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T’ai Chi: Getting Started

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To get started on this health-enhancing, stress-busting, strength-developing project, you’ll need to find a class. Although an endless array of tapes and DVDs are available, I believe you need an instructor to help you see what you might be doing right and wrong.

I’ve tried the tapes myself, and maybe it’s just me, but I got quite anxious trying to see exactly what the man on the screen was doing, and then trying to copy the movements myself. Also, my living room, with the cats and the kids and the phone and the neighbors, was not exactly conducive to slow graceful meditative movements.

To locate a t’ai chi class, inquire at local health clubs, colleges, city recreation departments, YMCAs, health food stores, and hospitals. If your town has a martial arts school, check there too–many martial arts students begin their class with several minutes of t’ai chi.

Dr. Rubin, my associate at WholeHealth Chicago, has been practicing t’ai chi and other martial arts for many years.  He found his current t’ai chi group (the International Taoist Tai Chi Society) while walking in his neighborhood.  Click here for the link and help finding a location near you.

One of my patients from a small Illinois town told me she got her class started by talking to the owner of a local Chinese restaurant. It turned out that his elderly father had taught t’ai chi in China and was practicing every morning in the family’s back yard. And yes, he’d be delighted to teach a class!

Perfecting the art of t’ai chi requires patience, focus, and a unity of mind, body, and spirit. Practice is essential. Try to do your t’ai chi at the same time every day: either make it an invigorating start to your morning or practice it after work, to ease the tension from your hectic day.

Some people with extra cash choose to learn their t’ai chi in private lessons from a t’ai chi master. I guess this is okay, but there’s something about the group energy from a class that’s almost palpable. A typical class lasts anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes, and usually begins with 15 minutes of basic warm-up exercises before you learn the components of a form.

A long form can require more than 100 subtle movements and can take a year or two to learn properly. You can always do some extra practice on your form in the privacy of your home.

Like meditation and yoga, you can learn the very basic principles of t’ai chi in about an hour, and then spend the rest of your incarnation getting them right.

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