Some martial arts are very meditative – like tai chi, which has grown in popularity outside its native China over the last few decades.
With origins that date back to the 12th century, tai chi is a form of defence training like karate, but is now pursued for its health benefits in many countries.
The health benefits of tai chi
So what exactly is tai chi, and what health benefits can it bestow? Tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, involves a range of bodily manoeuvres that help with balance, joint movement and muscle flexibility. The discipline focuses on deep breathing, relaxation and meditation, and in that way is similar to the ancient Indian art of yoga.
Since it can be practised both outdoors and indoors, and in quite a small physical space, tai chi is particularly popular in urban centres. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to find large groups of people in Central Park in New York practising tai chi in the open air.
Some people choose to cover the full breadth of tai chi, including its defence-related aspects. However, many others decide to focus purely on its health giving properties. For people aged over 60, tai chi can be particularly beneficial, as this NHS advice page on tai chi explains. Its meditative qualities can help to reduce stress while its gentle physical demands can help ageing bodies improve balance, mobility and muscle strength.
As the NHS indicates, tai chi is often favoured by people who suffer from osteoporosis and arthritis. And since it doesn’t demand a great deal from your body, it’s the perfect way to reintroduce yourself to exercise if you haven’t been active for several years.
For more information on tai chi, take a look at what the Tai Chi Union of Great Britain has to say. This national organisation may also help you find a class in your area.
Is tai chi right for you?
The fluid movements of tai chi may look difficult but it’s important to remember that you’re never too old to start learning this martial arts discipline. Since it’s a low impact exercise, it’s easy to get started and will help you build up your stamina levels gradually. You may even find that after several months of doing tai chi, your body is prepared for more intense exercise.
The best way to find out if tai chi is right for you is simply to drop in to a class. It’s always better to try tai chi in person, rather than copying an instructor from an online video or DVD. That’s because you need someone to tell you that your moves are correct and to ensure that you get the style right.
If you have an existing injury or recurring bodily pains, make sure your teacher knows about them before you start a class. When performed correctly, tai chi should not cause you any injury – but if a particular move hurts your body, ask your teacher for a less challenging variation.
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