Tai Chi is a set of physical exercises with self-defense applications that originated in China over 3,000 years ago. The essential principles of Tai Chi are based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which focuses on the "natural balance" of all things. Good health is thought to occur when one lives in spiritual and physical harmony with the patterns of nature.
How Does It Work?Back to top
In Taoist philosophy, everything is composed of two opposites that are complementary. These forces are called yin and yang. Concepts such as soft, pliant, yielding, and feminine are associated with yin. Whereas concepts such as hard, rigid, and masculine are associated with yang. Both forces complement each other and together form a perfect whole. When one practices Tai Chi, the goal is to perfect the balance between yin and yang within one's body, mind, and spirit. A perfectly harmonized person will show this balance and completeness with a tranquility and peacefulness of mind.
There are three main schools of Tai Chi: Wu, Chen, and Yang.
- Wu: Circular motions like those seen in seasons, the orbit of planets, and the lifespan of organisms.
- Chen: Linear motions that emphasize strength, speed, and power.
- Yang: Includes both linear and circular motions and is often the style practiced in Western culture.
While Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years, Western scholars have only begun studying its possible health benefits from a scientific perspective. The gentle motion of Tai Chi has been shown to improve balance in the elderly as well as improve pain and physical function. From a Traditional East Asian perspective, Tai Chi results in a balance of energy (chi) flow in the body and results in good health and longevity. Some Taoist practitioners are known to live past 100 years of age.
Getting StartedBack to top
Tai Chi should be learned from an experienced practitioner. While there are many books and video tapes with recordings of Tai Chi practice, it is best to learn in person. This could be done in one-on-one training between student and instructor, or group sessions such as your local YMCA. Many cities also offer Tai Chi from private schools with instruction provided by teachers experienced in the art. There is no credentialing organization for Tai Chi in the United States, so most students start by looking in their local area. Word of mouth is often a good place to start, as is taking a few beginning sessions with an instructor prior to signing up for a full course. Tai Chi is not something that one learns quickly. It is something that is perfected over many years. Be patient and explore Tai Chi with an eager and compassionate mind.
Tips for SuccessBack to top
- You may need to study Tai Chi for multiple sessions. For chronic conditions, one month of Tai Chi training may not be enough. You may need multiple sessions over the course of multiple months to manage your symptoms.
- You should wear comfortable clothes so that you can perform the Tai Chi movements.
- Although Tai Chi is an exercise, you likely will not receive cardiovascular benefits from Tai Chi.
- Do not stop at the beginning of training. It may take months before you gain the most benefits from Tai Chi – be patient.
What to ExpectBack to top
Tai Chi helps the whole person, not just the part of your body where you have your main complaints. As such, following your initial training sessions, you may notice the effects of Tai Chi on other aspects of your life. You may have more energy and you may be bothered less by things that used to bother you. As a result of practicing, you may see an improvement in anxiety or depression. However different people have different reactions to Tai Chi – find what works for you.
Potential RisksBack to top
Tai Chi is generally considered very safe. Occasionally people can experience sore muscles and knee pain if stances are not correct. If you experience joint pain or soreness, speak with your instructor, and explain your symptoms. You may need to take a few days off from practicing Tai Chi or change your approach. If pain or sore joints persist following these adjustments, consider stopping Tai Chi or finding a different instructor. It also may not be right for you.
Further Reading & Other ResourcesBack to top
The Tai Chi Nation offers free Tai Chi tutorials on YouTube
Healer Within Foundation holds several weekly virtual practice groups for Tai Chi with free and paid options
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi outlines a 12-week program for practitioners of all ages and abilities
Tai Chi Foundation has free Tai Chi lessons**