Getting Started With Tai Chi (Basics for Beginners)

In a world that constantly pushes you to move faster, what could be more revolutionary than slowing down?

Nothing, according to the philosophy of tai chi.

Tai chi challenges our brains and our bodies to work on a whole other frequency, completely honing us in to our own movement.

It will stretch you. It will strengthen you.

And, if you are a high-octane person used to throwing down some serious HIIT, it may drive you absolutely insane.

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What Is Tai Chi?

Tai chi (aka, tai chi ch’uan) is an ancient Chinese discipline that uses exaggeratedly slow movements to focus the mind and enhance strength and balance.

Like yoga, it has a spiritual aspect, which mostly involves being present in the current moment.

Technically, tai chi is a martial art, and many of its base movements are also taught in kung fu.

But, unlike kung fu, tai chi is non-competitive and non-violent, instead focusing on the health and spiritual aspects of martial arts.

Benefits of Tai Chi

The benefits of tai chi are well-documented for those who develop (and stick to) a routine.

Some benefits of tai chi include:

  • Improved strength
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved agility
  • Improved balance
  • Improved heart health (including lower blood pressure)
  • Improved respiratory rates (including for those with COPD)
  • Improved sleep
  • Enhanced immune response
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Pain relief, especially muscle and joint paint, which means tai chi helps with the following conditions:
    • Arthritis
    • Chronic back pain
    • Fibromyalgia
    • Menstrual pain
    • Menopause
  • Nerve stimulation, especially the vagus nerve, which can help:
    • Improve cognition
    • Reduce stress
    • Reduce anxiety
    • Reduce depression
    • Improve overall mental health
    • Increase alertness
    • Decrease the frequency and strength of migraines

The strength, balance, and agility developed in tai chi have also been shown to significantly reduce falls in older people and people with Parkinson’s disease.

Is It Hard To Learn Tai Chi?

The basic movements of tai chi are not difficult to learn.

In fact, it would be hard for them to be more simple. (Many programs literally start with walking forward.)

Tai chi does, however, demand a decent amount of balance from the start.

So, depending on how good your balance is when you begin, it can be a bit challenging at first.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Tai Chi?

How long it takes to learn tai chi depends on how deeply you want to go into tai chi.

The Tai Chi Foundation estimates it takes 30-36 hours to learn the basic movements.

But learning the movements of tai chi doesn’t mean you can do those movements well.

In tai chi, it is generally thought you should be able to do one lesson with perfect form before moving onto the next.

So, the length of time it takes to learn is very much based on personal progress.

Also, while tai chi does focus on health, it is still very much a martial art.

If you want to move beyond the health aspect and learn tai chi as a form of self-defense, it will take years to master.

What Is The Best Tai Chi For Beginners?

Yang tai chi is the best tai chi style for beginners.

It keeps movements slow and steady, making it easy to learn.

It also happens to be the most popular form of tai chi worldwide (and the style most often used for health), so it is the most likely form of tai chi you will encounter in classes.

How Often Should I Do Tai Chi?

Every day.

Tai chi is easy on the joints and muscles, and doesn’t include any weight-bearing (beyond normal), so there is no limit on how much of it you can safely do.

Beginner classes typically meet once to twice per week, but students are expected to do a daily practice on their own.

Can I Do Tai Chi Every Day?

Yes. Not only is it safe to do tai chi daily; it is encouraged to make good progress.

How long is a tai chi session?

Most tai chi classes last about an hour, but tai chi sessions can range from 20 minutes to more than two hours.

A 20-minute daily session is enough to keep you in practice.

Is Tai Chi A Good Workout?

Tai chi is low-impact and non-strenuous.

This makes it an excellent workout for older people and people with movement disorders who may not get a lot of exercise in other forms.

It is basically stretching and strength training.

Your muscles and joints will get stronger, even your respiration and heart health will improve.

However, tai chi is not enough of a workout to vastly improve cardiovascular health.

For most people, tai chi should be part of a well-rounded exercise regimen, not the whole deal.

Can You Lose Weight Doing Tai Chi?

Tai chi is not an aerobic exercise, and not a good exercise for weight loss.

Studies have shown some people who start tai chi do lose weight, but weight loss from tai chi is very slow (1 lb. in 3 mos.) and more likely in people who are getting zero exercise before starting the program.

Learn Tai Chi

When you’re ready to start with tai chi, you have a few different options:

  • You can learn on your own (though you will need a guide of some sort to follow).
  • You can learn through private lessons.
  • You can learn in a class or at a retreat.

Which one of these methods is right for you depends on your personality, exercise style, and comfort level.

Learn Tai Chi at Home

If you want to learn tai chi at home, you will need someone to guide you.

It doesn’t matter if that person is on video or a private instructor.

Pace is everything in tai chi.

Because of that, it is not something you can learn from a book or a list of moves.

An instructor will guide you in pace so that you understand just how slowly you should be moving. (Hint: It’s way slower than feels natural.)

Only if you are following along at an appropriate pace are you truly doing tai chi.

Tai Chi Training Equipment

Other than a person, you do not need any specialized equipment to start with tai chi.

You may, however, want to keep a sturdy chair close by that you can hold onto.

The movements of tai chi are so slow, it can be a struggle to balance at first.

Your clothing, on the other hand, does matter.

What Clothes Do I Need For Tai Chi? (Tai Chi Uniform)

Tai chi uniforms consist of soft, loose-fitted pants and shirts.

Some shirts have belts for tapering.

While you do not need a special uniform to practice tai chi, you will probably be most comfortable dressing in a similar way, in loose, non-constricting clothing. (Though, many people practice tai chi wherever they are in whatever they’re wearing.)

tai chi uniform
Basic tai chi uniform.

The most important item of clothing in tai chi is your footwear.

You will be standing the majority of time, so most people do prefer to wear shoes (you can do it barefoot as well), but the type of shoe matters a lot.

To perform the forms of tai chi correctly, you should wear flat-soled shoes (less than an inch) that have some flexibility.

This could mean a well-made slipper (something with decent grip) or even old-school Chuck Taylors.

These are decent options that meet those requirements:

They do also make tai chi shoes, which are basically the equivalent of a slipper.

Tai Chi Classes for Beginners

If you prefer to learn your tai chi in a group setting, or with an in-person instructor at a lower cost than private lessons, taking a tai chi class may be the right route for you.

The majority of tai chi classes are taught at martial arts studios, but you will occasionally find them offered through yoga studios, gyms, and YMCAs.

Why Tai Chi?

Tai chi is a slow, gentle exercise form that is both easy to learn and easy on the body.

This makes tai chi especially good for older people and others with lowered mobility who may struggle with other forms of exercise.

Though anyone can benefit from tai chi’s slow movements and attention to form.

If you have struggled to start or maintain a fitness routine due to lack of mobility, injury, or chronic pain, tai chi may be the exercise you need.

Looking for some inspiration for your practice? Check out Tai Chi Quotes for Inspiration.

Want more yuks with your tai chi content? Check out our Tai Chi Puns.

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