October 17, 2012

Tai Chi.....Me?

After readers have commented many times about the benefits of Tai Chi and suggested I give it a try, I did. Our library has a DVD, Tai Chi for Beginners, that I borrowed for several weeks to see if this was a form of exercise that interested me. Over the period I had the DVD, Betty and I did many of the initial breathing and positioning movements, along with a few of the postures.

By no means am I a Tai Chi expert. I can barely do many of the movements and poses without following the video. But, I can see a value for those of us who are getting less limber and having occasional balance issues. Even if the only positive is slowing down and breathing deeply, learning a bit about this ancient form of self defense that has evolved into a form of exercise may be worth your exploring.

Qi Gong and Tai Chi Postures

I started with Qi Gong, a series of breath and energy movements to still the mind and loosen up. Try as I might I couldn't relate to some of mystical meaning supposedly occurring during the exercises. Seeing the radiant light glowing from the energy downpour, sending energy to the vital energy centers or deepening the root connection through the feet is a bit much for me.

But, the slow stretching of the arms over the head or the pushing of the hands downward or reaching for the skies forced me to concentrate on what I was doing  and empty my mind of most other thoughts (not all, but many!). It is all done so slowly that it is tough to get these moves wrong.

Next are Tai Chi Postures, like Lifting Hands, which actually takes six different steps, Ward Off Left and Right, or Guard the Temple and Push with Duck's Beak. They are not easy because there is a lot to remember. To someone new the movements look simple. Not true. Often hands, hips, toes, heels, and legs are involved in different orders and in different ways. The overall look is as if someone is twisting or lifting various body parts in very slow motion.

It is a little difficult to understand how such deliberate movement can have many health benefits. But, organizations as prestigious as the Mayo Clinic and the Harvard Health Foundation agree that Tai Chi's benefits are real. In addition to stress reduction, this meditation in motion form of exercise is also given credit for helping flexibility and balance. It puts very little stress on muscles and joints, is low impact, requires no equipment, can be done inside or out, alone or as part of a group.

Tai Chi Resources

A web site, 12 Health benefits Of Tai Chi for Seniors, may be the best place to easily review the health benefits for us older folks. Because it is non competitive and can be done alone until you are more comfortable with the various moves and poses, there are few barriers to you giving Tai Chi a try.

I found this sample of a Tai Chi course on YouTube. While this isn't the beginners course I used, the approach is similar. Starting at the 6:20 mark, Dr.Lam begins a lesson on the first slow movements for someone brand new to Tai Chi.

Frankly, whether I keep going with Tai Chi is an open question. I'd love to hear from anyone who practices Tai Chi. Has it been good for you, or really hasn't proven to provide many health benefits? Please share your experiences and thoughts while I go form a Duck's Beak with my hands.


  1. My first morning in Hong Kong I walked to the park across from the bustle of several million people commuting to work. There were about 200 people - some with swords- some with balls- some just hands- doing Tai Chi movements. I could tell that the majority were the elderly. No one was "in charge". It was obvious they had been working as one for many years. No leader. No noise, except the birds. It was amazing. The strength of movement.
    You can see it everywhere in China in the parks, early in the morning. It must keep those who practice very limber.

    1. Just watching a group move through the various poses is a calming experience all by itself. What surprised me was how involved some of the movements are. It looks so simple to an outsider, but clearly there is a lot of practice involved.

      Thanks, Janette, Good morning to you!

  2. Bob, I specialize in teaching seniors (and other older folk) movement, balance and range of motion using Tai Chi theory.

    My suggestion is as a beginner, don't worry about the traditional names of the movements or the spiritual aspects. That is quite often the downfall of new students.

    I find that learning, and teaching how the movements relate to everyday life make the process of picking up the motion(s) much more accessible.

    For example:

    Lifting Hands = open and close the window
    Waving Hands Like Clouds = Dust the Table and look at the Cloth
    Grasping the Wild Horses Mane = Pick and Apple and Place in the Basket

    and so on... how you personally relate to the movements makes them easier to learn and integrate into daily movement.


    *Fall Prevention
    *Anti - Arthritic
    *Good for COPD
    *Aids in reduction in medication for pain
    *Overall Mobility and Flexibility
    *Calming and Meditative
    *Lowers Blood Pressure
    *Helps with Parkinson's and MS sufferers
    *Helps with Alzheimer's for agitation, mind / body awareness and memory

    and a host of other benefits

    I wish you lived near me so I could teach you my methods :)

    If you like, add my site as a resource: www.chiforliving.com


    1. Hi, Stan,

      Your guest post of a while back inspired me to explore the subject further!

      I agree that the names and spiritual aspects can be a bit much at the beginning. I like your idea of giving a move a name that helps describe the motion.

      Question: how many days a week do you personally practice Tai Chi and how long is one of your sessions?

  3. Bob,

    My wife is a personal trainer and she trains many seniors. Many seniors are weak.

