Tai Chi Workout Program

tai chi

Often regarded as the alternative to yoga, tai chi is a fluid, nearly effortless form of exercise that is designed to relax and cleanse the body and refresh the mind. All tai chi routines are targeted towards the development of, or obtainment of, stress reduction, muscular toning, flexibility, coordination, and balance.

The images of individuals flowing through “dance-like” movements and poses as they participate in a session of tai chi (pronounced tie-chee) are not only compelling, but calming as well. Tai chi has been described as meditation in motion because it promotes a high level of serenity through a series of gentle movements, connecting the mind and body.

Like many physical art forms, tai chi was originally developed in China as a form of self-defense. More specifically, tai chi is a form of exercise, both physical and mental, that has existed for over 2,000 years. Practiced often, tai chi can provide the individual with a whole host of physical and mental health benefits.

Tai chi, often times called tai chi chuan, is a noncompetitive, non-aggressive, self-paced routine of gentle physical exercise and stretching. To perform tai chi, an individual moves through a series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner. Each movement seamlessly flows into the next movement without pausing.

Virtually anyone, regardless of age or physical ability, can participate in tai chi as it does not require a high level of physical strength or agility. Instead, tai chi focuses on technique over strength or cardiovascular endurance. Several of the health benefits associated with the practice of tai chi are listed below:

  • Stress reduction, mental clarity and centering, and calmness

  • Increase flexibility in muscles, ligaments and tendons

  • Improved muscle strength and definition

  • Increased levels of energy, stamina and agility

  • Increased levels of mental well-being

There are several forms or styles of tai chi and over 100 possible movements and positions. You can simply determine a series of movements that you prefer and perform them regularly, or you can continue to learn additional movements and perform a routine with an increasing level of diversity. Although the intensity of tai chi varies depending on the form or style practiced (some forms of tai chi are more fast-paced), most forms focus on gentle movements and are suitable for almost anyone, regardless of age or physical capability. All forms and styles of tai chi include rhythmic patterns of movement that are synchronized with the individual's breathing.

Although tai chi is considered to be an incredibly safe form of exercise, it is always a good idea to talk with a medical professional prior to starting any new type of exercise routine. This is particularly true for individuals that have any health issues associated with their joints, spine or heart.

Benefits of Tai Chi

tai chi

Similar to other forms of exercise that focus on, and center around, achieving a mind-body connection (i.e. yoga and Pilates), individuals can regularly perform a tai chi routine as an excellent way to reduce their stress, calm their mind, and center their thoughts. During the execution of a tai chi exercise routine, the individual will focus on, and perform, a series of movements while synchronizing their breathing to those movements.

This combination of exercises creates a whole mind-body state of relaxation and calmness. Stress, anxiety and muscular and mental tension will be significantly reduced, and the effects will benefit the individual for several hours after they have completed the session.

In addition, individuals that regularly practice tai chi will improve their overall levels of balance, coordination, flexibility, and joint range of motion.

Tai chi is a form of exercise that promotes a lifestyle conducive to good overall health, fitness and mental well-being. Tai chi is a generally safe, non-aggressive form of exercise that is suitable for individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

In fact, tai chi is an excellent form of exercise for older adults because the movements are low-impact and place a minimal level of stress on the muscles and joints. Tai chi is also beneficial for individuals with arthritis, and for individuals recovering from an injury.

Although tai chi has been practiced for over 2,000 years, the health benefits associated with tai chi have only been scientifically studied in more modern times. In a recent study, adults in their 60s and 70s who participated in a 60-minute tai chi class 3 times a week for 12 consecutive weeks were given a series of physical fitness tests to measure their balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. These tests were performed on the individuals prior to and immediately after their participation in the 12-week tai chi course.

According the to authors of the medical study, “statistically significant improvements were observed in all balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility measures after 6 weeks, and they increased further after 12 weeks.” In addition, the authors of the study concluded “that tai chi is a potent intervention that improved balance, upper and lower body muscular strength and endurance, and upper and lower body flexibility in older adults.”

Additional research has suggested that tai chi may offer several other health benefits beyond that of just stress reduction. These health benefits include the following:

  • A reduction in anxiety, stress, tension and depression

  • Improved balance and coordination

  • A reduction in the number of falls due to a lack of strength, balance or range of motion

  • Improved sleep quality (i.e. remaining asleep longer at night and feeling more alert during the day)

  • A decrease in the rate of bone loss in women after menopause

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Improved cardiovascular fitness

  • Reduction in chronic pain

  • Improvement in everyday physical and mental functioning

Practicing Tai Chi

Tai chi does not require special clothing or equipment and can be performed in the comfort of your own home. However, to gain the full extent of its benefits, it may be best to participate in a tai chi class that is led by a qualified tai chi instructor.

A tai chi instructor will be able to guide you through the specific movements and how to regulate your breathing as each of the movements are performed. In addition, an instructor will teach you how to practice tai chi safely, especially for individuals who have injuries, chronic conditions or balance and coordination concerns. Although tai chi is a slow and gentle form of exercise with virtually no negative side effects, injuries are possible if tai chi is not performed correctly.

tai chi

During the tai chi class, an instructor will be able to provide personal guidance and correct any errors in your movements, form and breathing technique. Individuals whose preference is to ultimately perform tai chi in their home simply do so once they feel confident that they are able to perform the movements and the breathing techniques correctly in class. However, if you enjoy the social aspects of exercising with a group of other individuals, feel free to remain in a group setting.

