Tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art that combined learning smooth movement with the deployment of weapons, is now a popular choice for those seeking a form of gentle, meditative exercise.
It’s done in many forms from classes in which all students work in unison to individuals learning the basics from a magazine or YouTube.
The art of tai chi is comprised of movements based on motion seen in nature. These motions can be very intricate, and the positioning of your arms and legs can be crucial to achieving the right form without injuring your joints.
Most tai chi classes in the U.S. incorporate breathing exercise and some of the simpler movements of qigong, a separate ancient Chinese tradition that from the beginning has focused on health and wellness, rather than martial arts.
The health benefits associated with it include many linked to any form of regular exercise such as improved mood, physical fitness, balance and flexibility, and brain function, as well as reduced stress, anxiety and depression.
Since it includes moderate movements that don’t stress the heart or joints, it’s a safe exercise regimen for most people to take up in classes or on their own. But if you’re pregnant, have severe osteoporosis, current sprains or fractures or any other concerning conditions it’s best to ask your health care provider whether it’s the right choice for you.
No matter what your experience level is, it’s a good idea to warm up before every tai chi session through simple movements like head, shoulder and hip rolls, bending over to touch your toes and circling your knees while keeping them together. Concentrate on your breath and intent while you do this.
Here are three simple movements for beginners to try:
Brush the Knee
Begin at “T stance,” or standing with hands on your hips and your right heel on your left shin, just above your ankle. Lift one hand up facing forward while the other hand is in front of the body with palm facing downward. Bring one foot forward, twist at the waist and push your raised hand forward while pushing your other hand to the side brushing past the knee. Exhale as you do this, then inhale as you circle your hands back to starting position.
Part the Horse Mane
Hold your hands in front of you, one above the other, palms facing each other as if holding a large ball. Shift weight to whichever leg is on the same side as the upper hand. Bring the opposite leg in front and move your lower hand forward as if you’re supporting the bottom of the ball. Bring other hand to your side, palm facing down.
Warrior and Scholar
With your feet together and hands relaxed at your sides, breathe in while sinking down at your knees with left hand straight and right hand clenched into a fist. As you continue to exhale, cover your right fist with your left hand and bring yourself back to a standing position. Repeat if desired.