Although the practice been around for centuries, tai chi has regained momentum as of late. It makes sense that more people are in search of a gentle workout option that not only makes you feel physically better but can help to reduce stress levels, leaving you more centered and calm.
Read on to learn about the various health benefits tai chi can provide, as well as tips on how to get started.
What is tai chi?
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is used as self-defense training as well as moving meditation, says Nadia Murdock, a mindset and movement expert in New York City.
“The movements of tai chi are performed in a slow manner accompanied by deep breathing,” she says. “Each movement flows into the next without pausing, allowing the body to be in a constant gentle motion.” One example of a movement is cloud hands, or yun shou, where you move your hands as though they are moving clouds on a windy day.
A tai chi class will usually begin with a two- to five-minute warm-up meant to loosen up the muscles and joints, Murdock says. A warm-up often includes head rolls, shoulders rolls, and reaching for your toes as well as opening exercises, like hip and ankle circles.
The concept of yin and yang is also important in tai chi. Too much yang movement without stillness can cause stress and exhaustion in the body, Murdock explains. Yin, meanwhile, provides stillness which helps to nourish the body at the deepest levels. Incorporating meditative movement in the midst of yang activity helps to bring the two together.
Tai chi styles
Yang: This is the most popular as well as most practiced style in the world today. With Yang, there are continuous slow, soft, and circular movements in a flowing form, Murdock says.
Wu: This form of tai chi requires a square stance with both feet pointing forward.
Chen: This Northern Chinese martial arts form is characterized by silk reeling, which helps to coordinate parts of the body with the goal that if one part moves, all parts move, Murdock says.
7 benefits of tai chi
It decreases stress, anxiety, and depression. Although more research is needed, studies have shown that meditative exercise such as tai chi can have positive effects when it comes to psychological well-being.
It may help you multi-task. Tai chi has been shown to shore up "executive cognitive function" which includes your ability to multitask, as well as to make decisions and manage your time.
It improves flexibility, balance, and agility. While tai chi has a reputation for being gentle and slow, it's been shown to aid in flexibility and balance in older adults.
It improves muscle strength and definition. Tai chi can also help with lower- and upper-body strength if practiced regularly, according to a study on older adults.
It promotes better sleep. Exercise and physical activity, in general, are known to improve sleep quality, and tai chi is no exception. One study showed that it can promote better sleep in both healthy adults and those with chronic conditions.
It strengthens the immune system. A recent study showed that doing tai chi has a small effect in increasing immune cells.
It alleviates pain. Research has shown that twice-weekly tai chi can help with pain management in those who suffer from conditions such as fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and tension headaches.
How to get started with tai chi
Even though the martial arts aspect of the practice could take a few years to master, tai chi is relatively easy to learn, Murdock says.
You can find in-person classes at your local YMCA or research-dedicated tai chi studios. You can also find online videos, such as this one for beginners, or this one that’s less than 10 minutes long, Murdock says. Your clothing should also be comfortable and non-restrictive, opt for cotton and other materials that allow your skin to breathe.
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