By Erika Taylor
An ancient practice, Tai Chi may seem foreign and even intimidating. When you think of it you probably picture groups of people moving meditatively together almost as if swimming against the backdrop of a serene park in China.
That is where most of the Tai Chi in the world takes place. And that means a lot of Americans are missing out on the plethora of benefits that Tai Chi has to offer. Luckily, it’s not unheard of to find groups like this closer to home.
Stefan Adkins, from LA Shaolin Studios, leads a group of Tai Chi practitioners six mornings a week at a park in Mission Hills, California, in addition to a full menu of in-studio and online classes. Adkins is a fourth-degree black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu and has been practicing Tai Chi since 1997. I asked him some questions to help shed some light on how Tai Chi can help us reach our fitness goals and reap other benefits too.
WHAT IS TAI CHI?
Tai Chi Chuan translates to “Grand Ultimate Fist.” Not “ultimate” only that it is the most martial, the best or top most powerful art, but also that it is all-encompassing. Tai Chi reflects the balance and inner workings of every atom inside each of us and extending to the whole of the universe. Tai Chi teaches us that true balance comes from constant motion. Even as we are standing still we are constantly reacting to forces both inside and outside ourselves.
Noticing our breath is the first component of Tai Chi. The slow, gentle movements of the art are designed to support this. But don’t be fooled. You can get a great workout, both aerobic and resistance, during a Tai Chi practice.
WHO SHOULD TRY TAI CHI?
Tai Chi practice is often suggested for older adults. It has a well-deserved reputation for improving balance and preventing falls. But the benefits go far beyond this and are appropriate for everyone. The focus necessary to maintain a lifelong Tai Chi practice is achieved through the practice itself, not from some sense of “being able to do it” or “being good at it.” Because Tai Chi teaches mindful movement it can be effective and enjoyable for many people, even those who don’t like more traditional Western forms of exercise. Many times the people to whom Tai Chi sounds the most difficult or boring or inaccessible are the very people who would most benefit from it.
HOW QUICKLY WILL I SEE THE BENEFITS OF TAI CHI?
You will learn things during your very first Tai Chi class that you can use in your daily life to enhance your health, manage stress and improve your ability to navigate life. There are immediate benefits. Qigong, translated as “breath work” or “energy work,” consists of gentle breathing sometimes combined with simple, repeated movement.
The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy. Qigong may be practiced standing, sitting or lying down. It is simple to follow and easy to learn to do on your own. Many classes will start there and progress to short and/or longform routines consisting mainly of stepping and arm movements matched with breath. One of the wonderful things about Tai Chi is that the practice is designed to last a lifetime. It is said, “10 years in Tai Chi is a good start.”
After 26 years of practice, I do feel like I’m just getting going! That continued learning is one of the most important benefits of the practice. That ability to continue to learn — to be curious, to test ourselves, improve and level up is key to aging and living well.
HOW CAN I GET STARTED?
As with any form of exercise, you need to find a setting that works for you. If a live class is appealing to you, look for groups who practice together at a community building, church, school or park. Or, a dedicated Kung Fu or Tai Chi center. These days there are even quality online classes including one by LA Shaolin Studios that meets four times a week. Even five minutes a day of regular Tai Chi will benefit you. You can start with a simple introduction to Qigong at ilakungfu.com/Videos/.
I so appreciate the time Adkins took with me to help me introduce this art, almost as much as I appreciate him encouraging my husband and I to start practicing Tai Chi while I was pregnant with my first child. I am certain Tai Chi is a large part of why I so enjoyed being pregnant, had such a smooth delivery and that both of us weathered those first few months of parenthood as well as we did. Nothing like a workout and meditation you can wear your baby to. Wonder if Tai Chi is for you?
If pain relief, cardiovascular health, mood boosting, balance improvement, fall prevention, immunity bolstering, heightened cognition, protection against bone fracture, fatigue reduction or improved sleep are on your fitness wish list for this spring, the answer to that question is a resounding yes! Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system.
Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor. 303 or email erika@ tayloredfitness.com.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email erika@ tayloredfitness.com.