Try something new - Tai Chi to balance body and mind
Tai Chi, traditionally known as Tai Chi Chuan, is a Chinese martial art that has taken the western world by storm and is now practised in major cities across the globe. Tai Chi usually involves a series of slow, controlled movements, with a focus on self defence, breathing and meditation exercises.
In case you thought Tai Chi was just for older people, we decided to give it a try, and let us tell you, it's quite a workout, both physically and mentally. We're always up for trying new things in the hope it will encourage our readers to do the same, so keep reading to find out what we thought of Tai Chi and the benefits it can have for your mind and body.
Not lost in translation
Roughly translated, Tai Chi means 'supreme ultimate fist' (how cool does that sound?) and training typically involves five key elements, although there are different types of Tai Chi which may operate in a different way:
- Taolu – hand and weapon routines
- Neigong and Qigong – breathing, awareness and meditation exercises
- Sanshou – self defence techniques
- Tuishou – response drills
You probably think of Tai Chi as being slow and controlled, but did you know that many styles use a faster pace for some secondary forms? Before you start saying that martial arts isn't really your thing, remember that many people who practice Tai Chi have little interest in other martial arts, and simply use it to improve their health, as a kind of martial arts therapy.
The three main aspects to learn about in Tai Chi – martial arts, health and meditation, and good overall physical fitness is the first step towards efficient self defence. Classes for beginners run in most towns and cities across the UK – we headed for Master Ding Academy in Limehouse, East London. Here you can sign up for a 6 week beginners course for just £70, which is pretty good value for money as you even get a Tai Chi book thrown in!
Tai Chi is suitable for all ages due to the gentle, controlled movements, and our first impression at classes was that the concept of slow moves was going to take some time getting used to! Living in a busy city, you're just not used to your body moving so slowly, so patience and determination is required to get the most out of a class.
At your introductory session, you'll usually learn a few postures to practice as well as finding out about the history and principles of Tai Chi and the role that internal energy plays in the body. Stilling the mind is an important part of practice, and if you already have experience of meditation, you'll find this easier. Our session was a good mix of group practice and individual time with the instructor – great if you have questions or are struggling with any of the movements.
Who is it for?
You might be thinking that Tai Chi is usually practised by elderly people. This couldn't be further from the truth and in fact its suitable for all ages. Our class was a mix of ages, from as young as 16 right through to men and women in their 70s, some of whom had reduced mobility. There aren't many forms of exercise with so wide an appeal!
Tai Chi is a low impact martial art, so it's ideal for anyone with back, shoulder or neck pain, arthritis or other ailments. Because it can help reduce stress levels, it can also beneficial for those with high blood pressure.
What equipment do you need?
The good news is that Tai Chi is a great martial art to try if you're on a budget, as there is no need for specialist equipment or a uniform. It's recommended to wear loose, comfortable clothing to classes – a tee and joggers are ideal. Being in the right frame of mind is the most important thing. This is not a fast, high intensity workout to dance music, so you need to be patient, willing to relax and take things at a slower pace than normal, which can take some getting used to if your idea of a workout is a spinning class or running on the treadmill.
Is it a good workout?
After our first session, we definitely felt less stressed and more relaxed – no mean feat after a week of hard work at Expertrain HQ! With ongoing practice, Tai Chi can help you to stay calm and manage stressful situations with ease, and we can definitely see how this would work. As for the workout itself, we didn't feel the burn straight away but were surprisingly sore the next morning. Despite the slow, controlled movements of Tai Chi, you are still working all your muscles and stamina and strength are required. You'll definitely feel achy the following day, even if you don't feel like you're getting an intense workout at the time, as you might do with other forms of exercise. For building strength, particularly in your core and legs, we say give Tai Chi a try!
The health benefits of Tai Chi
Having only been to one class, it's a little soon for us to start speaking about personal health benefits we have experienced, but we've done our research and found a whole host of benefits that you could experience when practising Tai Chi regularly.
Tai Chi is a great complementary practise if you already attend yoga classes, as many of the core principles are similar, and meditative, calming techniques are important to both practises. For those over 65, Tai Chi can help to improve balance and mobility, reducing the risk of falls. It can also increase the muscle strength in your legs and improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as decreased mobility (1).
Chi Kung (energy work) practised within Tai Chi helps increase your Chi (internal energy) and Yi (your mind's intention or focus) and these standing postures can help to release energy blockages, strengthen your body and boost relaxation and mental focus, making Tai Chi a great martial art to practise before an important presentation or exam. Meditative practice has also been proven to lower blood pressure and can reduce the levels of stress hormones your body produces, so it can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Time to get started
You'll find a wealth of information about Tai Chi online and it should be relatively easy to find a class in your area. If you're struggling, alternative health practitioners or your local yoga/pilates studio may be able to point you in the right direction. We'd love to hear about your experiences trying something new, so tweet us and let us know how you get on!
READ THIS NEXT: Try something new - boost your fitness with bouldering