Frequently Asked Questions
To many people, tai chi is a most unusual
activity. To untrained and inexperienced eyes, this slow moving and graceful activity
looks almost, well... (I can hardly say it) boring. Yet - done properly - it can be one of
the most fascinating and dynamic exercises you can possibly do.
This practice is still relatively new to the
west. When I began tai chi in 1969 - no one new what on earth I was doing. In fact -
people watching my slow, strange movements and obvious involvement in the process likely
thought I was a candidate for the 'loony bin'. Now - tai chi is much more popular, and is
even used in milk, Wonderbratm, lemon cleaner and many other TV and print advertisements over recent
years - adds which exposed tai chi to millions of people.
There are still many questions. Here are a
few of them, and answers that may help.
I'm too busy...
Sitting tai chi
Is it exercise?
"Is there an optimum age to learn tai chi?"
Tai chi is
perfect for any age. Even young children benefit (the photo above is of one year old Morag
Champagne-Holland, who does tai chi with her Mom... in her own way, of course. You
experienced tai chi folks may notice the gracefulness she encompasses while toddling into
I feel the best
form of tai chi movement for children is found in the
4 Minute Fitness video. It is easy to learn, and provides benefits
quickly, thereby keeping attention. Click
for more information:
Younger kids often gravitate towards the faster and more energetic
martial arts, so the 4 Minute Fitness is a supplement for them.
It seems that most
people want or need what tai chi offers - the introspection, meditative aspects,
flexibility, balance, mental improvements) as they begin to age. I have taught many
younger folks, especially students who are highly stressed - who have embraced the
movements and principals and received tremendous benefits.
However - the majority of my students are
early middle age to seniors - from 30 - 90+ years old. Tai chi can be so wonderfully
non-competitive that all ages and skill levels benefit, even if they are attending the
"I've heard that it takes years of study to benefit from tai chi
practice. That it is only helpful for people who completely devote to it. I don't have the
time, but want benefits. Is it possible?"
like many 'eastern' practices, can be studied and improved upon 24 hours a day, for life.
But so can golf, or playing the cello - both of which offer pleasure at almost any level.
Very few people will become tai chi virtuosos - but they can still receive vast
benefits with regular daily practice - even with just five minutes a day!
More often than not, tai chi instructors
often attempt to teach complex movements and details to people who aren't ready for or
interested in those details - they simply want to relax, to learn how to breath, to
improve balance, memory and concentration. I was one of those instructors.
Now I concentrate on the simplicity of tai
chi, of helping people take vital first steps into this wonderful art. They say that a
journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. Present the 1000 miles all at once, and
most people will never make the journey. Offer the first simple step, and people will
benefit from each and every step they take, no matter how far they go!
"I don't learn patterns well, and have no experience in
dance or martial arts. Will I get frustrated? Will I receive benefits?"
Frustrated? Only if you expect to master it, to memorize the moves in an unreasonably
short period of time. Benefits - absolutely!
Be gentle with yourself. Unlike most of our
lives - there is no rush. The Tai Chi for Busy Peopletm video is step by step. Do a little everyday,
and know that whatever you accomplish in that time is perfect. Who cares how long it
takes? Not me.
The audio tape is designed to walk you
through the moves - so you never really have to memorize the series. What you want is the
breathing and movement - it doesn't matter whether you memorize the moves.
I find that the 'left brain' types learn it
quickly, albeit often rather mechanically. You 'right brain, can't remember pattern' types
often have wonderful grace and flowing in the moves. It's a trade off.
The moves will train your 'left brain', but
will give your 'right brain' a chance to dance. Have fun and enjoy the process!
"My legs are
weak, and I am in a usually sitting or in a wheel chair. Can I still
do tai chi?"
Absolutely, but with your health care professional's permission. All the upper body
movements, and even the leg movements (if possible) can be adapted to a sitting position.
The moves can provide significant back stretching and exercise - an important and valuable
feature to the exercise - but only if your back is in reasonable shape.
The 4 Minute Fitness video is even more
appropriate for sitting practice. The movements are all taught from a sitting and standing
Always take it slowly at first, adapt it to
your specific capabilities, and consult your doctor, therapist or chiropractor!
"I just can't believe that these slow moves are exercise,
or increase flexibility. How does it work?"
styles of tai chi lean more toward the meditative aspects, and others are more physically
demanding. Personally - I want to get the most out of my tai chi and to offer the most -
so I practice and teach ways to maximize stretching and strength, while at the same time -
enhance breathing and the meditative qualities. I guess I want it all, and I figure that
many of you do, too!
Every instructor choose his/her own methods.
Tai Chi for Busy Peopletm package and seminars, I chose dynamic moves
that can strengthen the legs, and loosen the hips; I teach simple methods to increase
spinal flexibility (so important, and so often forgotten), enhance breathing skills and
stimulate the immune system, and I offer ways to relax at the same time.
The best part of these moves is that they can
be done with a different focus each time. In the morning - perhaps focus on the
flexibility, at work - maybe the breathing and concentration becomes the focus, and before
bed - the relaxation and peaceful aspects may be most important.
As Chungliang Al Huang said - you are the
dancer and the dance. Learn all aspects, then do them any way that works for you!
"How can anything as slow and soft as tai chi be
First thing to realize is that soft doesn't mean without structure, or being wimpy. Soft
refers more to the concept of going with the flow, being relaxed in the face of hardness.
When you learn to become grounded, you become
difficult to uproot. When you learn to punch with softness, the snap at the end of the
punch is explosive (like the slowness of a whip through the air - the snap at the end is
Krisanna and I demonstrate softness in the
Tai Chi for Busy Peopletm video. When she becomes hard - like a post - she is
easy to push over. When she is soft and flexible, I can't find her center (she actually
disappears, in a way) and my push causes me to loose balance. And in that loss of balance
- she is able to flow with me and cause injury - with little effort on her part.
As well - moves practiced and perfected
slowly - over and over again - are incredibly precise and powerful when done with speed.
When I competed in karate tournaments, I almost always placed first or second in the kata
(form) events, even against much younger and stronger competitors. Why? Not because I had
any more talent than they had, but simply because I practiced each form slowly and
precisely - over and over (just like tai chi). Great precision training for the brain! So
when I performed the moves quickly, they were exact and powerful.
People who practice tai chi for the health
benefits actually train their bodies to find better balance, to be more rooted - so that
they respond in better ways in real life situations (walking on ice, being bumped at a
shopping mall - and not falling over). They carry themselves in a softer manner - (i.e.:
shoulders relaxed, reducing head and back aches). The learn to breath more deeply,
improving body functioning and reducing stress. All this is learned at a slow speed, then
becomes a part of your 'program', your reflexes.
And the slowness is so meditative and
relaxing! A moment of peace in a hectic world.
"So - how does this apply in other areas of my life?
so many ways. Consider this aspect of hardness in relationships. You and your spouse get
into an argument, and are hard in your position. You keep pushing your view point at each
other, with increased force and attachment to your opinions. This can go on for hours,
days, weeks - because you continue to offer your partner more and more to push against.
What would happen if you softened in your
approach? If you simply said - 'an interesting point. Thanks for offering your view.' And
moved onto the next subject. Not only is the argument over - it didn't begin in the first
place. By offering softness, you offer nothing to push against. By letting go of
attachment to your opinion, your partner loses the energy attached to his/her opinion. End
In many instances, softness is the fastest
road to victory. With ease and grace.