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Tai Chi

Tai chi is arguably the most popular form of exercise in the world. It is actually an ancient martial art that combines breathing techniques, meditation and body movements, performed in slow-motion. Although first taught as a form of self-defense, tai chi is now practiced by tens of millions of people daily as a means of reducing stress, promoting balance and flexibility, and enhancing well-being.

Tai china originated in China, although there is some dispute as to exactly when and how the exercise came into being. The most popular legend holds that in the 13th century, a Taoist monk invented tai chi after watching a fight between a crane and a snake. As the crane was the larger and more powerful of the two, it appeared to have an advantage; however, the snake was able to elude the crane’s attacks through swift, subtle movements. Inspired by the event, the monk created a series of movements that stressed the evasion of an enemy’s attack, causing the opponent’s own momentum to work against him.

Unlike other martial arts, however, tai chi is not competitive. Rather, it is practiced in large, group settings, often in parks or other areas with plenty of fresh air and sunlight. In China, tai chi is often practiced at dawn, usually outdoors, and ideally in areas that have lots of trees.

Is tai chi easy to learn?

While some of the basic tai chi movements are relatively easy to learn, it may take a considerable amount of time to master more complicated movements and styles. However, most tai chi classes offer instruction in how to achieve particular styles or movements, and most tai chi instructors are willing to work with people who are dedicated.

What’s a tai chi session like? How does it work?

A typical tai chi session begins with a series of warm-up exercises, which are intended to get the blood circulation. Tai chi students will then be taught to focus on one’s center of gravity to help achieve balance, and to coordinate one’s breathing with the exercises. When practicing, students should wear clothing that is loose and comfortable. Tai chi can be practiced either in shoes or barefoot.

At the end of the warm-up session, a tai chi instructor will take students through a series of movements that constitute a form. An average tai chi routine lasts about 10 minutes, and will incorporate several movements performed continuously.

How many types of tai chi are there?

Good question. There are several dozen styles of tai chi, and dozens of individual movements that comprise a particular style. Some forms of tai chi are comprised of more than 100 movements, and can take up to an hour to complete. Many of the most popular tai chi movements are patterned on the motions of certain animals.

What is tai chi good for? Are there any negative side-effects?

Tai chi is believed to increase strength and calm the spirit by improving the flow of qi, or energy, throughout the body. In addition to the exercises, the meditative aspects of tai chi are helpful in relieving stress and anxiety. Many people who practice tai chi regularly say the exercises give them a heightened sense of well-being.

As an aerobic exercise, tai chi benefits the entire body by increasing muscle strength and improving balance and flexibility. Studies have shown that people who practice tai chi daily have increased levels of blood and blood oxygen circulation, lower blood pressure and better equilibrium than those who do not. By improving one’s balance, tai chi thus lowers the risk of falling, which is especially important in the elderly population. Tai chi is also associated with reduced stress levels and an increased sense of well-being.

Tai chi is safe for people of all ages and fitness levels. However, patients who are older and more sedentary should speak with a health care provider before starting tai chi. In addition, tai chi should not cause a person pain. If pain occurs during a tai chi session, stop performing the movements and tell the instructor.

I’d like to learn more about tai chi. Who should I contact?

There are dozens of tai chi associations and organizations across the country. Tai chi sessions are also offered at many parks, schools and community centers. Remember, however, that each state has its own regulations about whether tai chi practitioners are required to be licensed to practice. Make sure to choose a practitioner who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization’s standards.

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