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Lindsay Harrison
February 11, 2021

Tai Chi

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Tai chi – gentle exercise for the body and mind

 

Forming a connection between the mind, body, and soul is an integral part of practising tai chi. Mindful individuals living in China and around the world have been acting out this ancient internal martial art’s deliberate, rhythmic movements for generations. And will continue to do so.

To some, tai chi appears to be a dance or type of flowing yoga, but its roots lie in Chinese martial arts. Recommended to anyone looking to improve their overall wellbeing, tai chi places particular focus on enhancing balance, strength, and posture. As a mind and body form of therapy, it encourages body fluidity with structured, regular breathing patterns. While regular practise is best, the health benefits of tai chi are immediate. An almost meditative sense of calm and rest comes over anyone going through the motions and monitoring their breaths.

With over a hundred low impact moves, tai chi can be adapted to suit various fitness levels and abilities. This makes it a popular exercise option for people of all ages. But not only is tai chi versatile – it’s trending! As the world turns its focus to health and wellbeing, tai chi is gaining popularity for the peaceful lifestyle it offers and its ability to create harmony between the mind and body.

 

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Starting tai chi

Comprised of slow, measured movements, tai chi requires an impressive level of concentration. This feature has contributed to its being used to strengthen memory and balance. Mental health is also said to benefit from the regular breathing and motion practised during tai chi. The breathing alone has been linked to feeling of weightlessness resulting in a more positive mood and perspective.


“I enjoy the feeling of lightness and when I breathe in, I can almost feel myself floating off to another world.” - Judy, tai chi lover and resident at Ryman’s William Sanders Village.

Learning the proper techniques and movements for tai chi is very important. It’s worth finding a qualified tai chi instructor if you’re just getting started. They’ll be able to guide you through a practice that suits your fitness level and physical ability. A class is also a fun way to meet like-minded people!

Tai chi only requires one piece of equipment – you! No matter where you are, you can take part in a spot of tai chi. Seated tai chi is also an option, making it a great way to break up a lengthy car trip. While cardio activity can leave you struggling for breath, tai chi incorporates measured breathing into its movements, ensuring that your entire body is functioning as safely and effectively as possible.

 

Ryman-1079The form

There are many ‘forms’ in tai chi. Each is the compilation of several tai chi moves into a single, flowing series of moves – a ‘form’. As you practise tai chi, you’ll be able to recall more and more moves, weaving them into different forms. With two decades of practise under her belt, Judy, a resident at Ryman’s William Sanders Village, enjoys benefits like improved balance, straighter posture, a calm state of mind, and enhanced memory. She has mastered a particularly long-form and is very encouraging of anyone interested in taking up the practice. She says it’s a great way to relax, find calm, and meet new people.

 

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Tai chi branches

The five main branches of tai chi are similar but have distinctive features and focus on specific types of movement. Each branch is named after the Chinese family that began practising them: Chen, Yang, Wu Hao, Wu and Sun. Naturally, the tai chi we practise today differs from its original format. Time has influenced and adapted the movements to create a fusion of modern and classical movements.

Tai chi’s purposeful and gentle movements are easily identifiable. But not every style follows this quiet flow. Some branches of tai chi have adopted higher tempo and more sprightly sequences of movements. Others have taken on a graceful and elegant dance-like composition. Here are some commonly practised tai chi moves for you to try at home.

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Tai chi for beginners

 

1. Withdraw and push: In a wide stance with knees somewhat bent, sweep the hands out to the left in a pushing motion with palms turned to face outwards. Inhale, then gradually stretch the arms up and back towards you, as though tracing the shape of a beach ball. While doing this, lean forward on the left leg to emphasise the push. Continue this circular motion for three or four rounds, sustaining a focus on breath, then shadow on the right side.

2. Holding ball: this move concerns breathing and maintaining focus. Place the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, toes pointing ahead. Then, with palms facing towards the sky, sweep the arms upwards, pausing when fingertips are at eye level. Turn the palms to face each other, and here’s where the concentration comes in! Direct your thoughts to a slow breath and hold this pose for 30 seconds. Remember: the speed of your breath dictates the speed of your movements. To come out of the pose, gently drop the palms downwards and set the feet together, ankles touching.

3. Rising and Sinking: this is an excellent move for practising balance! Begin in a neutral position with hands flush to the body and feet side by side. With the left foot, step outwards, take a full breath through the nose, and smoothly lift the arms to follow the feet. Bring the hands, palms down, up to eye level, across the body, and finishing on the right-hand side. If you had a paintbrush in hand, a rectangle the width of your arm span with curved edges would appear. Dedicate your thought here to ensuring that your weight is evenly distributed from start to finish.

4. Embrace the circle: if you want to improve your strength, this is an ideal move! Lift the left foot and perform a side lunge action while elevating the arms outwards, then stretched straight above your head, pointing to the sky. Complete the circle by sweeping the arms inwards across the face, linking the thumbs together and fanning fingers at chest height. In a very wide stance with feet facing forward, squat down to a 90° angle. In this position, suck air through the nose and release through the mouth in a deliberate, purposeful manner. Hold here for as long as possible, then spring upwards and release the hands.

5. Crane Spreads its Wings: Beginning with a wide stance, reach the arms outwards to align with head height, palms facing the earth. Lightly sink into a high squat, while shifting the arms down and up, like a bird in flight. Keeping the wrists loose, repeat this motion, inhaling on the rise and exhaling when advancing downwards.

 

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Tai chi health benefits


Mental health
This long-established practice’s mental health benefits are positively impacting people’s lives around the world. And this is part of what makes tai chi so unique – the consideration of both body and mind.

Slow, purposeful movements combined with regular, measured breathing creates a meditative environment for the practitioner. Many have found this beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety and increasing quality of sleep. Tai chi is also widely understood to enhance cognitive abilities, improving memory, and sharpening focus.

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Physical health

A fantastic solution for people of all ages and physical abilities, tai chi’s physical benefits are wide-ranging but centre on balance and strength. An increase in balance is particularly beneficial for those prone to falls and tripping. For arthritis sufferers and those recovering from injury, tai chi is known to alleviate pain by increasing their flexibility and mobility in a gentle way.

A motivating factor for those who practise tai chi is that it applies all the major muscle groups. This contributes to a stronger body – all over. And the muscular endurance required by the practice’s long-held poses promotes physical strength.

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