T'ai Chi

T'ai Chi

Sick of step aerobics? Tired of tennis, but still want to stay in shape? If you're looking for something to shake up your workout routine, try t'ai chi. T'ai chi (pronounced: tie chee) is great for improving flexibility and strengthening your legs, abs, and arms. Get ready to "Part the Horse's Mane," and give t'ai chi a try!

What Is T'ai Chi?

When you think about martial arts, karate and judo may come to mind. T'ai chi, sometimes called t'ai chi chuan, is also an ancient Chinese martial art form that was developed to enhance both physical and emotional well-being.


It's been said that t'ai chi is a combination of moving yoga and meditation. A person performs t'ai chi by practicing breathing exercises and a series of slow, graceful, flowing postures (also called poses) simultaneously. The postures consist of movements that are said to improve body awareness and enhance strength and coordination. Many people who practice t'ai chi say that they feel more peaceful and relaxed after a workout.

T'ai chi was developed in ancient China as early as 225 AD. The ancient Chinese believed that the body was filled with energy, or chi, but chi could become blocked, causing illness and disease. They believed that a person could help improve the flow of chi throughout the body and improve health by practicing t'ai chi exercises.

The many different styles of t'ai chi include:

The different types vary in intensity and focus. For example, Sun style is known for its fast footwork. The low-impact movements of Hao style can be practiced by people who are elderly or have special needs. In general, though, practicing t'ai chi improves strength, flexibility, and respiratory function.

You have many choices when it comes to choosing a t'ai chi workout. Many fitness centers and YMCAs offer t'ai chi classes, and many t'ai chi instructors also offer private classes. You may also want to try a t'ai chi video — there are several excellent videos just for beginners. Instructional websites, CD-ROMs, and books are also available to help you learn more about t'ai chi.

Before you start your first t'ai chi workout, you should dress comfortably so you can move and stretch easily. Shorts or tights and a T-shirt or tank top are great choices. Because t'ai chi is a martial art, some people who practice it wear a martial arts training uniform. T'ai chi is usually practiced barefoot or in comfortable socks and sneakers.

During a t'ai chi class, you'll participate in forms. Each form is a series of movements (also called poses) performed in a specific order. The poses that make up the forms sometimes have visually descriptive names, such as "White Crane Spreads Its Wings" and "Grasp Sparrow's Tail."

Poses to Try

Here are a few poses that you might encounter if you take a t'ai chi class or watch a t'ai chi video:

Before You Begin

Before you begin any type of exercise program, it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor, especially if you have a health problem. But unlike many other sports, t'ai chi is based on continuous, flowing, low-impact movements, so it's a good workout choice for just about anyone.

Is your schedule jam-packed with school, work, and social activities? Here are a few tips for fitting in fitness and staying motivated:

There's one caution about starting a t'ai chi routine, though: Once you start, you might not be able to stop!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: November 2011

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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Related Resources
MagazineT'ai chi Magazine This magazine has information about how t'ai chi may improve health.
OrganizationAmerican Council on Exercise (ACE) ACE promotes active, healthy lifestyles by setting certification and education standards for fitness instructors and through ongoing public education about the importance of exercise.
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