    Tai Chi is a good start to an exercise program, but you may need more. For instance, every week I do

    1) Lift heavy things - I do 2 strength training sessions per week with barbells and dumbbells. This is heavy lifting for me and I do bench press, squats, lunges, Romanian deadlift, press, pull ups and chin ups. If you do the movements right, then they also increase flexibility.

    2) Sprint - I sprint on my bike doing Tabatas (high intensity interval traing) once per week. This only takes about 10 minutes but it is really hard.

    3) Move slowly - I spend 2-5 hours per week walking around or riding my bike at a more leisurely pace.

    For alot more information, I recommend Marks Daily Apple (http://www.marksdailyapple.com).

    P.S. I also eat Primal/Paleo but that is a whole other topic.

    1. Thanks, rjack.

      I try to make it to the gym 3 times a week for cardio and weights, but sometimes I run out of time. Not good. I'll check out Mark's site.

  4. Inspired by watching groups of seniors practise tai chi at our local park, I took Tai Chi lessons last year as a method of re-gaining muscle strength and improving balance after hip surgery. I enjoyed the movements but never got to the point where it was relaxing. I have gone back to regular yoga practise for breath control, stretching and balance. After watching the video and reading your post I may just give those tai chi classes at my gym another try.

    1. Let me know how it works for you. I haven't gotten into enough of a routine yet to know if this is going to be beneficial or not.

  5. On my daily commute, I often see a bunch of very fit, quite young construction workers doing a tai chi workout on a grassy area near a warehouse. If I can look half as good as they do, I may have to give it a try!

    1. So, there is another benefit to Tai Chi: eye candy! Enjoy the view, Nuiloa.

  6. Tai Chi is mechanical at first. Compare it to learning a new dance style. It takes time to learn the pattern before it begins to flow. Most people give up 6 months too soon.

    Relax and don't worry about being wrong with the steps or movements. With patience and practice it will come.

    But a caveat: it is not for everyone!

  7. Bob, with all my teaching I personally don't have nearly as much "stan" personal time.

    I practice for 30 - 45 minutes at a shot. If I add in some meditative breathing I add anothe r15 to 20 minutes.

    I suggest practicing the Tai Chi walking every day for at least 15 minutes until it is a habit, and requires no thought. This will allow you to focus on the arm movements and not worry about your feet.

    I'll do a video for you if you like as example.

    1. I am not familiar with the term "Tai Chi walking."

      Yes, I'd appreciate a video...might even add it to this post!

    2. Bob, did a test of the video today... working on it for you and your readers :)

    3. I'm looking forward to it. Thanks, Stan.

  8. Bob, we'll be in China soon, and I will now be watching for this activity as we do our morning walkabouts. If the group appears welcoming we will definitely join in!

    1. A trip to China...without your beloved RV? Have a great time and take lots of photos.

      You will probably have no problem finding groups practicing Tai Chi. Let us know.

  9. Bob, you know I am a fan of martial arts. I have not one, but two tai chi instructors. I go to tai chi class twice a week (in addition to two kung fu classes a week), and sometimes I do an extra class with one of the instructors. In these classes, we also do qigong exercises. I don't know that tai chi has benefits that are better than other forms of exercise, like yoga for example, but I know for me it is a great exercise. Maybe you could try yoga, too, and compare.

    1. Four martial arts classes a week? Where do the nun-chucks come in?

      I like that I can do some of the breathing and poses at home when I have a spare 20 minutes or want to slow down a bit.

  10. Hi Bob, I have been studying tai chi and qigong for 4 years and attend 2 classes a week. I also spent about 30 minutes each morning practicing. At first tai chi is purely physical, learning the moves. But at some point it becomes moving meditation and that is where the benefits lie. You should find a good instructor because that can be very inspirational.

    One thing which fascinates me about tai chi is its relationship to martial arts. Each movement is a slowed down version of a self defence move.That is why tai chi is so good for eye hand coordination. You are supposed to keep you eyes on you hands at all times.

    My husband does not get the spiritual aspects either but the qigong exercises have really helped his neck and shoulder pain.
    Tai chi has made a real difference in my physi al and spiritual health.

    1. Keeping your eyes on your hands...I didn't know that. Thanks!

      Yes, the history of Tai Chi is originally as a martial arts practice. But, over time it has become what it is today: meditation in motion. No black belt needed.

    2. I was taught to let your eyes go past your hands and let your mind relax and expand. My Sensei felt that looking at hands delays or retards the enhancement of Chi development as it acts as a "block".

      Different teachers, different ideas.

      BTW Bob, I am working on that chi walking video :)

    3. Interesting. Yes, I'm sure every video on YouTube that is labeled "beginning" is slightly different.

      When I get the video I will add it to this post.

  11. The benefit of a worry-free mind can be seen in improved contact with others, and will even lead to greatly improved self-confidence. That self-confidence will allow you to feel and act young again, taking risks that you were afraid of before, and receiving the great rewards that are to come from them.

    1. There are so many benefits to tai chi and it is so appropriate for older folks since it doesn't have to put a strain on muscles and joints.


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