Tai Chi, also called Tai Chi Quan or Tai Chi Chuan, combines deep breathing and relaxation with flowing movements. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, Tai Chi is today practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise.
Tai Chi embodies the Chinese idea that all existence is based on life energy: Qi. Many forms of Tai Chi incorporate movements of the arms as though one is gently holding a big beach ball of Qi. Based on the Chinese worldview, Tai Chi divides Qi into two equal, opposing and complementary parts: yin and yang. Tai Chi incorporates the yin-yang unity of opposites in many ways. For example, during Tai Chi forms, the weight shifts repeatedly from one leg to the other and the arms move in opposite, yet complementary directions.
The main principle of Tai Chi Quan (Fist) is that with soft strength, you restrain the opponent’s strong power, and with the skill of the fist, you shrewdly take your adversary’s strength and use it against them. Tai Chi Quan is therefore very effective in actual combat.
Tai Chi classes are suited for people looking to improve their physical mobility, strength and all-round well-being because it has been acknowledged that training in Tai Chi is useful for building strength, alleviating illnesses and improving balance and mobility, cultivating your moral character and some believe that it can prolong your life.
What are the health benefits of Tai Chi?
While there is scope for more rigorous research on Tai Chi’s health benefits, studies have shown that Tai Chi can help people aged 65 and over to reduce stress, improve posture, balance and general mobility, and increase muscle strength in the legs.
Can Tai Chi help to prevent falls?
Some research suggests that Tai Chi can reduce the risk of falls among older adults who are at increased risk. However, more research is needed in order to support Tai Chi’s benefits for the older generation.
Can Tai Chi help with arthritis?
There is some evidence that Tai Chi can improve mobility in the ankle, hip and knee in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RH). However, it is still not proven if Tai Chi can reduce pain in people with RH or improve their quality of life.
Is Tai Chi good for treating osteoporosis?
Studies have looked into the potential benefits of Tai Chi for people with osteoporosis, but there is currently no convincing evidence that Tai Chi can prevent or treat the condition.
Am I too old for Tai Chi?
No, Tai Chi is commonly performed as a low-impact exercise, which means it won’t put much pressure on your bones and joints. Most people should be able to do it.
Is Tai Chi suitable for me?
Get advice from your GP before starting Tai Chi if you have any health concerns or an existing health condition. You may need to take certain precautions if you’re pregnant, have a hernia, back pain or severe osteoporosis.
Do I need to be fit to do Tai Chi?
No, Tai Chi is for everyone. It is ideal for inactive older people wanting to raise their activity levels gently and gradually. Also, many of the Tai Chi movements can be adapted to people with a disability, including wheelchair users.
Can I injure myself doing Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is essentially a gentle activity that is unlikely to cause injury if done correctly. The exercises involve lots of flowing, easy movements that don’t stress the joints or muscles.
Tips on getting started
It’s a good idea to watch a class or attend a free taster session before signing up for a course. If you have a medical condition or any health concerns, or haven’t exercised for a long time, speak to your GP before you start Tai Chi.
Are there different styles of Tai Chi?
Yes, such as Chen, Yang, Wu, Liu and Shaolin. Some teachers often practise a combination of styles. The main differences between the different Tai Chi styles are in the speed of movement and the way the body holds the postures and exercises power.
What’s the basic technique?
Tai Chi is characterised by its slow, graceful, continuous movements that are gentle on the joints and muscles. Done correctly, you’ll find that the Tai Chi poses flow smoothly from one into another. Many movements are completed with bent knees in a squat-like position.
Can I learn Tai Chi from a book or DVD?
It’s a good idea to learn the basics of Tai Chi from an instructor to make sure your style is correct, effective and won’t cause injury. You can consider using a book or DVD once you’re familiar with the poses.