The restorative martial art of Tai Chi is on the rise as more and more people discover the health benefits that come from regular practice. With its gentle movements and focus on forms, Tai Chi is more than just a sport. It's also a relaxing, meditative exercise that calms the mind while it energizes and strengthens the body.
Tai Chi's true name in Chinese is Tai chi chuan. "Chi" means energy, and it's the focus on energy that sets Tai Chi apart from other martial arts. Tai Chi practitioners believe that, in a struggle, meeting force with force only hurts both parties. If someone attacks and the victim fights back violently, both the attacker and the victim are sure to be injured. But if the victim reacts by diverting the attacker's energy away from their body, the attacker will fall while the victim remains unhurt.
Nearly all Tai Chi movements focus on deflecting oncoming energy. But if all this talk of fighting makes Tai Chi seem intimidating, don't let it. Tai Chi is usually practiced as a solo sport, with the student going through the motions of the forms, concentrating on their breathing and posture.
The philosophy of Tai Chi is that "the soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong." So it's the goal of Tai Chi students to learn motions that keep themselves soft and pliable. As a result, nearly all Tai Chi movements are done with bent knees, a straight back and torso, and fluid arm movements. Many Westerners love Tai Chi because it provides a low-impact work out that strengthens the abdominals and thigh muscles without putting any strain on the joints.
Most Tai Chi practice revolves around two forms, the solo form and the various methods of pushing hands. The second form is where the martial art of Tai Chi comes in, but if you're just looking for a healthful exercise, the first is what you're after. In this form, you'll keep a low center of gravity while you work on your posture and fluidly as you shift from pose to pose.
Tai Chi is quite easy to learn. Many recreation centers and community groups offer classes, sometimes in parks and other public places. Often these classes are free and open to anyone who shows up. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing when you go to class, and tennis shoes or shoes you don't mind standing and moving in.
One of the major benefits of Tai Chi is that it's a sport you can practice for life. In China, many elderly people continue to do Tai Chi well into their eighties and nineties, and the strengthening and balance moves are hugely beneficial to their continued mobility. Also, the slow pace of Tai Chi makes it a great stress-reliever. As you focus on your breathing and posture, your mind can clear itself of its worries, and that does your whole body good.
Best of all, Tai Chi can be performed anywhere. All you need is your own body and enough room to stand in. You can do Tai Chi on a mountaintop, in the desert, on an ocean beach, or in the middle of a forest. It's a perfect camping activity, and it's a lot of fun. So the next time you see someone doing Tai Chi, ask them about it. They just might offer to teach you the forms of this fascinating sport.