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Tai chi is a series of movements that somewhat resemble a slow dance. Although often done for health reasons, tai chi’s roots can be traced to the martial arts. Generally, it is most commonly used is for relaxation and health. Some beginning tai chi moves include getting into a relaxed stance and movement sequences called Zen morning sunrise and shibashi.
To the beginner, the smooth, measured movements require more skill than might be apparent at first. Tai chi is not only an exercise, it is designed to clear the mind and to promote a sense of peace. Good balance, concentration and coordination are required to perform tai chi, even at a beginner level.
Tai chi comes in a variety of styles, and each one has specific forms. The term "forms" refers to the various postures used in tai chi. Each of these forms are combined with transitional movements in a certain sequence.
When beginning tai chi moves, it is very important to make sure that breathing is done properly. Tai chi typically uses deep abdominal breathing that is done at a consistent pace. Abdominal breathing uses the diaphragm to inhale, and this gives the lungs a greater capacity to draw in air. It also tends to reduce stress and bring more relaxation.
Breathing also accompanies certain movements. Inhaling is done when doing uplifted motions such as raising the arms. Exhaling takes place when the arms or the body is lowered.
When beginning tai chi, it also is important to remember that arm and hand movements in tai chi are done in unison with the body. The hands, for example do not move by themselves. This basic principle is what helps give tai chi its flowing movement.
A key beginning tai chi move involves a stance that prepares the body for movement. Sometimes this is simply called the “getting ready stance.” While standing with the feet parallel and shoulder-width apart, the body weight is evenly balanced over both legs. The knees are relaxed. Breathing is even, and the idea is to relax the body.
A movement called "Zen morning sunrise" often is used when beginning tai chi. The movements include gently lifting and lowering the heels and slowly raising the arms up and down. Breathing and posture are particularly important in this movement.
Shibashi is a good movement sequence for beginners. It is very flowing and is relaxing but also good for warming up. Shibashi movements include large and flowing arm patterns and shifting weight by gently moving the body in a rocking motion. The entire sequence of movements takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.
My martial arts studio started offering beginning tai chi classes a few months ago, and I've really enjoyed it. We use the traditional tai chi forms, which I have to admit were a little confusing at first. I had to buy a beginning tai chi DVD so I could practice at home, too. My biggest challenge is learning to slow down and perform each movement deliberately. I'm so used to kicking and punching as hard and as fast as I can during my other martial arts classes, but beginners' tai chi is more about meditation and mind/body control.
It may not be official tai chi form, but I found a book on beginners' tai chi that used numbers as the basic concept. The author was a tai chi instructor himself, but he developed a more modern style for people who were looking for an easier workout to follow.
His beginning tai chi method followed the same stances described in this article. You start out in a balanced stance and then extend one foot forward and rock until all the weight is shifted. You then use both your arms and hands to "draw" the number 1 on an imaginary canvas in front of you. Once you've "drawn" that number, you "draw" a Zen circle and then shift feet.
There's more to it than that, but the idea of using numbers instead of ancient forms is something that more Westerners can grasp easily. It's still a satisfying workout, even if it isn't officially tai chi.
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