Almost balletic in its execution, t'ai chi is more than exercise for the body; it is considered by many to be excellent at promoting mental clarity and spirituality. There are five styles of t'ai chi; Chen, Wu, Woo, Sun and Yang. Yang is the flowing, rhythmic version most common in the West. There are also two forms: short form, consists of 24 movements which can be performed in ten minutes; the long form has 108 movements which takes up to 40 minutes to complete. T'ai chi is especially effective in relieving stress and lowering blood pressure. It is also a good exercise for those recovering from injury. See also Qi Gong.
T'ai chi chuan is an ancient Chinese system of movement and breathing which is derived from qi gong. Often described as 'meditation in motion', t'ai chi is a non-combative martial art first practised by Taoist monks in the 13th century. Slow, graceful movements based on the natural poses of animals and birds are said to improve the body's 'qi', or life force. For centuries, t'ai chi has been considered a form of preventative exercise by millions of people in China, where it is usually performed by large groups in open spaces early each morning.
What to Expect
Finding a class should be relatively easy in most towns. Dress in loose, comfortable clothing, with flat-soled shoes (not trainers). Classes usually begin with gentle warm up exercises; the class itself will be quiet and unhurried, with students focusing on breathing and maintaining a meditative calm. Naturally, once you have learned the basics, it is possible to practise at home, ideally on a daily basis, using weekly lessons to improve and check your progress.
Training & Colleges
Qualified teachers should have at least four years' experience.