What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art and health practice that has been gaining in popularity as a low-impact form of exercise and complementary therapy.  All of the movements of Tai Chi come from the martial art known as Taijiquan (also spelled T'ai Chi Ch'uan).  The martial art of Taijiquan is based on the concept that relaxation and softness can be used to defeat superior strength through coordinated, whole body movement.  This focus on whole body coordination trains the body to move more efficiently and reduces physical stress on the joints and tissues of the body.  The health practice we call Tai Chi was born from the realization that this training holds great benefit for the body beyond its value in combat.  The health benefits of Tai Chi are becoming more recognized by Western medicine and it is helping people manage the aging process and various health issues in ways that are often surprising.

 

What Are the Health Benefits?

The health benefits of Tai Chi are still being discovered.  At the most basic level, Tai Chi will improve leg strength, balance, and the body's ability to work as a unit.  Practitioners of Tai Chi often comment about reduced pain, reduced stress - both physical and mental, improved immune system, improved circulation, and a general overall feeling of wellness.  Patients with conditions such as Arthritis, Parkinson's Disease, and Fibromyalgia have found relief and benefit from the practice of Tai Chi.

 

How Does it Work?

As a health practice, Tai Chi works in a number of ways - the first is physical.  When one begins the practice of Tai Chi, the body's alignment and movement is retrained.  New students are often surprised at how uncoordinated they feel as they are asked to move in seemingly simple, but unfamiliar ways.  Often, students will complain that their legs were tired or sore the evening or morning after class, even if they didn't notice any discomfort during class.  As your body becomes accustomed to the requirements of the new movements, this discomfort goes away.  Your legs will be stronger and your balance will improve.

Tai Chi also works by reducing the stress and tension in the body.  A normal person will be holding unnecessary tension in the body, even when they don't feel particularly stressed.  Often, people are unaware of this tension as it feels "normal" to them.  Tai Chi training allows one to soften and relax the body so that one learns to find tension and release it.  Through this process the body finds a new "normal" that doesn't require unnecessary tension.  The joints begin to feel better, circulation is improved, and the body has more energy.

A third way Tai Chi brings benefit is through meditation.  Tai Chi meditation is different than what most people might think of when they hear the word "meditation".  The entire Tai Chi exercise is itself a form of meditation, as are the Qigong (also spelled

Ch'i Kung) exercises that go along with it.  These moving meditation exercises help improve the connection between body and mind and offer ways to reduce our mental stress as well as the physical.

 

What Should I Expect?

If you are brand new to Tai Chi, you should expect to experience something very different from anything you have probably done before.  You will be asked to move in ways that are unfamiliar, and you probably won't understand everything the instructor says.  Many students find themselves frustrated in the first few classes because they aren't "getting it" and don't understand how or why the more experienced people in the class are moving so gracefully together.  Because Tai Chi is so different from most people's experience the best thing you can do is give it time.  The most graceful person in the class was once a beginner feeling the same frustration.  The more you practice, and the more classes you can attend, the sooner the practice starts to make sense.  You can also expect to be well supported in your journey.  One of the best things about Great Bay Tai Chi is the sense of community among the students and instructors.  The friendly, supportive atmosphere of the classes will be apparent, as we all strive to improve our practice.

As you enter the class you can be expect to be greeted by the instructor and other students.  There may be music playing.  The other students may be warming up, practicing, or socializing until the instructor is ready to begin.  While every instructor is different, and classes vary based on the specific makeup and needs of that particular class, most classes follow a similar basic format.  
     -A warm-up routine made up of light stretches and movement activities usually starts the class.  This helps relax the body and prepares it for the practice session.  All of the stretches and warm-ups are done to your particular ability or flexibility level.  Tai Chi never forces deep stretches, nor is it an aerobic routine; you should not expect to be out of breath, sweating, or in pain.
     -Particular postures or movements from the form are often practiced next.  The instructor or an experienced student may work with you independently to teach you the basics of Tai Chi movement at this time.
     -Form practice will happen at almost every class as this is the center of our Tai Chi curriculum.  The class will often go through the entire form without stopping as the instructor leads or observes.  Beginning students may be asked to watch the form sequence or follow along the best they can to start to experience the form sequence that they will be learning.  Again, you might be taken to another area of the room to work with the instructor or an advanced student to work on the fundamentals of your Tai Chi movement.
     -Qigong is translated as "energy work" and is often the last part of class.  Usually, the class will form a circle and the instructor will lead a series of movements that coordinate the mind, body, and breath.  This is often the most relaxing part of class and can leave students feeling calm and refreshed.

As you leave the class and think about the different concepts and movements that you worked on, you may find it difficult to remember the details of the movements, and may have trouble recreating them at home.  This is normal and not cause for concern.  Tai Chi will re-train your body in how to move and this takes time.  Concepts that seem simple at first eventually show their depth and complexity.  Always remember: no matter when you start, Tai Chi is a lifetime study.  There is no rush.  All the concepts and movements will be reviewed and re-taught at your next class.  With time, the movements will make sense and even become second nature with practice.  Every advanced student, instructor, or master was once at the beginning just as you are.  The Great Bay Tai Chi community of students and teachers will help you, just as others helped them.  With time and practice, you will find yourself teaching new students as they set foot on the path and look to you as an advanced student to help guide them along.

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