TAI CHI AND QIGONG
What You Need to Know
“Tai Chi? That’s like Yoga isn’t it?” This is a very common misconception when talking about Tai Chi. This response, along with the more dismissive “Oh, That’s just waving your hands around” is what some people in the West think. This article will attempt to give you an idea of just how complex, enjoyable and beneficial practising Tai Chi really is.
What’s the Big Deal with Tai Chi?
The movements of tai chi have been developed over several thousands of years and have been regularly practiced by millions of people throughout the world. There is a simple explanation for this: It works! Tai chi is suitable for everyone, including those who have limited mobility. Frequent tai chi practice will bring enormous health benefits on every level: physical, mental, emotional and psychological. The movements are so varied and focused on many different body parts so that tai chi can be customized to fit each student’s needs while providing incredible benefits for the mind and body.
So what are these incredible benefits? For those who practice frequently, tai chi offers benefits like muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and aerobic conditioning. Studies have also shown that there are opportunities for mental and emotional benefits like reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, improved mood, better decision making skills, and overall mental calm.
3 Tips to Make the Most of Tai Chi
While becoming an expert at tai chi takes training and plenty of time spent practicing, there are a few tips for every experience level that will help you get the most out of your practice. Mastering your breath, keeping movements slow and steady, and listening to what your body needs are the three keys to success in tai chi.
Master Your Breath
The key to performing Tai Chi movements in an enjoyable and beneficial way is learning how to control your breath. The Tai Chi breath goes way down into the lower belly, an area known as the lower dan tien. To unlock this deep breathing technique, focus on actively releasing tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back. Then breathe slowly and comfortably in a rhythm that is natural for you.
You’ll be surprised by just how rapidly your breathing becomes deeper and slower. As you sink into this rhythm, your blood cells will pick up more oxygen and you should begin to feel brighter and lighter almost immediately. Mastering your breath not only acts as a way to release stress and tension, but will also help you find your groove when practicing tai chi.
Slow and Steady Wins the Day
The combinations of different movements are designed to give the whole body a thorough work out, but in deceptively gentle way. Just because you’re not left panting and sweaty doesn’t mean you aren’t getting a killer workout! Tai Chi movements work on a very deep level, strengthening every single muscle, joint, ligament and tendon. These types of movements help keep your internal organs healthy by stimulating and massaging them.
Moving at a slow and steady pace is ideal when practicing tai chi. This not only helps you work out each of those key muscle groups, but it also better ensures your body alignment in each transition is correct and safe. An easy way to maintain a steady pace is to coordinate your movements with your breath.
Focus On What Your Body Needs
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body is said to function along the balance of qi (chi), which is the term used to describe a person’s innate life force, or energy. The qi flows through the body along what are called meridians. Meridians are simply different area groupings of the body. In tai chi, certain routines have been specially designed to support the flow of qi to specific organs along particular meridians of the body.
When beginning tai chi practice, take a moment to check in on what your body needs in that moment. Depending on your current challenges, you can determine which meridians to focus on in your practice. For example, if you feel you may have overdone the alcohol or fatty foods over the weekend, your tai chi practice should focus on movements and stretches that support the liver and gall bladder.
What Do You Need to Practice Tai Chi
Tai Chi is probably one of the most accessible forms of exercise there is. You do not need any special equipment, not even a mat. While many people practice tai chi in a class or group in a studio setting or park, many movements can also be done in more confined spaces if necessary. Whether you prefer to practice tai chi outside in nature, in your home gym, or even in your bedroom, it’s possible.
Another benefit of practicing tai chi is that you can wear pretty much any clothing that is comfortable and non-restrictive! That’s right, no special uniforms are required. This means you can perform Tai Chi and Qigong first thing in the morning while you’re still in your pajamas, in your swimsuit on the beach, or in your regular exercise clothes at the gym.
Once you have been bitten by the Tai Chi bug, there’s nothing that will stop you from doing as much of this wonderfully life enhancing discipline as you like.