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T'ai Chi

Sick of step aerobics? Tired of tennis, but still want to stay in shape? If you're looking for something to shake up your workout routine, try t'ai chi. T'ai chi (pronounced: tie chee) is great for improving flexibility and strengthening your legs, abs, and arms. Get ready to "Part the Horse's Mane," and give t'ai chi a try!

What Is T'ai Chi?

When you think about martial arts, karate and judo may come to mind. T'ai chi, sometimes called t'ai chi chuan, is also an ancient Chinese martial art form that was developed to enhance both physical and emotional well-being.

It's been said that t'ai chi is a combination of moving yoga and meditation. A person performs t'ai chi by practicing breathing exercises and a series of slow, graceful, flowing postures (also called poses) simultaneously. The postures consist of movements that are said to improve body awareness and enhance strength and coordination. Many people who practice t'ai chi say that they feel more peaceful and relaxed after a workout.

T'ai chi was developed in ancient China as early as 225 AD. The ancient Chinese believed that the body was filled with energy, or chi, but chi could become blocked, causing illness and disease. They believed that a person could help improve the flow of chi throughout the body and improve health by practicing t'ai chi exercises.

There are many different styles of t'ai chi, including:

  • Chen style
  • Hao (or Wu Shi) style
  • Hu Lei style
  • Sun style
  • Yang style
  • Zhao Bao style

The different types vary in intensity and focus. For example, Sun style is known for its fast footwork. The low-impact movements of Hao style can be practiced by people who are elderly or have special needs. In general, though, practicing t'ai chi improves strength, flexibility, and respiratory function.

You have many choices when it comes to choosing a t'ai chi workout. Many fitness centers and YMCAs offer t'ai chi classes, and many t'ai chi instructors also offer private classes. You may also want to try a t'ai chi video - there are several excellent videos just for beginners. Instructional websites, CD-ROMs, and books are also available to help you learn more about t'ai chi.

Before you start your first t'ai chi workout, you should dress comfortably so you can move and stretch easily. Shorts or tights and a T-shirt or tank top are great choices. Because t'ai chi is a martial art, some people who practice it wear a martial arts training uniform. T'ai chi is usually practiced barefoot or in comfortable socks and sneakers.

During a t'ai chi class, you'll participate in forms. Each form is a series of movements (also called poses) performed in a specific order. The poses that make up the forms sometimes have visually descriptive names, such as "White Crane Spreads Its Wings" and "Grasp Sparrow's Tail."


Who is tai chi for?

If you're trying to improve your general health, you may find tai chi helpful as part of your program. Tai chi is generally safe for people of all ages and levels of fitness. Studies have shown that for older adults tai chi can improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. Because the movements are low impact and put minimal stress on your muscles and joints, tai chi is appealing to many older adults. For these same reasons, if you have a condition such as arthritis or you're recovering from an injury, you may find it useful.

Tai chi appears to offer both physical and mental benefits no matter what your age. It's used to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Increase flexibility
  • Improve muscle strength and definition
  • Increase energy, stamina and agility
  • Increase feelings of well-being

Tai chi hasn't been studied scientifically until recently. Preliminary research shows that for older adults, in particular, practicing tai chi regularly may:

  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Improve balance and coordination, reducing the number of falls
  • Improve sleep quality, such as staying asleep longer at night and feeling more alert during the day
  • Slow bone loss in women following menopause
  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Relieve chronic pain
  • Improve everyday physical functioning

Pros and cons

When learned correctly and practiced regularly, tai chi appears to be a very positive form of exercise:

  • It's self-paced and noncompetitive.
  • You don't need a large physical space or special clothing or equipment.
  • You can do tai chi anytime, anyplace.
  • It's easy to do in groups as well as by yourself.
  • You can add new movements as you become more proficient.

Because tai chi is slow and gentle, it has virtually no negative side effects. It's possible you could strain yourself or "overdo" things when first learning, but with proper instruction, this shouldn't pose a barrier to practicing tai chi.

How to learn tai chi

To gain the full benefits of tai chi and reduce the small risk of injury, learn the correct way to do the postures and movements. Strict attention to your body position and breathing are critical, so it's best to study directly under a teacher rather than with a book or videotape. As you attend a series of classes, the instructor can give you personal guidance and correct any errors in your approach before they become habit. As you practice, you learn how to do tai chi without straining your muscles and joints.

