In North America, most people have only seen Tai Chi, also written as taiji or taijiquan, as an exercise that people perform in the park. But, most people do not understand its full potential as a work out for people of all ages.
Many do not realize that tai chi originated as an internal martial arts, from a place known as Chen Village. As a means of survival, the entire village, from the very young to the very old, learned tai chi and have become renowned for their martial arts skills. Tai chi is a highly effective martial art. However it takes a long time, with a lot of commitment and hard work to become proficient.
People may have a few ideas about tai chi but there are also definitely some misconceptions about tai chi. Very often these misconceptions prevent many people from even trying out tai chi.
Myth 1: Isn’t Tai Chi Too Slow to offer a Good Work Out?
In North America, we believe that a real workout must involve fast aerobic exercises. However, practicing the Yang style tai chi form which can take 25 – 30 minutes to complete will have fitness effects lasting hours afterwards. And, on top of that, there are other health benefits.
If your additional health goals include any of the following, then you should try a tai chi class.
- Improving balance to reduce injuries due to falls
- Improving postural alignment
- Using core muscles for movement and work
- Improving biomechanics
- Reducing joint wear and tear
- Increasing muscle relaxation and balanced muscle use
- Reducing mental stress and anxiety
Tai Chi when performed correctly in this slow and deliberate manner is more strenuous than it looks, while providing a safer and better whole body workout from the inside to the outside.
Myth 2: I thought Tai Chi is too gentle for anyone except the Elderly
Most of the tai chi styles do appear to be soft and gentle, but this is not always the case. After all, its origins are from martial arts. For instance, the Chen style tai chi form incorporates gentle movements with interjected explosive movements. As the original and oldest form of tai chi, this style retained most of its martial arts roots and techniques.
The Chen Style form includes a more dynamic range of postures that demand more strength, flexibility and engagement of the core muscles. Also, when our bodies move from a slow gentle movement to an explosive one, it is like accelerating a vehicle from 0 to 100km/hr, it requires a lot more energy and stability. Our bodies demand a great deal of cardiovascular activity as well as core muscle strength to move powerfully in quick bursts.
While there are many incidental health benefits for the elderly or those handicapped by other health issues, when practiced correctly, tai chi is both physically demanding as well as difficult to master advanced biomechanics. A typical practice of the Chen style first routine followed by the second routine can last for up to 40 minutes and leave you soaking in sweat as well as both mentally and physically exhausted.
Myth 3: Tai Chi is just a series of Steps with Waving Arm Movements
If you end up in a class where you don’t learn anything more than which direction to wave your arm next, then you are not learning tai chi. To get the best out of practicing tai chi and the full health benefits, you want to understand how to move from the inside out using internal martial arts principles which engage core muscles fully, employ the full range of motion of our joints and demands postural alignment.
A good teacher will guide you through how to work with your internal core as much as your arms and legs which are the manifestation of the movement of our core energy or the “dantian”. A good teacher will guide you with goals that are within your abilities and explain how to achieve it in your practice. Repetition and a variety of training programs are required to achieve the muscle memory as well as mastery of concepts first introduced in the Tai Chi Basics class. And it does not need to be boring.
With a wide variety of tai chi class choices, people are able to continue learning, practicing and remain challenged while staying healthy and eventually mastering some of the more elusive concepts of an internal martial art. Our extensive offering of tai chi programs means people can tailor a journey that most inspires them.
- Tai Chi Basics – our mandatory introductory course
- Chen Style Tai Chi – Level 1, 2 & 3
- Yang Style Tai Chi – Level 1, & 2
- Wu Style Tai Chi – Level 1, 2 & 3
- Tai Chi Push Hands
- Cannon Fist which is the Chen Style Second Routine
- Tai Chi Weapons– Spear, Sword, Sabre & Long Pole
- Tai Chi Fitness – enhance your fitness while honing more difficult Yang & Chen Style moves
- Qi Gong Health – read more about Qi Gong here: What is Qi Gong? )
The Tai Chi Fitness class is a unique offering pioneered at our Mississauga school which incorporates repetitive Tai Chi movements from Yang and Chen styles tai chi to achieve fluency in the movements while getting a good work out. People attend Qi Gong Health and Tai Chi Fitness in addition to a primary program to boost their weekly work out time or hone skills which may still seem elusive.
Myth 4: I have bad knees so I can’t practice Tai Chi
When you practice tai chi as intended, tai chi will help your knees not hurt them. Knowing how to move into and out of the most effective postures for your body, you will learn good biomechanics which minimize impact on your knees and return proper knee alignment and function. On the other hand, poor biomechanics, tense muscles and tight knee joints are some of the issues which lead to the deterioration of our knees.
Start slow and do not push yourself too hard too fast, your muscles need time to strengthen and joints need time to restore its elasticity. Rest when you are either mentally or physically tired. We make mistakes in our movements when we are tired and not paying attention, so avoid injuries by taking a break.
To learn more about why tai chi helps knees, read our blog on how to Strengthen and Protect Knee Joints with Tai Chi.
Myth 5: Isn’t Tai Chi the Chinese version of Yoga?
Tai Chi is not anything like yoga. Firstly, Tai Chi is an internal martial art, even if you are practicing it for health reasons. Tai Chi is not static and will never fit on a mat like yoga. It is a series of continuous movements which flow from one to the next. Hyperextension or over stretching is discouraged due to its potential for injury while moving from one stance to the next.
Tai Chi is known as the “moving meditation”. How you move is just as important as the final stance into which the movements evolve. It takes all of our awareness and focus to move into and finish tai chi stances as they were intended. Since there is no stopping between movements, there is no time for our focus or attention to lapse. We have no choice except to be fully present as we practice tai chi. This fully engaged mindfulness into what you are doing now is the definition of meditation.
Even with a hip or knee replacement, tai chi can be practiced as joints remain well within their normal range of movement and typically, within the strongest range of its movement. And, because all the movements are done slowly in standing stances, people with hypertension or vascular conditions are able to participate safely.
Explore the Many Exciting Aspects of Tai Chi
These are just a few of the myths that we answer for new or prospective participants who may hesitate to join a tai chi class. The only way to understand is to get started with one of our Tai Chi Basics classes. You start with the basic exercises, stances and footwork that you will need again and again as you take your journey through the many exciting and challenging tai chi or qi gong classes.