A Short Guide to Tai Chi
By Madalina Hubert
With its gentle movements and myriad of health benefits, Tai Chi has become one of the most popular practices in recent decades in North America.
Yet what is it? Where does it come from? And how do we learn it?
Meditation in Motion
Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese practice that consists of soft flowing exercises that promote health and inner peace. Often referred to as meditation in motion, it involves a series of connected postures that are gentle, focused, and coordinated with your breathing.
There are many different styles but they all originate from martial arts. The five major styles include Yang (the most popular form that works well for beginners), Wu, Chen, Sun and Hao.
Some of the styles are more focused on martial arts training, while others emphasize health. However, they are all centred on achieving a sense of inner calm and harmony with the surrounding world.
A Fascinating History
Tai Chi was founded by the legendary Taoist master Zhang Sanfeng in the 14th century. At the time, Zhang developed it as an internal martial art that focused on self-defence, health improvement and spirituality.
The name ‘Tai Chi’ is actually short for ‘Tai Chi Chuan’, which means “supreme ultimate fist”. It is based on the Taoist principle of yin and yang, which refers to opposing forces that complement each other. Based on this principle, softness can conquer strength, and patience can overcome hastiness.
Its original form consisted of both physical movements and inner cultivation. In order to attain longevity and better health, the practitioners had to improve their minds and moral character. Zhang himself is said to have attained immortality through his Taoist practice.
While today, the spiritual teachings have been largely lost, the physical aspects still have a powerful effect, and they have improved the health and fitness of many people around the world.
Health Benefits of Tai Chi
Today, Tai Chi has evolved into a low-impact exercise that can be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels. Its slow, circular movements make it particularly popular with seniors though.
- Reduces stress… (and leads to better sleep)
- Increases energy and mood
- Improves immune system
- Enhances flexibility and balance (and reduces the risk of falls for seniors)
- Improves muscle strength and eases arthritis pain
Tai Chi vs. Yoga
Tai Chi and yoga are often compared to each other and even called “fitness cousins”. They share many of the same benefits but just like real-life family members, there are some key differences.
Both focus on the principle of harmony and balance and have three main components — exercise, meditation and breathing.
The thing that sets them apart from each other is the execution. Yoga achieves inner peace through poses and postures, whereas Tai Chi is performed in a dance-like, martial arts form. In simpler terms, it is like comparing flow and stillness.
Regardless, you can achieve the same benefits and both are great for beginners!
How to Start Learning Tai Chi
There are two main methods to get you started.
Look for Local Tai Chi Classes
You can find classes at community centres, YMCAs, fitness centres and more. Look for a class that is compatible with your goals. Are you more interested in the martial arts aspects or the health and fitness aspects? Do your research. You can also ask a Tai Chi teacher to observe a class to see if it’s suitable for you.
Watch Videos and Read Books
There are several classes you can sample online to give you a taste of the Tai Chi movements. You can watch one here. Of course, the advantage of in-person classes is that the teacher can correct your movements and ensure you practice them safely. The social aspect is another nice bonus. But you can also practice the exercises on your own once you learn them.
Note that if you have health problems, it may be a good idea to check with your doctor before starting to see if there are any issues you should be aware of.
That said, hope you enjoy discovering this traditional self-improvement practice. In the meantime, find more wellness articles like “Breathing Techniques and Mindfulness Tips” on the Dumpling Connection articles page.
Madalina Hubert is a Toronto-based writer specializing in art, culture, travel, and culinary explorations.