How Do I Begin Exercises in Tai Chi?

Stress is something everyone has to deal with, and besides getting plenty of sleep and improving your diet, doctors also recommend a consistent routine of exercise and relaxation techniques. Fortunately, the art of tai chi is a great way to both stay in shape and find inner peace.

Properly known as t'ai chi ch'uan, this ancient Chinese art has natural value as both a martial art, a style of meditation, and an alternative form of exercise. The practice of tai chi emphasizes slow, flowing movements of the arms and legs. The aim of each exercise is to tap into one's breath and, from there, bring a sense of harmony to one's qi or internal energy. In this way, tai chi is very similar to the Indian physical and spiritual tradition of yoga.

Besides the spiritual aspects, tai chi has been proven as an effective remedy for health issues. It has been shown to improve balance and leg muscle strength in older adults, and to reduce both physical and mental stress on bodies of people with weight issues. In addition, tai chi's emphasis on focused breathing and gentle motion has led to a lowered risk of heart failure and high blood pressure, and an increase in flexibility, coordination, and optimism.

While it's recommended that you attend a formal class in tai chi, there are a few exercises that you can start on your own:

* The Single Whip: With legs set apart, the user brings one hand back and forms a "beak" by pressing the top 4 fingers together. In a gentle flow, the other arm is stretched forward, releasing the pent-up energy from one end of the body to the other.

* Arm Circles: This is a sitting exercise. Both arms are raised in front with elbows slightly bent. Circle your wrists outward 6 times in a row, followed by your forearms 6 times. Then repeat the motion, but circling inward.

* White Crane Spreads Wings: First, spread your legs apart and draw your left hand back. Extend your right hand forward in a slow curve. Step forward on your right leg and lean your upper body back. Then move your left leg forward while keeping your foot raised off the ground. Raise your right hand toward the right side of your head, followed by lowering your left hand.

* Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg: With both legs shoulder-distance apart, keep your weight balanced on your left leg, which should be slightly bent. Raise your right palm and shift your left hand out to the side with fingers pointed straight for balance. Slowly, raise both your right hand and your right knee together until your elbow is bent forward at a 45-degree angle and your knee is raised to a 90-degree angle. Hold for a few breaths, then slowly switch from your right to your left and repeat continuously.

In general, people who practice tai chi should wear comfortable clothes. For a solid workout, try to spend at least 20 minutes in practice, with a few extra minutes set aside at the beginning for stretches and other warm-up routines. If you can keep this routine for 4 or 5 times a week, you'll notice a clear difference in your weight, your health, and your overall peace of mind.

Image by Ken seghers on Flickr

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