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What You Should Know About Tai Chi

When people think about martial arts, the styles that come to mind tend to be karate, kung fu, judo or even mixed martial arts because those are some of the more popular varieties in the Western world.

While these martial arts tend to focus on fighting and defending yourself,

there’s a style that focuses on relaxation and inner calm: tai chi.

Here is what you should know about this martial activity:

What is tai chi?

Have you ever seen a group of people in a park doing slow, graceful movements in

unison? Chances are, you witnessed a tai chi practice.

The art of tai chi dates back as far as 2,500 years to ancient China. In addition to being rooted in Chinese medicine, these movements also had aspects of self-defense in mind when they were established. These seemingly slow and peaceful bodily movements used internal energy to fend off an attacker.

There are three parts to tai chi:

  • Qi: The life force in your body.

  • Qigong: The practice involving the mind, breath and movement.

  • Yin and yang: The opposing elements of the universe. Tai chi is meant to help you balance these elements.

Due to the mental benefits of tai chi, it’s been referred to as “meditation in motion.” There are several styles or families of tai chi. These styles include Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun. Other varieties may take different aspects from all of these for an entirely new experience.

Benefits of tai chi

There are both mental and physical benefits to the practice of tai chi. It puts minimal stress on your muscles and joints, so it’s a good choice for older people, individuals recovering from injuries or people with joint issues. If it’s been a long time since someone has exercised, taking a tai chi class is a great way to get back into the habit of fitness with a limited chance of getting injured. Many people are unsure about how beneficial an exercise that looks so simple could be, but the Mayo Clinic has outlined several different benefits:

  • Mental: Decreased effects from stress, anxiety and depression; elevated mood and greater sense of well-being.

  • Physical: Increased aerobic capacity, energy, stamina, flexibility, balance and muscle strength. There is even speculation that a tai chi regimen can improve sleep, joint pain and the immune system function, as well as help with heart conditions like blood pressure and symptoms of congestive heart failure. However, it’s important to not rely solely on tai chi to help treat these conditions and speak to your doctor before beginning a martial arts regimen.

Harvard Medical School also pointed out that even though tai chi has a set range of motions, it can still be adapted for anyone, even if you’re in a wheelchair or recovering from surgery in your leg, shoulder or anywhere else.

Starting tai chi The great thing about tai chi is the fact that you can do it on your own or in a class. Tai chi students have found that regular tai chi practice can be adapted to almost any life style.

Unlike having to carve out an hour or more from your daily routine to go to the local gym, tai chi is much more flexible. You can practice anytime or anywhere. No special equipment is required. You can practice for just a few minutes or an hour or longer…depending on your schedule.

And of course you will have a better chance of reaping the benefits of tai chi if you begin (and stick with) an ongoing program rather than just taking a class once in a while…or ceasing the activity after your classes have come to an end. The best way to learn is to take a class that teaches you the basics of tai chi and then practice at home.

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