especially if you have problems with your muscles, joints or coordination. Chances are you’ll get his blessings without too much trouble. Next, find a qualified instructor- also very important. While Tai Chi is relatively easy once you’ve learned the basics, it is vital that you learn to do the moves the right way from the beginning. A beginner in tai chi should not – I repeat should not- rely only on videos to learn. The various videos you see will be fine once you advance, but having a qualified instructor there to give you insight and instruction is mandatory in my opinion. So do your homework, check with your local health professionals, and ask questions. In most cases, Tai Chi instructors should be certified as an instructor, or at least be able to produce verifiable lineage (i.e. who taught them, what their qualifications are, who taught their teacher…. etc.). Instructors worth their salt would be proud to give this information.
Also, take it slow. Tai Chi is something that you learn and master over a lifetime. I personally know people who have been practicing this art for sixty-five years, and they still look for ways to improve and grow in their Tai Chi. Give it a try, see if you enjoy it, and you just might find something that you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life.
Laura Seeber is a geologist, environmental professional, writer, and outdoor and nature enthusiast. Born just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Laura has spent the majority of her life hiking through the forest, descending into caves, climbing over boulders and up cliffs, navigating river rapids, and writing and blogging about her adventures. She currently resides in Illinois and travels country in search of the next great outdoor activity or adventure.