You know the “slow karate” that people do in the park? Well, it might look like they’re doing Bruce Lee moves at the speed of molasses… but they’re not. It’s actually called Tai Chi. With its deliberate, trance-like movements, this ancient martial art is like meditation in motion.
But what exactly is Tai Chi? A powerful and defensive fighting style, or a simple way for you to find mindfulness (focus, calm, and relaxation) in your crazy-busy life?
Interestingly… it’s both.
The Art of Tai Chi
You see, from the beginning, Tai Chi Chuan (or Tai Chi for short) was developed as both a martial art and a meditative movement. The words Tai Chi Chuan can literally be translated as “Grand Ultimate Fist,” or “Supreme Ultimate Boxing”.
Originating in ancient China, many believe it was created by a Taoist priest after observing how effortlessly and effectively a white crane preyed on a snake. Inspired by this event, the priest mimicked the bird’s movements and, in the process, learned that sometimes grace can be more powerful than brute force.1,2
The trick is that every slow, graceful movement is actually a powerful defensive play when put into practice.
And if you can cultivate your internal energy and hone your focus then you can learn to project that power from where it needs to come from — your hands, arms, legs, and feet — in order to defend yourself.
But Tai Chi has also become known for its profound health and spiritual benefits. The pairing of slow movements with deliberate breathing encourages energy flow, or Qi (pronounced chee), in the body.
So, Who Should Try Tai Chi?
Because the movements in Tai Chi are never forced. Those who practice must focus on keeping their muscles relaxed.
Therefore, Tai Chi can be taken up by people of any age or fitness level.
For instance, the slow and subtle movements can help elderly folks keep their joints limber and their fine motor skills in tune. And attention is paid to ensuring joints are never over-extended and therefore connective tissues are never stretched.
Plus, the supremely focused attention can help adults and even children calm their minds and develop the willpower to be used in daily life.
So literally anyone, whether young or old, supremely fit or battling injury, can undertake a healthy Tai Chi practice.
Not to mention, it can be practised anywhere and you can do it alone. You don’t need to be in a class or have a partner available to work with you. Just like meditation, you can find a quiet place in your home or local park and simply “be” in your own quiet moment.
What Can It Do For You?
Much like yoga, Tai Chi can offer exciting benefits for both the body and the mind.
The deep breathing is meditational while the movements provide real exercise – even more so than you might expect. Here are some of the key benefits of embracing a Tai Chi practice –
1. Flexibility and Strength
Tai Chi promotes greater flexibility. Which becomes increasingly more important as you age because it allows you to be more active and have a better range of movement. This, in turn, can help prevent injuries even in younger people.
Not only that, Tai Chi also helps to improve both upper and lower-body strength.3
And strong muscles aren’t just about looking good. If the muscles around a joint become weak, it’s far more likely you’ll injure the joint due to lack of support. So, whether you’re making the bed or running a race, they help protect your joints and allow your body to move more freely. 4
Fun Fact: Tai Chi is often recommended for elite athletes due to its ability to boost performance in several different kinds of sports.5
2. Cardiovascular Fitness
Because it’s an aerobic exercise, Tai Chi is an excellent way to help improve your cardiovascular fitness. This means that your heart won’t need to work so hard to effectively pump blood to your body. Aerobic exercise has long been seen as an important tool in maintaining heart health and supporting proper oxygen flow in the blood.
In one study, post-heart attack patients who were assigned a Tai Chi regimen showed a significant reduction in blood pressure. And a similar study with post-bypass patients saw a substantial improvement in oxygen uptake after taking on a 12-month Tai Chi practice.6
3. Posture and Balance
Now, this may seem like a small thing, but good posture promotes better lung capacity and helps decrease the amount of “wear and tear” on your joints.
It also leads to better balance. For example, in a study of patients with illness-related postural decline, a 24-week program of Tai Chi resulted in better balance and improved physical function.9
This is extremely important as you age because falls are actually one of the leading causes of death amongst older adults.7,8
Now, mental health is just as important as physical health, but it often gets neglected. You’re taught to move quickly and work hard — to show up early and stay late in order to succeed and thus… you rarely give your mind a chance to take a break.
But, Tai Chi, just like any form of mediation, can have a powerful effect on relaxation and concentration.
By focusing on breathing properly and performing slow, fluid movements, you’re helping your mind combat stress and giving it time to relax. In fact, studies show that it can help significantly improve mood, manage anxiety, and promote a general sense of well-being.10,11
So, Is it Time to Start Your Practice?
There’s no time like the present to start taking care of your body and mind. Plus, Tai Chi is safe and easy, so there’s no need to feel intimidated by it.
A simple way to start is by watching a video of Tai Chi on the internet or checking out a local class. Even if you prefer not to be in a class environment, once you learn the ropes you can practice wherever you desire!
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies and the Urban Monk, keep reading here: