A Complete Guide to Tai Chi and Its Benefits
When you think of Tai Chi, you might picture a group of older adults practicing in a park under the afternoon sun. While this is certainly one way that Tai Chi is practiced, there’s so much more to this ancient practice than meets the eye.
In this article, we’ll cover all things related to Tai Chi, including its origins, health benefits, style variations, and more.
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art, practiced for its mental and physical health benefits and self-defense training. It’s a gentle form of physical exercise that uses a series of free-flowing movements executed with control and intention. Because of this,Tai Chi is often referred to as moving meditation. Tai Chi training can be done solo or in group settings and ultimately helps participants create a stronger connection between their body and mind.
Tai Chi is an ancient martial art that originated in China. Chen Wangting developed the first style of Tai Chi (Chen style) in the late 1600s. Tai Chi is short for Tai Chi Chuan, a Chinese philosophy that means: “the ultimate source and limit of reality, from which spring yin and yang and all of creation.”
Tai Chi is based on Qigong and martial art techniques from thousands of years ago. Qigong is a system of postures, movements, breathing, and meditation used for health, spirituality, and martial arts training.
There are five types of Tai Chi: Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, and Sun. Each style shares the same principals (meditation and martial arts) but with slightly different variations. Allow us to explain:
- Chen Style
- Yang Style
- Wu Style
- Hao Style
- Sun Style
Chen style is the original form of Tai Chi and the oldest of all the styles. Developed by Chen Wangting in the late 1600s, it’s the most dynamic style of Tai Chi with the largest focus on martial arts compared to the other styles. Chen style combines 83 soft and power movements with a tempo that varies from slow to very fast. Because it uses techniques that incorporate kicks, punches, spins, and jumps, Chen style will challenge your cardio more than any other style of Tai Chi.
Yang style ranks second in terms of seniority after Chen style and is the most commonly practiced style of Tai Chi in the world today. When practicing Yang style, one’s stance is wide and low. It draws from 85 moves which are big, primarily linear, and done at a slow pace.
Wu style Tai Chi is the second most popular style of Tai Chi practiced around the world today. It requires a horse stance (feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with a 90-degree bend in the knees) to execute its 89 movements, which are smaller and more compact when compared to Yang style. Wu style is unique in its emphasis on the extension of the body by leaning forward and backward, which is especially beneficial for strengthening the core and lower back.
Sun style Tai Chi is one of the least commonly practiced styles of Tai Chi. Its 73 moves incorporate unique footwork and flowing, circular hand movements, comparable to a graceful and gentle dance.
Hao style is a more advanced style of Tai Chi and the least practiced of all five styles. Its 96-108 moves place a strong emphasis on controlling the movement of internal energy (otherwise referred to as qi, pronounced “chi”). Hao style’s internal movements trigger subtle outer movements that may appear similar to the naked eye. Because of these subtle movements, Hao style isn’t recommended for beginners.
There are many mental and physical health benefits of Tai Chi, including stress reduction, sleep quality, balance and flexibility, psychological well being, and more. We’ve included a full list of the benefits of Tai Chi below.
Tai Chi is a helpful tool in reducing the mental and physical effects of stress due to its calming, flowstate nature. One study found that Tai Chi provided the same benefits for managing stress-related anxiety as more vigorous exercise. This may be surprising to some given the low-impact nature of Tai Chi and its slower pace; however, the mind-body connection that Tai Chi promotes is the reason for the reduction in stress that participants experience.
Most of us are aware that regular physical activity helps improve sleep quality, and Tai Chi is no exception. Tai Chi improves your ability to relax, which helps you achieve a good night's sleep. In a randomized clinical trial, Tai Chi was associated with improved sleep among participants.
Because Tai Chi involves movement of the entire body, it helps build muscle strength and endurance and promotes weight loss. The unsupported upper-body movements in a Tai Chi practice are comparable to the use of resistance bands, and when practiced regularly, Tai Chi is comparable to resistance training and a brisk walk.
Given that Tai Chi is a low to moderate form of exercise with a powerful calming effect, it’s a great activity to promote cardiovascular health and healthy blood pressure. It may also positively affect blood cholesterol, related lipids, and inflammation. This means that regularly practicing Tai Chi may lower your chance of heart disease.
Several studies have suggested that Tai Chi has a positive impact on the immune system and its response to inflammation. It has been shown to have a significant effect in increasing the levels of immune cells in those who regularly participate. While it's unclear which aspects of Tai Chi are most helpful in improving the immune systems of participants, one thing is absolute—that Tai Chi is a powerful immune booster.
