You’re more likely to know the practise of T’ai Chi Ch’uan as Tai Chi, a traditional Chinese martial art that has developed a worldwide following. Its slow, deliberate movements allow practitioners to appear as if they’re doing a graceful dance. Tai Chi actually has multiple different styles, including some that are fast-paced and others that involve partner exercises, as well as the more widely seen slow-paced individual practise. These styles can use anywhere from 12 to 100 movements, so you’ll want to research to find the right style for your needs.
Tai Chi continues to grow in popularity as its benefits to both physical and mental health become more and more apparent.
Philosophy of Movement
Many modern Tai Chi styles trace their roots back to one or more of the five traditional schools, all of which trace their origin to Chen Village. The original basis of Tai Chi as a martial art was to achieve a yin/yang balance in combat. The idea was that if a force was to meet another force the results would always be negative, but if you could instead meet a force (such as an attack) with redirection or cause it to exhaust itself, you could end the encounter without a negative result. This philosophy can translate physical encounters, as well as life in general, and the bodily awareness gained through practising has many benefits of its own.
Physical & Mental Benefits
Ancient Chinese medicinal beliefs held that illness could be the result of a blockage or imbalance in a person’s Qi (pronounced Chee), or life energy. Tai Chi is intended to increase and balance the flow of this Qi, helping to alleviate ailments. It can also be adapted for just about any fitness level. It is useful for improving your balance and flexibility, something just about everyone can benefit from, but it is especially beneficial in older adults as it can reduce the risk of falling.
The relaxing nature of the movements and the gentle exercise could help to lower blood pressure and promote weight loss. The movements are low-impact, so they are perfect for those with joint issues or arthritis and could even help to alleviate pain. There are even seated versions of the movements for those with mobility issues. In studies, practising has even been shown to improve the symptoms of both fibromyalgia and COPD. Just about everyone can find something a physical beneficial from Tai Chi.
A common phrase used to describe Tai Chi is “meditation in motion,” and for good reason. Beyond the many physical benefits to practising, there are a host of psychological benefits, as well. Tai Chi’s slow-paced, deliberate movements can provide a focal point for meditation. It is not uncommon for practitioners, once they become comfortable with the movements, to slip into a meditative state where their sole focus in on their body, the way their weight shifts, and their breathing as they sweep through their movements.
Exercise has been known to reduce stress and improve mood, and Tai Chi is, at its core, a form of exercise. Moreover, because of its accessibility, almost anyone can benefit from its uplifting effects. The focus on breath and movement has been known to help with managing anxiety and promoting an overall sense of well-being. Regular practise could even contribute to more restful sleep.
Preparing Yourself – Finding the Right Footwear
Unlike many forms of exercise, there are not many requirements for getting started with Tai Chi. It can be practised indoors or outdoors. It can be practised with a group or on your own. It also does not require a lot of equipment, but one thing that you may want to consider investing in is a good pair of Tai Chi slippers. Most commonly, people wear trainers to exercise, but these have been designed to be at least somewhat slip resistant, which can cause issues when you’re attempting the more advanced Tai Chi movements, that involve quite a bit of pivoting.
There are three main kinds of Tai Chi slippers: cloth, rubber sole, and athletic. The athletic looks sleek but tends to be a bit pricier. The rubber sole is typically mid-range pricing wise. While a good idea for practising on damp grass or other such surfaces, the rubber sole may not allow you to turn quite as easily. Cloth shoes like these cotton sole slippers are my own personal choice as they provide an immediate connection to the ground, allowing you to still feel it beneath you even through your footwear. They’re also lightweight and allow your feet to breathe as you practise, reducing moisture in your shoes. Additionally, these are inexpensive and easy to both carry and pack up. It is important to note that size is difficult to guarantee, but a good retailer knows this and will often have a flexible or even free return policy to account for sizing issues.
Are you just getting into Tai Chi or have you been practising for a while? Do you have questions about what kind of benefits practising could have for you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and follow me on Facebook for more health and wellness tips.