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Introduction to Tai Chi

Tai chi originated as a form of martial art, but is now practiced as a way to calm the mind, relax, and reduce stress. Tai chi is a series of slow and flowing body movements that are done while focusing on breathing and keeping the attention in the moment. It is sometimes called "moving meditation."

Originally developed in the 12th century AD, it was elaborated by a Toaist monk named Chang San-Feng, who created a set of exercises that mimic the movements of animals, especially the crane and the snake. These exercises focus on flexibility and suppleness rather than on strength. The simplest form of Tai Chi consists of 13 of these exercises, but there are more complex styles of Tai Chi that have dozens of routines. The practice of Tai Chi allows people to combine meditation with movement, in an effort to maintain and improve health.

Tai chi is accessible to people of all ages, as it is safe and low impact. It is suitable for people who are recovering from injury. It is something you can practice on your own, wherever you may be. In Western terms, Tai Chi is considered a complementary and alternative medicine approach to health. Remarkably, Tai Chi is the most widely practiced of the martial arts, and is especially common in China. One estimate places the number of Tai Chi players at 20% of the world's population (according to The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & Qigong)

Tai Chi involves a philosophy and teachings that are based on Chinese principles, which state that Tai Chi helps to balance the yin and yang by supporting unblocking, and redirecting the flow of qi, the vital energy that underlies all living things. From a Western perspective, there may not be a medical or scientific basis for the qi, the meridians along which qi is said to flow, or the concept of yin and yang. However, many people believe in these elements of Chinese philosophy as a matter of faith. Others may not believe in the philosophy behind Tai Chi, but nevertheless derive benefits from their practice of Tai Chi.

The benefits of Tai chi are that it

  • Reduces stress
  • Strengthens and tones muscle
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Improves flexibility
  • Improves your sense of well-being
  • Increases energy levels
To get started in Tai Chi, find an instructor and take a class. Look in the local resource directory under martial arts studios. There is no licensing of Tai Chi practitioners, so you must evaluate the teacher's experience and training on your own. Read the guide published by the National center for complementary and alternative medicine here <>

Tai Chi Styles

There are quite a variety of schools or "styles" of Tai Chi, with the best known and most widely practiced including Chen, Yang (short and long styles), Wu, Sun, and Mulan.

Yang is the most practiced style of Tai Chi, and may be the most appropriate style for most beginners. Sun style involves shorter steps, and may be a good choice for older people or those with arthritis.

Wu style is more compact, and can be practiced in more confined spaces.

"Although there are many different schools of Tai Chi being taught, all of them are part of the same unique cultural heritage. They all represent a crystallization of the wisdom of the Chinese ancients, and they should all be studied and passed on." - Wang Yen-nien