Commonly referred to as “moving meditation”. Tai chi is a mind-body practice originating from China and a traditional non-competitive martial art form.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai chi, also known as tai chi chuan, stems from Chinese martial arts. The practice consists of low-impact, controlled movements combined with deep, focused breathing to promote better physical health and wellbeing. The practice can be adapted and modified, making it a suitable exercise for both beginners and advanced athletes.
The health benefits of the practice are rooted in traditional Chinese medicine.
Concept of Qi – life force
The concept of Qi is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Qi is an energy, a force that is dynamic and constantly changing from one aspect into another.
Traditional Chinese philosophy uses the terms yin and yang to explain two opposing but complementary forces that are a manifestation of Qi – when these forces are balanced the result is wellbeing and contentment. Imbalance in Qi translates (causes) to pain, illnesses, and suffering.
The purpose of TCM is to find balance and harmony between yin and yang. Tai chi is often combined with other treatments to improve overall health and balance, such as:
- moxibustion (burning of herbal leaves on or near the body)
- herbal remedies
Tai Chi Styles
Tai chi is based on five traditional families or schools of thought, which all originate from China:
Named after the Chen family in the Henan province of China, dating from the 17th century, Chen is the original tai chi style. Its movement style alternates between quick actions to graceful, spiral flows from the feet to the hands. It also features explosive movements such as jumps, kicks and strikes. These features may make it unsuitable for some beginners. It tends to appeal most to younger practitioners and martial artists.
Developed directly from the Chen style, Yang is the most popular and widely-practised tai chi style. The founder of the style, Yang Lu-ch’an adapted the original style to a less athletic version. Yang style is far reaching and it’s students range from athletes to those with limited physical capabilities.
Along with Yang style, Wu is another style that is widely popular around the world. Wu Ch’uan-yu, who trained under Yang Lu-ch’an, developed a style that emphasizes leaning to the front and tilting backwards. Movements are smaller and more compact than in Yang style and the stances are generally taller, which makes it easier for people with physical difficulties with lower stances.
Sun Lutang, a Confucian and Taoist scholar, combined various martial arts to develop a unique style of tai chi. Its emphasis is on unique footwork and flowing circular hand movements. With its fluid, graceful movement, Sun style is appropriate for everyone.
Hao is one of the most advanced styles of tai chi, even for advanced practitioners. It is one of the less practised styles outside of China. The emphasis of Hao is on the mind and internal flow of Qi, rather than focusing on controlling external movements. This can be more difficult to achieve and can take years of dedicated practice.
The Benefits of Practicing Tai Chi
Muscle Strength and Agility
Tai Chi improves overall body strength and flexibility when practised regularly. It is safe and gentle, even for those recovering from injuries.
The risk of falling increases with age since the person’s ability to sense one’s body in space declines as we grow older. The fear of falling is common among older adults because consequences are often more damaging or even permanent. According to a 2016 study, tai chi can help reduce the risk of falls as well as fear of falling that has a major effect on the psyche and confidence of the elderly.
Decreased stress and anxiety
Focus on the breath and mindful movement in tai chi can help reduce stress hormones and can decrease anxiety – by making you be more present in your body. Results from a study conducted on higher graduate students showed reduced anxiety and stress levels, common among young people leading hectic and busy lifestyles.
Whilst much more clinical research is needed, regular practising can have many other health benefits. Some benefits reported include improved sleep and immune system, lower blood pressure, and an overall higher level of wellbeing.
What does a typical class look like and who is it suitable for?
The only requirement for a tai chi practice is comfortable clothing. You can practise it anywhere with no equipment.
A typical session consists of three parts:
- Warm-up: easy motions to warm the muscles and loosen the joints
- The practice of forms: sets of movements ranging from dozen to hundreds depending on the style
- Breathwork or energy work: this is sometimes combined with movement, and either practised standing, sitting or lying down
Tai chi is generally safe for all ages and fitness levels. To start practising, the best would be to seek guidance from a qualified instructor to learn the proper technique. In principle, Yang and Wu are considered the easiest forms to learn.
How to find a teacher or class?
There is no standard certification for tai chi practitioners, the best advice is to ask the practitioners about their training and experience as a teacher.
From March 2021 you can find tai chi practitioners in your area by visiting our website. Search and book your next appointment directly through our online marketplace.