Once you're comfortable with the tai chi basics, you can do it by yourself. You may find it helpful to practice tai chi in the same place and at the same time every day. You'll likely experience some health benefits right away, but they probably won't be dramatic. Be patient. Health benefits accumulate over time.



Tai chi: An ancient art that helps the heart

The easy exercises and deep breathing of this Chinese martial art could offer excellent self-defense for the damaged or failing heart.

Tai chi, a gentle exercise that combines simple, flowing movements with deep breathing, has piqued the interest of medical researchers. Several studies suggest that this ancient Chinese practice offers a safe, helpful form of exercise for the elderly and people with chronic health problems. We’re learning that it could be just the thing for people with heart failure.

Exercise poses a special challenge for many people with heart failure, whose damaged hearts can’t deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to their muscles and organs. The resulting weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath make exertion difficult. Avoiding exercise further weakens the body and makes daily activities even more difficult.

Traditional forms of exercise, such as walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike, often help. But they can sometimes worsen heart failure and may cause minor aches and pains. An easy, low-impact exercise routine such as tai chi may provide just the right balance.

How tai chi might help

To test this idea, Harvard Medical School researchers teamed up with experts from the New England School of Acupuncture in Watertown, Mass. They recruited 30 men and women with stable heart failure. All received standard care. Half also took an hour-long class that met twice a week to learn and practice tai chi.

After three months, the people who were doing tai chi were able to walk further without getting breathless and reported better quality of life than those who didn’t take the class. They also had lower levels of B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP). This blood-borne substance rises as heart failure worsens, so lower levels are a good sign.

What might explain these benefits? Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine would say that "moving meditation," as tai chi is sometimes called, generates the body’s natural energy, known as chi or qi. Practicing tai chi’s graceful movements, with names drawn from nature such as "Wave Hands Like Clouds" or "Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail", is supposed to balance the two opposing life forces — yin and yang — that are needed to restore and maintain health.

There are more prosaic explanations. The style of tai chi the volunteers practiced requires a wide stance with a slight bend in the knees and slow, steady motions. This could have strengthened leg muscles, which would account for the improvements in walking and daily activities.

The deep breathing component of tai chi may also help. In previous experiments, slow, yoga-like breathing for an hour a day raised blood oxygen levels and eased breathlessness, which allowed people with heart failure to be more active without symptoms. The drop in BNP levels among those who practiced tai chi suggests that their hearts were filling with blood more effectively, although it isn’t clear why this happened.

Grasping the Sparrow’s TailTai chi combines intense mental focus with deliberate, graceful movements that can improve strength, agility, and balance. Each of the many tai chi "forms" involves a series of movements. Grasping the Sparrow’s tail begins with motionless relaxed breathing, followed by smooth turns and slow, precise movements of the arms, hands, and legs. The forward and backward motions give the impression of playing a tugging game with a bird.

It is also possible that the improvements had little to do with tai chi itself but instead came from the extra social contact that those doing the exercises had with both health care personnel and fellow heart failure sufferers. This may have boosted their spirits and made them feel better, according to an editorial that accompanied the report, which appeared in the Oct. 15, 2004, American Journal of Medicine.

A similar Summer 2005 study involving 150 people with heart failure may provide a more detailed picture. In the meantime, tai chi appears to be a good way for people with heart failure to exercise without overdoing it.

Grasp your own sparrow

Many health clubs, schools, senior centers, and recreational facilities offer tai chi classes. You don’t need any special equipment, just comfortable shoes and clothes that don’t bind the waist or chest. Once you’ve learned a form or two, you can do tai chi at home or anywhere else. If you have heart failure, check with your doctor before starting, just to be on the safe side.

Copyright (c) 2006 by the Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College.



Cost may vary depending on:

 - class size/number of participants

 - level of class

 - travel time and distance for Instructor

Class size:

 - usually limited to 15 people for space and individual assistance purposes

 - open to ages 8 and up


if you're able to stand up, you can do Tai Chi!

wheelchairs are welcome if class location is accessible

Special needs will be accomodated, just ask ahead of time


If you would like to set up a Tai Chi class in your area, contact Reiki Bliss now!

[email protected]

water dance moves:
Lift water
Left turn
Split horses' mane
White crane defends
Brush knee push
Needle nose
Repulse the monkey
Strum the lute
Sparrows' tail left
Push hands
Sparrows' tail right
Push hands
Single whip
Cloud hands
Single whip
Pick up leaves
Rooster stands on one foot
Pick up leaves
Rooster stands on one foot
Snake creeps down
Snake creeps down