What does exercise mean today? In an age of intense disciplines like Bikram, Cross Fit, boxing and Sweat1000 classes, one might feel exhausted just naming the discipline. Each decade seems to play host to a different approach, with aerobics and speed walking some of the unwilling stragglers of the past.
For perspective's sake, let's reminisce about some of the biggest exercise trends of their respective years: 1982 - Jane Fonda; 1988 ' Richard Simmons Aerobics; 1990 ' Thighmaster and in 1994 ' Spinning. Unlike some of the trends, Tai Chi is a form of exercise, pure by design, and forever relevant.
Developed by a single family around the late 1600s and derived from a blend of Chinese medicine and martial arts, the discipline only became public when a curious and persistent outsider was invited by the family to learn. From there he went on to develop his own unique style of Tai Chi, one of the four styles practised today.
*Each has a unique approach, with the patriarch known as 'Chen' style. Chen is made up of both slow and explosive movements, making it one of the more advanced versions.
*'Yang' is more commonly practised today, and includes slow, steady movements. *'Wu' is more minimal and controlled, focusing more on internal strength.
*Somewhat similar to 'Wu' is 'Hao' ' which is not practised widely today.
*There is also a fifth style ' Fusion - that combines elements of each.
WHERE TO PRACTISE TAI CHI
Jing-An Wellness Sanctuary Green Point www.jing-an.co.za
Academy of Chinese Martial Arts Plumstead www.mantiskungfu.co.za
Red Dragon Tai Chi Constantia Kloof www.reddragonacademy.co.za
Ming's Martial Arts Academy Randburg www.mingsmartialarts.co.za
The fundamental concept behind Tai Chi is one of balance - an idea that can seem lofty at best in this modern world. Taking cues from the grand master of balance - Mother Nature herself ' it is distilled into two opposing but complementary forces - yin and yang. Yin has associations such as the moon, femininity, and the south bank of a river, while yang is associated with masculine energy, the sun and the north bank of a river. For a less obscure demonstration - moving your hand in a circle, up and to the left, creates the potential for it to move down and to the right, for example. Incorporating esoteric concepts such as chi, your vital life force - and mushin, the Chinese word for 'no mind', Tai Chi is very much a meditation in motion, where the body moves naturally and autonomously, requiring little input from the conscious mind. It makes a good form of meditation for the restless - those who might struggle to sit and simply focus on breathing for an extended period of time.
Akin to meditation, Tai Chi has therapeutic psychological effects ' clarity of thought, relief of stress, improved focus, cognition and concentration, memory and increased self-awareness. Ultimately, being physically fit needs to be accompanied by a balanced psyche, or the satisfaction you gain from physical achievements could feel somewhat underwhelming.
As far as physical perks go, Tai Chi is a generous master. Although not cardio intensive, it covers all the other key points of fitness: muscle strength in the lower and upper body as well as the core muscles of the back and abdomen; flexibility as a result of stretching tendons and ligaments; and finally, balance from fine tuning the sensory neurons in the inner ear to work better with receptors in your muscles and ligaments. Practising Tai Chi also has other positive by-products ' improved energy levels, a stronger immune system, better memory and cognitive function and improved coordination. What's more, the discipline, mindfulness and restraint learnt in Tai Chi will spill over into your everyday life, influencing the way you interact with others and approach difficult situations.
If sitting still is not your forte, and cardio-intensive sweatfests not your favourite pastime, it's possible that Tai Chi may strike a yin and yang inspired balance between the two.
by Lara Potgieter
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