Tai Chi is an effective way to improve balance in a way that isn’t too challenging or demanding. The movements subtly recruit stabilizing muscles in the legs and torso, which helps to improve overall balance. The gentle movements also help to increase flexibility in a way that doesn’t strain the muscles or body.
Tai Chi is perfect for people who want to use meditative practices to calm their minds but struggle to do so while sitting in silence. Practicing Tai Chi allows you to get into a flow state and deepen your mind-body connection. This leads to a calmer mind and more relaxed state of being in general.
Tai Chi is done while standing or seated on a chair, so there’s no need for a yoga mat or any other fitness equipment. You can practice Tai Chi indoors or outdoors, with very little space required to carry out the movements. Due to the low-impact nature of Tai Chi, you also don’t need to be dressed in workout attire (although comfortable clothing is best).
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Anyone can do Tai Chi. There’s a common misconception that Tai Chi is only for older adults or those with chronic conditions, but this is untrue. Tai Chi is for everyone. It’s a great form of movement meditation for all ages and all fitness levels.
It’s important, however, to consider the style of Tai Chi you’ll be pursuing before getting started. Chen style Tai Chi is best suitable for those who are at an intermediate to advanced fitness levels because it’s a more energetic form of Tai Chi and incorporates more aspects of martial arts in its movements. Yang style Tai Chi, on the other hand, is suitable for most people (e.g. families who want to practice together, people who have an injury, those looking for low impact activities, etc.).
Tai Chi is safe for everyone to do. Regardless of age, fitness level, or baseline health, Tai Chi can be done safely with ease. For anyone who struggles with balance, Tai Chi can be practiced in a chair to prevent the risk of falls.
Tai Chi isn’t difficult to learn, but a lack of guidance can make it more difficult to grasp and perfect. Tai Chi is actually more mentally exhausting than it is physically draining. It requires you to be fully present and aware of every part of your body. Tai Chi requires a high degree of mindfulness and intention in order to perform the movements.
Although similar in mindfulness and low-impact movements, one of the biggest differences between Tai Chi and yoga is that you don’t hold static poses in Tai Chi like you do in yoga. Tai Chi also differs from yoga in that it’s done entirely when standing or sitting in a chair, whereas yoga is done on the ground in addition to standing or being seated in a chair.
You should do Tai Chi if you want to tap into the martial arts and self-defense elements Tai Chi offers that yoga does not. You should do yoga when you want to work on your flexibility. Although you will get some light stretching of the body as part of your Tai Chi practice, you should opt to do some form of yoga or stretching if you’re looking to improve your flexibility or if your muscles are in need of a stretch before or after a workout or on a rest day.
Ultimately, the decision to do Tai Chi or yoga is up to your personal preference for the day and available equipment. Whether you choose to do Tai Chi or yoga, you’ll still be rewarded with the long list of health benefits that come with both forms of activity, including improved balance, flexibility, mindfulness, mood, and more.
The best way to get started with Tai Chi is by taking a Tai Chi class with a knowledgeable instructor. Start with easier Tai Chi styles, such as Yang, Wu, and Sun, and work your way up to Chen style. Classes can be done in person or online in group or one-on-one settings. When you’re first starting out, it might feel weird or uncomfortable to attend group Tai Chi classes. You may feel self-conscious, or it may take you a while to grasp the movements.
If this is the case, consider starting with online Tai Chi classes so you can go at your own pace without any watchful eyes and won’t feel self-conscious when starting out. Also, start with beginner level classes. There’s no sense trying to dive off the deep end when trying it for the first time. Go slow, be patient with yourself, remember to breathe, and have fun.
Getting started with Tai Chi is one thing, but making it a habit and sticking with it is another thing. Finding an instructor that you like will help you incorporate Tai Chi into your wellness routine more often. Look for instructors who have Tai Chi certifications, experience, and who have an energy that you resonate with.
Starting Tai Chi is easy with lululemon Studio’s online Tai Chi classes. We offer 15-minute Yang Style Tai Chi classes for all fitness levels (ranging from beginner to expert). Classes can be done with no equipment or as seated Tai Chi practice in a chair. lululemon Studio has a Tai Chi class for everyone and can be streamed live or on demand.
Our skilled instructors lead you through a series of Tai Chi movements and deep breathing to help you channel your life force energy, build a strong mind-body connection, and reap the many mental and physical benefits of Tai Chi.
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