A Year of Tai Chi


Tonight is my last tai chi class so I wished to look back on a year of practice. I started tai chi classes last September so technically it is not a year but that’s how classes work (from September to June) and I liked the title!

There were various reasons why I wanted to take up tai chi:

– I had seen Chinese people perform in local parks in Hong Kong and found the choreography graceful and seemingly easy.

– I wanted to start an activity which I would be able to do for several years.

– Above all, my body was telling me that I needed a regular physical activity.

Tai chi is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. It has become popular in the West because of its value in treating or preventing many health problems. Its origins are old but vague and it is hard to distinguish between myth and reality.

The original philosophy of tai chi is that, if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. But to meet brute force in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin – or to quote Lao Tzu: “The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong.” (Shortened and adapted from Wikipedia)

I attend a class once a week. There are about ten of us – all in their forties and a bit more. The instructor is a retired school teacher. The tai chi class lasts 90 minutes and falls into the following three parts:

Warm-up and unlocking: Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body. They are easy to perform and remember. and thus can soon be repeated at home on your own.

Qigong practices: Translated as “breath work” or “energy work. The practices all involve a posture, (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques, and mental focus. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilise the body’s energy.

Instruction and practice of tai chi forms: Short forms — forms are sets of movements — that include a dozen or fewer movements. Longer forms that include hundred will come later. They are the most difficult, not physically, but because it is essential to remember and master the details.

These classes have proved to be very beneficial: Tai chi is certainly not extreme but it is more dynamic than it looks. I now rarely have back aches and when I do I know what to do to ease the pain. Another thing that I appreciate is the non competitive aspect of this sport; with time I have mellowed and the only competition that now interests me is to improve at my own pace. I have really enjoyed the classes and intend to continue next year. Ideally I ought to set up a schedule for the summer so as not to lose all the benefits.

For further reading:
Tai chi: getting there more slowly, but gracefully and intact
Tai chi … a gentler way
Tai Chi Eases Depression in Elderly

10 thoughts on “A Year of Tai Chi

  1. That’s so wonderful! My father did a form of Tai Chi called Mu Do. He got quite good at it. I’ve done yoga in the past – I find it so helpful when I have even the slightest ache or pain. Good for you for doing this – you will now always have it available.

    • Until you mentioned it once before, I had never heard of Mu DO but sometimes we practice a more martial version of tai chi which is maybe similar to Mu DO. I will ask our instructor.
      Yes, knowing that I will have it available is very valuable indeed.

  2. We actually briefly had optional Tai Chi a few mornings a week in high school before Shacharit, to relax us and get us in the mind set. I liked it but never continued with it. Do you also practice outside of class?

    • I regularly do exercises from the warm-up and unlocking phase and once when I could not attend I did some qigong movements. We only started the real tai chi forms a couple of months ago so I still find it hard to remember it all. The instructor put some videos on his blog so we can have a look and follow what a Chinese lady performs; this should help.

  3. I was involved in a Tai Chi class a couple of years ago. I enjoyed the calming benefits of it, and the fact that it was non-competitive. Nice post…

  4. That sounds wonderful. I remember seeing Chinese ladies performing their Tai Chi movements in perfect synchronicity, in a small park in San Francisco overlooking the bay. Hmm… It was way too long ago now. I wonder if I should give it (another) try?

    • Have you tried it before?
      After one year, I’d say that the keys to success are: a dedicated instructor, the right time slot (you don’t want to rearrange your weekly schedule all the time) and not too many expectations (that was something new for me but it worked well).

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