What’s so special about Tai Chi?

I could say that Tai Chi is good for your health, because it is. I could say that Tai Chi will help you manage stress, because it will. I could say that Tai Chi is a cool martial art, because this too is true. But that’s not why I practice. I practice Tai Chi because when I’m immersed in the form, I feel calm and relaxed, focused and alert, refreshed and energized. Everything else is just a dollop of whipped cream on top of an extraordinary pie.

A different way to exercise

Tai Chi (also referred to as Taiji, Tai Chi Chuan and Taijiquan) is an ancient Chinese martial art that provides a gentle, full-body workout unlike most other forms of exercise:

Slow, flowing movements

Tai Chi has a fluid, dance-like quality that makes it appear effortless, although it’s not. When combined with deep breathing, the slow motion and graceful flow result in a feeling of quiet alertness that is both relaxing and refreshing. Research suggests that practicing Tai Chi can help ease stress, anxiety, depression and sleep problems.

No huffing and puffing

While Tai Chi is not generally considered to be aerobic, it has nevertheless been found to improve cardiovascular health, including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Imagine that! Aerobic benefits without all the huffing and puffing!

Loosens joints and muscles

Tai Chi works your whole body from head to toe, loosening muscles and lubricating joints. As a result, Tai Chi improves flexibility and mobility, and relaxes tense muscles. Experts recommend Tai Chi for people with arthritis, headaches, fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain.

Improves balance and coordination

A key component of Tai Chi is developing an awareness of where your weight is balanced and learning to control your body as you shift your balance slowly and smoothly from one leg to the other. Tai Chi also improves coordination as you train your muscles to move through each sequence of carefully choreographed forms. Added bonus: Memorizing the sequence of movements gives your brain a workout, which may help keep your memory sharp.

Strengthens muscles and bones

Tai Chi is practiced in a lowered, bent-knee stance, which results in an excellent muscle-strengthening, weight-bearing workout for your legs. Strong leg muscles combined with improved balance lowers the risk of falls as you get older, while weight-bearing exercises improve bone health and help stave off osteoporosis.

Meditation in motion

I have been intrigued by meditation since I was a child, looking at Buddha sitting serenely in lotus position. But try as I might, I could never sit still long enough to achieve a true meditative state. All this changed after I started practicing Tai Chi. In the hurricane of life, Tai Chi offers a quiet center of stillness to which to retreat and in which to relax and re-energize.

Ready to give Tai Chi a try? Tai Chi classes meet at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange in Park Slope, Brooklyn NY. Learn more!

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Note: While a growing body of research suggests that Tai Chi offers many health benefits, your individual experience may vary. If you have a medical condition, you should always seek the advice of a medical professional before starting Tai Chi.