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Get in the flow with Tai Chi

February 2019

man and woman doing tai chi
Tai Chi can help mental as well as physical wellbeing

Did anyone out there hear of Tai Chi in the 1960s or 1970s?

Certainly for most of us Tai Chi came in slowly, perhaps through the odd shot on TV of a group of Chinese women practising the art outside in a public area; or perhaps if we were lucky enough seeing them first hand on an exciting trip to the Far East.

It was really only in the 1990s that this eastern form of martial art really started to take off globally. Now Tai Chi is practiced by an estimated 240 million people worldwide, including thousands here in the UK, and is said to be of enormous benefit especially to older people.

It has its roots in historic Chinese medicine, which is based around the principles of Yin and Yang and the routes which travel through the body carrying Qi energy. The objective of Tai Chi is to help promote the smooth flow of this energy and reduce any blockage or imbalance in the flow.

If this all sounds a little too complex, then even just looking at the balance, stretch and breathing aspects of Tai Chi makes it clear there could be both physical and mental benefit from this gentle art.

It is a low impact exercise which means it won’t get your heart pounding. But there is good evidence that it can help to reduce stress, improve posture, balance and mobility and increase the muscle strength in the legs. Some research has also suggested that tai chi can help reduce the risk of falls among older adults and also improve mobility in the ankles, hips and knees.

Tai chi is based around slow, graceful continuous movements that are very gentle on both joints and muscles, and do not involve heavy stretching or difficult positions. Many of the movements involve gentle arm movements and changing your body and leg positions, along with correct breathing through the abdomen rather than the chest. Done correctly the tai chi movements flow smoothly from one to the other and after some repetition the routines are easy to memorise and come naturally. Working as a group to gentle background music can be a unique experience that brings mental as well as physical wellbeing.

There are many adaptations of tai chi, including the growing in popularity Qigong. For newcomers to the art, it can be very difficult to spot any differences but generally Qigong can involve exercises or stand alone practices and do not necessarily involve flowing movement or even standing. It can also involve sitting and lying down practices and even walking practices.

These types of art and exercise are so different from what we learned as children that it can be tricky to really understand what is going on. This is why it really is better to join a local class with an instructor so that your questions can easily be answered and you have the support and enjoyment from working with a group.

There appear to be varying qualification systems in the UK for Tai Chi instructors, some with their own grading and some working alongside Chinese systems such as the China Wushu Association. Two recognised groups in the UK are:

The Tai Chi Union of Great Britain which has a lot of information and also a section where you can find qualified instructors in your region.

The Tai Chi club of Great Britain also has information about available instructors and classes.

Your local council may also have a list of Tai Chi classes in your area.

There is a lot of useful information on line as well, including instructional videos for beginners which give a useful introduction to the art and what you might expect:

For Tai Chi:

For Qigong
There are also DVDs available such as the Tai Chi for Seniors from Amazon at £12.33p which can give you a good start.

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