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Tai Chi

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What To Expect
What Is It Used For?
Side Effects/Cautions
Recommended Books
Recommended CDs


What Is It?
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese discipline which incorporates movement, breathing and meditation. It originated as a martial art, developing from qigong, but is now mostly used to maintain health and wellbeing. Practitioners use a series of slow, rhythmic movements called “forms” which have known health benefits, such as increasing strength and flexibility, and reducing stress. Chinese people have been practising this graceful form of exercise for hundreds of years to maintain health vitality.

Tai chi is thought to have originated with a Taoist monk, Chang San-Feng, who lived sometime between 900 and 1400 AD. According to legend, Chang witnessed a snake engaged in combat with a crane. He was impressed with the skilful way the snake was able to dodge and counterattack the larger, more powerful crane. The snake’s actions embodied the Taoist principles of calmness, flexibility and naturalness, and Chang applied what he had witnessed to his martial arts expertise. He began to combine fighting movements with other movements, and with ancient breathing exercises that were designed to increase the flow of chi (qi), or vital energy in the body. The art of Tai chi became the physical manifestation of Taoist philosophy, which revolved around calmness, tranquility of mind, and the improvement of health. Monks employed Tai chi as way of becoming more in tune with their bodies and their environment. 

How Does It Work?
Tai chi is based on the same principles as other forms of traditional Chinese medicine, which maintains that good health is dependent on a healthy flow of energy (qi or chi) through the body. Tai chi exercises are thought to remove blockages in the flow of energy, restoring balance and promoting healing and vitality.

Tai chi also utilises the principle of yin and yang - two opposing forces reflected as male and female, light and dark, hot and cold, and so on. Tai chi movements are based on pairs of opposites, such as right and left movements, designed to balance yin and yang.

Other explanations for the health benefits of Tai chi are that the gentle, weight bearing movements help to strengthen and tone the muscles, the slow, deep breathing and the meditative aspects of the exercises increase relaxation, concentration and alertness and reduce stress, and the aerobic effects of the exercises improves overall fitness. Scientific studies have shown that Tai chi is more effective than ordinary aerobic exercise in reducing the heart rate and blood pressure.

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What To Expect
While it is possible to learn Tai chi from books and videos, you will gain much more from learning from an instructor in a class setting or with private sessions. Tai chi is normally practised wearing comfortable, loose clothing, in flat, soft shoes or bare feet.

Classes usually begin with gentle warm-up and breathing exercises to get the blood circulating. You will taught the basic stance of Tai chi - standing with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and spine erect - and to focus on the dantien, the area just below the navel that is the centre of the body’s chi or energy. You will then be shown the basic movements and positions that make up a “form” - a series of positions that are connected in a continuous flowing movement that can take up to 20 minutes or more to complete. Each position has a name which reflects elements of the natural world, such as “Grasping the Bird’s Tail” and “Wave Hands Like Clouds”.

Learning the forms requires patience and focus, and can take some time to master. Practising each day is recommended. Some people practise Tai chi in the morning as an energising way to start the day, while some use it to wind down after work.

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What Is It Used For?
Tai chi is used by many as a preventative measure to maintain good health. Many say it improves concentration, circulation and posture, and promotes a sense of well-being. It is helpful for stress related illnesses, and can also help relieve arthritis and high blood pressure. Its exercises help to strengthen and tone the muscles, improving balance and flexibility, so is also helpful for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, or those recovering from injury. It may also help prevent osteoporosis, and reduce the risk of falling in older people.

Side Effects/Cautions
Tai chi is a safe and gentle exercise for everybody, and can be adapted according to physical abilities. As with any form of exercise it is best to consult your doctor before beginning Tai chi, especially if you suffer any serious medical conditions.

References

Find a Tai Chi Instructor

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Recommended Books

Prices are in US Dollars

 

Step-By-Step Tai Chi
Master Lam Kam-Chuen

Whatever your level of fitness, Step-by-Step Tai Chi offers a simple but effective program of exercise and stress reduction, based on the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi. In addition to learning the fundamentals of Tai Chi through his carefully designed four-level program, Master Lam Kam Chuen will introduce you to Small Circle Form Tai Chi, an original method he has developed -- based on classical Tai Chi styles -- requiring a minimum of time and space.
Step-by-Step Tai Chi features:
• Detailed and easy-to-follow instruction for the basic movements of Tai Chi, plus Small Circle Form, complete with colour illustrations that will guide you through every movement
• Specially selected exercises to help you build up strength, flexibility, and stamina in the muscles and joints of your upper and lower body
• Simple routines that you can perform in half an hour or less, with no previous experience, special clothing, or equipment required
• An ideal foundation if you wish to study advanced forms of Tai Chi
Whether you are looking for a way to reduce stress or a new way to exercise, Step-by-Step Tai Chi will keep you fit -- inside and out.

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A Morning Cup of T'ai Chi : One 15-Minute Routine for a Lifetime of Harmony and Vitality
John A. Bright-Fey

A colourfully illustrated 15-minute exercise routine designed to introduce the reader to the basics of Tai Chi. John approaches the ancient art of Tai Chi with fun and simplicity, making this an art anyone can do and enjoy. Tai Chi is the ancient Chinese art of mind-body harmony. It is designed to achieve a balance of mental and physical fitness, and combines elements of calming, focusing, strengthening, toning, and balance. Tai Chi is popular among all age groups, especially seniors because of its low physical impact.

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The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & QiGong (2nd Edition)
Bill Douglas

" Bill Douglas has done for Qigong what Apple did for the computer . . . he's brought it to the people." - R Poccia, Stress Management Director, San Francisco's Beyond Anonymous

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 More Tai Chi Books

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Recommended CDs

Discover Tai Chi Meditation Music
Adagio: Music for Tai Chi 
 
 

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