Think of your favorite hobby. Does it include health, exercise, fun, community, history, and culture? Can you do it for the rest of your life? If so, I bet you are already a tai chi practitioner or have found a similar activity. If not, there are oodles of reasons to practice tai chi and enough to learn to last you a lifetime. People coming to our classes inevitably ask “Why practice tai chi” over other sports or activities. We decided to write down not only our answers but surveyed practitioners and share their responses below.
People practice tai chi primarily for health, social, and martial benefits. Reported health benefits include improvements in balance, stability, flexibility, and reduced stress. Martial benefits include increases in physical fitness and self confidence from learning techniques. And, socialization and connection with others improves from attending class and participating in events.
Tai chi differs from all other forms of exercise in the way that it approaches the body, mind, and health holistically.
Here is our own version of David Letterman’s Top Ten!
Why Practice Tai Chi? Here are the Top 10 Reasons
Numerous studies indicate better functioning of the central nervous system, digestion, and reduced blood pressure. If you have health issues you can find out how to take control of your health with tai chi in this essay.
This refers to balance in life and also physical balance. Tai chi exploits dual forces (yin/yang, hot/cold, left/right, up/down…) to show how they complement each other rather than oppose. People who practice tai chi benefit from direct and immediate improvement in physical balance. They benefit indirectly from being able to apply balance to work, life, and work-life situations. How do you know what hot is? Because you describe it in terms of not-cold. That one is easy. How do you know what not stressed is? Hmm. We are suggesting that tai chi teaches a framework that can be used to evaluate how to move away from a polarity that you want to change in life.
Like balance, we have some immediate tangible physical benefits that we see in students who practice tai chi for only two weeks. Additionally, the “sense of stability” can be used as a lens to view areas of life. It taps into a robust gut feeling and we make the decision that feels more like the sensation when we are pleasantly rooted on two legs.
This deserves its own post as more western studies are pointing towards harmful effects from standard stretching which include reduced strength, pulled tendons, and reduced flexibility. Flexibility in skin, muscles, joints, and thinking = youth and health. Tai chi accomplishes this by performing continual movements with good posture. The depth of posture that you admire in some practitioners was not developed from going lower. It is developed from pulling up at the crown of the head and down at the tailbone. This should sound counter intuitive and should also get you excited. Westerners do static stretches, “exercise” and suffer joint pain and reduced flexibility. Easterners do not stretch statically, but often walk in the evenings with their hands behind their back (posture!) and retain flexibility. Who is right here? Are you getting interested?
Tai chi is mental and physical. Stress is directly related to mental and physical tension. Let’s look at an example. Tai chi requires movements that are opposite to how you and I move throughout the day. We walk in tai chi with the same hand and foot moving forward at the same time (versus opposing hand and foot). This re-patterning moves us out of habitual postures (physical) and demands concentration (mental) which give our brain a break from our repetitious thoughts that we can be bludgeoned with all day long. This additionally leads to cultivating creativity, improved sleep, etc. We wrote more on how tai chi reduces stress.
Tai chi builds strength and energy rather than taxing the body’s system to be followed by a recovery. We document it all in this essay: Finding, Building, Using, and Understanding Chi Energy
Partner work and movements are designed to develop an acute awareness of an opponent’s intentions. While tai chi might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about fighting, it has a lot in common with many of the major martial arts.
No Physical Limitations:
Everyone can benefit from tai chi and the forms can be modified or enhanced to match levels of abilities, age, and physical limitations. Think about your favorite physical activity. Can it cause injury? Is there a community of people doing what you do? Are you challenged? Do you mentally feel better after doing it? Is there an age when you won’t be able to participate? Do you get better with age or worse? Tai chi provides an integrated system to improve health, have fun, stay interested, and build on your progress as a lifelong learner.
The same research that launched CrossFit has been benefiting tai chi practitioners for centuries. Human’s crave community and share the desire to contribute or participate in something greater.
Practitioners can attend tournaments for push hands competitions or form performance that include open hand and weapons forms.
So, why practice tai chi? Why not?!
Why People Practice Tai Chi – A Data Study of Practitioners
Understanding why people practice tai chi is extremely important to our own development and to the development of classmates and students.
We posted a survey and collected information about why people practice tai chi. There were many responses that were expected but there were tons more that were not. The combined results create a unique picture of the many reasons why people practice tai chi. For instructors, it is valuable information in what to include in curriculum to keep interest high. It also led to a list we created for new practitioners of the top six questions to ask in a new class.
What interests you most about practicing Tai Chi?
As opposite as it would seem, learning martial applications and learning about meditative aspects were cited as being the most interesting to people studying tai chi. Learning the tai chi form came in second which is good to highlight as an obtainable goal for new students.
I am studying tai chi or would like to because of which benefits?
Hands-down people are coming to tai chi because of its reputed health benefits. Tai chi definitely can improve on most health issues especially those that are self-induced such as work related stressors and injuries.
I found out about tai chi because…
The internet and through friends are the chief way that people are finding tai chi classes. We certainly see it on this website as people search for “ta chi + CITY.” A lot of people come to tai chi with a friend but they almost always stop coming as pairs as only one continues. This data is making us question how to alleviate people of their initial nervousness but identify their individual interests to keep them studying long enough to gain the benefits of tai chi. That is what keeps most people around.
I practice/would like to practice tai chi to…
This last graph in some ways is the most interesting as people were allowed to choose from a list or add their own ideas. Here we see the wide variety of reasons why people practice tai chi. Work/life improvements and healing of old injuries appear to be the top reasons cited.