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How many people
The honest answer is not many. Despite seeing runners on the street, cyclists and plenty of on-line exercise pictures, hardly anyone exercises... How come? Laziness. Also, it isn't a lifestyle habit.
Exercise is typically seen as being arduous. Exertive. People are sweating, straining, suffering. "No pain, no gain"... right? No wonder people find reasons/excuses not to exercise.
we move conveys energy and
youth – not how buff we are.
The tortoise and the hare
Aesop's fable 'The Tortoise and the Hare' features a race between the speedy hare and the slow, plodding tortoise. The hare has the obvious advantage and can easily outrun the tortoise.
Yet in the fable, the tortoise wins...
When it comes to exercise most people think like the hare. They see exercise as being about hardship. Harder, faster, bigger. There is a competitive, accumulative attitude.
The problem with this approach is that it can lead to injury, pain and eventually quitting. How many runners wear knee braces?
e.g. The Great North Run is often marred by people collapsing from exhaustion, having a heart attack or actually dying. Isn't this a little absurd?
Performing everyday activities such as walking, household chores or gardening all exercise the body. If you build an IKEA unit your body temperature will be warmer by the end of it.
You probably won't have a heart attack.
The tortoise approach is non-competitive. It is balanced. It is about doing something for yourself. Not to show off or be noticed. Low effort, patience and moderation are prized.
If you ran as hard as you could for a 100 meters you may be breathing hard at the end of it. If you had a bad knee it might be hurting. If you walked the same distance you would not be out of breath.
What if you walked uphill?
Conventional exercise can be tiring. It can leave you feeling wiped out. Over time as your condition improves, your body may find it more agreeable. By contrast, milder exercise energises you.
Is your exercise healthy?
The tortoise doesn't get worn out because the exercise is moderate. There are no extremes. Instead of charging headlong towards a goal, the individual can address other factors.
Muscular tension, alignment, good body use, balance, mindfulness and emotional awareness should be taken into account when exercising. They matter a great deal.
If you exercise with poor use of the skeleton, frozen joints and misalignment... there will be a price to pay. Imagine driving your car with a flat tyre? Playing a guitar with missing strings?
Ignoring a problem is unlikely to result in it going away...
One of the biggest problems facing modern society is the fact that people sit too much. Sitting on your backside is not good for your health.
Get off your backside!
Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.
There are a number of alternative exercise methods that are moderate-intensity. Many of them have the advantage of being hundreds, if not thousands of years old.
Some have been subjected to extensive medical research over many decades. Qigong and tai chi stand out as two forms of exercise that most people can do.
Tai chi is ideal
The three doctors who wrote The Okinawa Program maintain that tai chi - with its ancient origins and incredible health benefits - is the ideal form of exercise for modern people.
The mild nature of tai chi means that you can easily get up and do a small amount of exercise on a regular basis. It will improve circulation, increase strength and mobility and make you more healthy.
Tai chi is often described as
"meditation in motion," but it might well be called "medication in motion."
There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in
China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health
problems. And you can get started even if you aren't in top shape or the
best of health.
Tai chi differs from other types of exercise in several respects. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning.
(Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publication, May 2009)
Isn't tai chi just for old people?
Is being healthy just for old people? Although many people seek to use tai chi as a means of curing illness, this is not where its strength lies. Tai chi is best employed whilst healthy, not sick.
When a healthy person does tai chi they are more apt to remain healthy. It takes far less effort to prevent something than to cure it... Tai chi was never designed for the aged or the sick.
Tai chi for health is a simplified, slow motion, non-martial exercise adapted from taijiquan. Taijiquan is an advanced fighting method once taught to the Manchu Emperor's elite palace guards.
Taijiquan is a martial art. It involves combat. Not many tai chi classes teach an authentic taijiquan syllabus these days...
Better late than never?
A lot of people seek to exercise later in life. This is good. But not as good as exercising throughout your life. The later you leave it, the harder it will be, and the more limited the results.
The ancient Chinese exercise of qigong is either performed standing completely still or moving in an easy, comfortable manner. There are no exertive stretches. No pain.
At first the standing postures will be difficult because your body isn't familiar with them and your muscles, tendons and ligaments are not appropriately engaged. You are likely to be tense.
What happens if the qigong exercise feels like hardship?
Lower your arms and try again another day. This way, your strength, stamina and endurance are gradually increased.
Moving qigong is easier than standing qigong. The challenge here is coordination. People like to think of themselves as being well coordinated but are often far from it.
Every movement is performed in a relaxed manner. No muscle tension. No straining. No forcing. It may even feel like you aren't really doing anything.
Tai chi is not exertive. It should not hurt the back, shoulders or the knees. There is very little risk of injury. Tai chi works both mind and body:
The 'motor skills'
acquired from tai chi practice will affect every
aspect of your life, making
day-to-day movement more comfortable,
ergonomic and natural.
Rather than an isolated activity performed at the gym, tai chi is something that you take home with you and use in your everyday life. It has a practical, functional value.
Isn't tai chi just slow motion exercise?
No. Some of the training methods are slow, and some are not. As the student gains greater skill, their movements become fluid and dynamic. They move at whatever speed the situation demands.
The advantage with milder exercise is that the individual gets to decide how difficult they want it to be. People who want a gentle improvement just do a little practice.
Those with greater ambitions tailor their training accordingly. This is why we offer:
Tai chi for health
Tai chi for fitness
may train at whatever level they are
capable of doing. Our program is entirely self-differentiating.
The principles, tactics and skills of taijiquan are radically
different from those of the much greater number of
external martial arts styles.
Although all martial arts styles are designed to be effective in combat, the internal martial arts styles and taijiquan in particular, emphasis efficiency as much as effectiveness.
Efficiency is measured by the ability to achieve success by using the absolute minimum amount of effort necessary.
One of the main features of tai chi is coordination. Human beings need to be coordinated. We use our bodies all the time. Your body should respond instantly to the dictates of the mind.
Most adults consider themselves to be coordinated... Oh, really? We like to test this out.
Baoding balls are an easy way to see how flexible your hands are. To do it correctly, the balls need to be quite heavy and the largest that will fit into your hand.
Try 50 rotations per hand without touching the balls together. It should take about 30 seconds to perform with one hand.
Method #2 for testing coordination is 'form'. The Long Yang form movements are actually quite simple. But very few people start tai chi classes with the wherewithal to perform the movements correctly.
Usually their body is not doing what their mind thinks it is doing. The student thinks that they are doing well until they look in the mirror (or you take a photograph).
Coordination is a skill. It requires training. Discovering the 'biomechanics' behind the tai chi movements is fascinating. You learn more about the human body, and in doing so, about yourself.
Realistic, everyday functionality
Tai chi is not about winning the marathon or looking cool. It is about not needing to visit the doctor. Being able to squat with ease. Not having a bad back or knees that hurt.
It is about having nimble, light, graceful, agile feet. Strength that doesn't require you to be 'pumped up' or even to tense your muscles. Tai chi is about feeling good. Every day. Rejuvenated.
The training sharpens the mind, improves awareness, memory, attention span and dexterity.
• Physical education
• Use it or lose it
18 April 2012
Last updated 26 January 2020