Try Tai Chi

Find your inner rhythm of peace.

There are many paths to peace. Some people practice meditation, while others swear by yoga, chanting, gardening, or countless other practices. One ancient path that is gaining momentum in this country is tai chi.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai chi is a “soft” form of martial arts that originated in China almost 500 years ago. It is a system of slow, meditative, physical exercises designed for relaxation, balance, and health.

Tai chi differs from other types of martial arts in that the movements do not really exert force. Instead, practitioners absorb force softly and then move with that energy to redirect it. Through a series of slow, rhythmic exercises that emphasize balance and coordination, practitioners work to balance the body’s opposing principles, yin and yang.

“This movement is different from other movements because it requires a mind-body interaction,” explains Li-Jun Ma, MD, PhD. Dr. Ma began studying with a tai chi master at the age of seven and now, more than 35 years later, he teaches a therapeutic tai chi class at the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health.

Dr. Ma explains that tai chi was originally created for the purpose of self-defense and fitness, but it also cultivates a sense of self-awareness. “The tai chi cultivates your inner energy, called chi-flow,” he says. Though the practice requires focus and concentration, Dr. Ma says, it is also very relaxing: “Some people call [tai chi] a moving meditation.”

Benefits of Tai Chi

Tai chi improves balance, stimulates the immune system, improves endurance promotes relaxation, and cultivates inner energy. The practice was designed to increase health and longevity.

Tai chi is a relaxing and gentle form of movement that is accessible to people of all ages and abilities. There are really no contraindications for practicing it—even those sitting in a wheelchair can benefit from moving their arms and practicing their breathing.

Learning Tai Chi

Most Western beginners of tai chi learn the standard “24 Form,” which is a series of 24 movements that can be performed in about four to eight minutes. The movements are slow and intentional and involve sweeping arm motions. The practice is graceful and beautiful to watch, and the level of concentration is evident.

You may have seen people practicing tai chi’s slow, graceful movements in public parks in the early-morning hours. While most tai chi masters agree that it’s best to practice tai chi outdoors in the grass in the morning or evening when the energy is most invigorating, tai chi can be practiced anywhere at any time. You can practice alone or with a class, indoors or out. All you need is loose, comfortable clothing, flat shoes, and a desire to be more balanced.

With a burgeoning interest in tai chi, there are qualified instructors all over the world. Check with your local fitness center, yoga studio, or martial arts school to find a tai chi class. When screening potential instructors, find out:

  • How long have they been practicing?
  • Where did they study their art?
  • Who was their original teacher?

Many excellent tai chi teachers do not have official credentials. Don’t let this deter you. Simply look for a teacher who has been practicing for many years and who studied under a qualified tai chi master.