Because Tai Chi is such a gentle form of exercise, it is suitable for most people. It is advisable, however, for people suffering from cardiovascular problems or high blood pressure to seek medical advice before taking up a new exercise system.
Special clothing is not necessary to practise Tai Chi, although a pair of loose trousers is essential. Many people find that the act of changing out of their everyday clothes helps them to prepare and focus their minds. Tai Chi can be performed barefoot or wearing socks or soft-soled slippers. The movements should be practised regularly – ideally every day – either in a clear space at home, or outside in fresh air, preferably under the shade of trees.
Tai Chi can be practised at any time of day, but the Chinese tend to practise before breakfast or after work. Many people like to meditate for a few minutes before they begin their practice; others may find that a short walk helps to calm the mind.
Tai Chi should be learned in a class so that a teacher is on hand to provide inspiration and guidance – the positions of the hands and feet must be precise. It is important to find a qualified teacher who understands the philosophy behind Tai Chi.
Most Tai Chi practitioners do a series of warming-up exercises before practising the Form. These exercises encourage the body to open and relax. They include ‘folding the body in half, which is similar to toe touching, except that no force is applied. Another exercise is ‘dropping the seat right down’, which is similar to a deep squat. There are also various techniques (such as self-massage and holding certain areas of the body) which are used to distribute excesses of Qi and to stimulate the Qi to move to areas where it is deficient.
A series of eight exercises which are often used as a warm-up exercise before practising Qigong can also be performed before Tai Chi practice or any other type of workout. A thorough warm-up of this kind will prepare both mind and body for exercise as well as stimulating the flow of Qi.
The movements of Tai Chi are circular to enhance the circulation of Qi around the body, and they require absolute concentration; they should be slow and fluid, rather than fast or jerky. Tai Chi may appear deceptively simple on first observation, but the movements can be both physically and mentally taxing.
Relaxation is one of the keys to Tai Chi. When confronted with physical force, people react by becoming tense. In contrast, the way of Tai Chi (and other soft martial arts) is to meet force with yielding – this allows the individual to direct the force of an attacker to the attacker’s disadvantage. The mind and body are relaxed, enabling an intelligent response to physical opposition.
Although it takes years to master Tai Chi, with proper instruction and regular practice an individual should feel some benefits in a short amount of time. People who are interested in Tai Chi can regard the following introduction to the Short Form as a trial to carry out at home. To learn Tai Chi properly, seek expert tuition.