Tai Chi: The Gentle Exercise That Could Be Your Next Fitness Fix

It’s sometimes called ‘meditation in motion’ because it involves the mind as well as the body. Short for Tai chi chuan, tai chi (TIE-CHEE) has its roots in ancient Chinese martial arts. Its slow movements are graceful—despite names like “strike opponents ears” and “single whip.” More common are moves like “cloud hands,” and “part the horse’s mane.”

Tai chi doesn’t have the strenuous physical demands of other workouts. It involves sets of flowing moves, or forms, coordinated with deep breathing. Each posture flows into the next, so that your body is in constant motion.

The physical payoffs include stress reduction, improved balance, coordination, flexibility, muscle strengthening and even some aerobic benefit.

Licensed acupuncturist and tai chi instructor Erik Hardin, of Ozark Integrative Medicine in Bentonville, calls the practice “the best out of every sport.”

“It’s different than any western exercise, even yoga. It is really a full body exercise, along with the mental component,” he notes. “It strengthens your physical body, conditions tendons and ligaments, massages internal organs…the benefits go on and on.” He also believes it’s the ideal exercise for improving balance, especially important for older adults.

Tai chi may also be the perfect exercise after a sedentary quarantine lifestyle. “It’s extremely low impact,” Erik says. “Regardless of age, health, strength or intelligence, any person can begin, with no special equipment. It’s accessible for every person.”

Eric has been practicing tai chi for 20 years, and was first introduced to the sport by his mom, who was a 5th degree black belt in karate. She switched to tai chi when she began having knee trouble.

Tai chi is technically a martial art, and can be practiced gently or with more speed and power, depending on a person’s focus.

Erik even incorporates tai chi in his acupuncture treatments, sharing it with patients to address specific complaints. He explains that the wave-like movements that tense and relax different parts of your body move the blood and fluid in a particularly efficient and unique way.

Erik also teaches tai chi—at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, the recreation center in Bella Vista, Blake Street House in Bentonville and private lessons. Currently, while social distancing guidelines are in place, he’s teaching one-on-one lessons in the park.

Taking a class is the ideal way to start, but many instructional videos can be found online and on YouTube.

“Tai chi players are very welcoming and nice and are happy to let you sit in or observe a class. Go to as many classes as you can to find the teacher or setting that resonates with you,” Erik suggests.

With tai chi, the learning is part of the practice. “It won’t happen overnight. Sometimes there is frustration with not getting the form down,” Erik points out. “It took me a long time to figure out that the training itself is the goal. As long as you’re training, you are getting the benefit.”

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