Tai chi (TIE-chee) or tai chi chuan, is a form of mind-body "soft style" martial arts originating in China. Sometimes referred to as "meditation in motion", it has developed from self-defense to graceful forms of exercise using flowing movements. It primarily involves three aspects - Martial Arts, Meditation and Health. It is practiced for a variety of reasons, most commonly as a stress reducer and for its health benefits. Tai chi promotes serenity and clarity and brings about a calmness of mind. It is also known to reduce anxiety and depression. Recent scientific studies have also suggested that tai chi offers numerous health benefits; improved sleep quality, lowered blood pressure, improved cardiovascular fitness, relief of chronic pain, improved internal circulation, and overall feelings of well-being. It is also associated with improved muscle strength, coordination and flexibility, pain and stiffness relief, improved balance, reduction of falls in order adults, and increased energy, agility and endurance.
There are many different styles of tai chi each having its own subtle emphasis on various tai chi methods and principles. There are also various subtleties within each style, some focusing on health maintenance and stress reduction while some focus on the martial arts aspect. There are five primary styles of tai chi with dozens of new styles developed from them: Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun and Wu/Hao with Yang and Wu being the most popular. Because there are so many variations, more than 100 possible positions and movements have been developed, all practiced with rhythmic patterns of movement that are coordinated with breathing.
Tai chi also incorporates yin and yang - the Chinese concept of opposing forces within the body, and qi - life force or vital energy. Practicing tai chi aids the flow of qi with its healthy balance of yin and yang. Because it requires concentration, tai chi forces the individual to put aside distressing thoughts, instead focusing in the present. Used as a meditation, Tai Chi harmonizes body and mind.
Tai chi involves a series of postures or movements or "sets". Many movements are named for animals or nature such as "Return to Mountain" and "Embrace Tiger." Typically, movements consist of gentle exercise and stretching performed in a slow, graceful manner. The body is in constant motion as each posture flows into the next. All movements are coordinated with breathing thus promoting an inner sense of calm during the practice. There are some forms of tai chi that are more exerting and fast-paced and focus on the martial arts aspect. However, all styles of tai chi focus on technique over strength.
To maintain the benefits of tai chi including achieving the greatest reduction in stress and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it is recommended that tai chi be practiced regularly. A 12-week training class is a great way to begin. Continuing tai chi for the long term and becoming more skilled will then help a person enjoy greater and longer benefits. Even practicing tai chi for a few minutes, will help a person get "unstuck" from stressful conditions. The soothing mind-body concepts of tai chi will help a person relax their body while bringing their focus back to a healthier state of mind.
Tai chi can be practiced by just about anyone regardless of physical abilities or age. Since it is low impact, it is an especially suitable form of exercise for an older adult. It is generally safe, however anyone considering tai chi should always check with their doctor, particularly if problems exist with joints, the heart, the spine, or if a person is pregnant, has had any fractures or has severe osteoporosis. Many people find tai chi appealing because it is inexpensive, can be done indoors or outdoors, requires no special equipment and can be done alone or in groups. In fact, many people do practice tai chi in groups - a person will often see people commonly practicing tai chi in parks and other public communities.
Private and group instruction can be found at many health clubs, YMCAs and YWCAs, senior centers, wellness facilities, and a variety of community education centers. Many people prefer group instruction because of the social element, while some prefer private instruction which allows them to advance at a level there are most comfortable with. Tai chi instructors do not need to be licensed so it is wise to check an instructor's experience and training and ask for recommendations. Instructors will teach specific movements coordinated with regulated breathing. Some instructors will also teach the philosophy behind tai chi's relaxation techniques. While a person can learn tai chi from videos or books, seeking instruction from a qualified instructor will help a person more fully learn proper techniques for gaining the most benefits from the practice. An instructor will also teach a person how to practice tai chi safely, helping those with injuries, balance or coordination problems or chronic conditions.