Due to the rise in the art's popularity, tai chi classes can be found in virtually all metropolitan areas. For individuals wanting to begin a tai chi class, simply contact your local senior center, YMCA, YWCA, health club, fitness center, community education center or wellness facility. Thereafter, determine which one of the facilities best fits your schedule, budget, and location preferences. Many facilities provide transportation as necessary.

To achieve the maximum benefits associated with performing tai chi, consider dedicating time to participate in it on a regular basis. Many individuals find it easier to regularly perform tai chi if they practice tai chi in the same location and at the same time every day.

By doing so, they are able to create a routine that is predictable and repeatable. However, if your schedule is unpredictable or erratic (i.e. business travel, varying work schedule, etc.) perform your tai chi routine whenever you have a few minutes. You can even reap the calming benefits of tai chi without performing the actual movements. For example, you can employ several of the breathing techniques if you find yourself in a stressful situation (e.g. stuck in traffic jam, a work conflict, argument with a spouse, child or friend, etc.).

Provided below is a tai chi routine designed to increase mobility and range of motion, increase muscular strength and density, and reduce tension.

Position 1: Strength

  • Begin in a kneeling position with your legs behind you and shoulder width apart.

  • Lean back and place your hands on your ankles.

  • Be sure to push your mid-section forward to the front while performing this movemenet.

  • Keep your eyes up and count to 15 before releasing.

Position 2: Strength

  • Begin in the previous starting position.

  • While leaning back, let your air out. Keep your back straight so that your body is diagonal with the floor.

  • Raise your arms to form the letter "Z" with your body (as viewed from the side).

  • Return to the starting position and perform the same exercise 15 times.

Position 3: Strength/Flexibility

  • Begin in a standing position.

  • Move your right foot forward (approximately 2 to 4 feet - depending on your comfort level) to move into a lunge position.

  • As you move into the lunge position, raise your arms out to the sides to form the letter "T" (as viewed from the front).

  • Repeat this exercise 5 times.

  • Switch to the other leg and perform the same exercise an additional 5 times.

Position 4: Strength/Balance

  • Begin in a standing position.

  • Raise your left foot and tuck it into your groin area with your left knee pointing to the side.

  • Place your hands above your head in the form of a triangle.

  • Lower yourself gently and slowly by bending your right knee.

  • Hold yourself in this lowered position for 15 seconds.

  • Switch to the other leg and repeat.

  • Move immediately into Position 5.

Position 5: Strength/Balance

  • Standing on the same leg that you ended the previous pose with, extend the opposite leg out in front of you.

  • Begin by making a circle with the straightened leg.

  • Make the same circle in the opposite direction.

  • Switch back and forth (each direction) 15 times. 

  • From this position move immediately into Position 6.

Position 6: Strength/Flexibility

  • Standing on the same leg that you ended the previous pose with, bring the opposite leg to your front and bend at the knee.

  • Bend the leg you're standing on slightly.

  • As you lower yourself, rotate your arms to the front. As you raise yourself, rotate them back over your head.

  • Perform this exercise using the other leg.

  • Perform this exercise 15 times (both legs).

Position 7: Strength/Flexibility

  • Begin in a standing position.

  • Move the right foot forward to move into a lunge position.

  • As you move into the lunge, bring your arms out to form the letter "T" (as viewed from the front).

  • Repeat this exercise 5 times.

  • Switch to the other leg and perform the exercise an additional 5 times.

Position 8: Strength/Flexibility

  • Move into a position that prepares you for a push up.

  • Instead of doing a push up, raise your left foot parallel to your body.

  • Bring the raised foot forward by bending at the knee, but do not allow the knee to touch the floor.

  • Bring the raised foot back parallel to the body.

  • Repeat with the other leg.

  • Perform this exercise 15 times for each leg.

Position 9: Strength/Flexibility

  • Begin in a standing position.

  • Bring both arms and one leg out in front of you to form parallel lines with one another.

  • Return to the starting position.

  • Repeat this exercise with the other leg.

  • Perform this exercise 15 times for each leg.

Position 10: Relaxation

  • Begin in a sitting position.

  • Keep your right toes facing forward while moving your left leg out to the left, with your toes facing to the left. Lean backwards and place your left hand on the floor.

  • While keeping your eyes on your right hand, lift it up so that your shoulders form a straight line to the floor.

  • If the pose is done correctly, there should be two visible triangles from the front - one with your legs and another formed by your left arm and leg.

Position 11: Breathing

  • Begin in a sitting position with your legs crossed and your back straight.

  • Put your hands on your belly and feel the air filling your chest cavity.

  • As you exhale, feel the abdominal muscles contract.

  • Try breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth (pursed lips).

Your Tai Chi Plan

tai chi

Although tai chi has many similarities with yoga, there are several differences as well. Tai chi promotes an art that is more focused on slow and extremely fluid motions. For this reason, any tai chi routine that you perform or design should center around continuous movement through all of the positions. One way to think of tai chi is as a fast-paced yoga that is performed very slowly.

By taking the time to learn the movements and the breathing techniques associated with tai chi, you will achieve a sense of calmness, a reduction in stress, and an improvement in flexibility, balance and strength. This being said, simply adding a tai chi fitness program to your daily routine will promote and complement a lifestyle that is filled with good health, fitness and mental well-being.