10 years ago when I first heard of Tai chi, I remember being awed. Positioned as the ‘in’ thing that all the cool people were practicing, my know-how about Tai chi was limited to seeing people in the videos moving slowly in a leafy park and later, to hearing “She practices Tai chi”, a line from Shakira’s hit soundtrack ‘Don’t bother’.
But last year, when I saw Robert De Niro practicing Tai chi as Ben Whittaker in the Hollywood movie, The Intern, my interest in this practice was freshly awakened. This time I gathered information and even got myself to learn a few simple steps and boy was I amazed in this process!
It’s a Martial Art
Well, who would have thought that something as gentle and beautiful as Tai chi could be used to defend oneself? But the truth is, the original purpose of this technique was indeed for self-defense when it was developed as a martial art in China.
But It’s Just Like Meditation
In fact, Tai chi is popularly described as ‘meditation in motion’. Imagine meditating, except that you’re not sitting comfortably with your eyes closed but standing and moving your body slowly in rhythmic movements.
The Simple Philosophy Behind It
There are two core belief systems behind this practice:
(i) Qi: Pronounced as ‘chee’, qi is the sum total of the energy flow through the body.
(ii) Yin and Yang: Masculine and Feminine elements or opposing elements that make up the universe.
Tai chi is believed to promote the flow of qi while maintaining a balance between yin and yang.
Types of Tai chi
(i) Yang: One of the most demanding styles as you need to keep your stance wide and your knees bent most of the time. Hence, this may not be the right style for those with knee problems. It comprises 24 movements in its basic form and 108 movements in its traditional form.
(ii) Wu: It is easier and gentler than the yang style as it does not require the knees to be quite as bent and even the stance is higher. It includes 24-36 movements in its simple form and up to 100 movements in the traditional. Because of its higher and narrower stance, it is usually the perfect style for beginners and for improving balance.
(iii) Tai Chih: This style again uses a higher stance and there is much less shifting of weight from one leg to the other as compared to the other two style. Moreover, tai chih style has only 20 movements.
But in the end, no matter which style you choose, they’re all similar in terms of being conducted slowly, gracefully, and with full awareness.
Health Benefits of Tai chi
A Harvard University blog post described Tai chi as ‘medication in motion’ for the stupendous array of benefits that it offers its practitioners.
-> Builds muscle strength in both the lower and upper extremities as well as core muscles of the back and the abdomen.
->Increases mindfulness, calmness and alertness
-> Can be used as a stress-busting practice
-> Improves the sense of balance and reduces falls
-> Is a mild aerobic workout
How Much Tai chi Should One Do?
An hour long session every week or up to 3 sessions per week for beginners is considered good enough. However,just like other forms of exercises and meditatons, being regular with your Tai chi practice is the only way to reap benefits out of it.
Interested enough to try it out? Check out this video on top 10 Tai Chi moves for beginners!