5 Things You Should Know About Tai-Chi for Fitness
By Anna Pergola, accredited Qigong instructor
Tai Chi? Qigong? Is it another language? Or one of the latest trends in fitness? The practice generates many questions. In response, we’re taking a closer look and shedding light on why it’s growing in popularity. Here are five things you should know.
It’s known by many names.
Many people are familiar with the term Tai Chi but may not fully understand what it means. Tai Chi (or Tai Chi Ch’uan or Taiji Quan) is the martial arts form of the overall practice known as Qigong. Rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy, Qigong combines “Qi,” which is the energy force that moves through the body, and “gong,” which means work or skill. Thus, Qigong is “energy work” that incorporates gentle flowing movements, postures, and breathing to activate and harmonize our energy.
There are over 7,000 styles of Qigong or Ch’i Kung, including Tai Chi martial arts and modern applications such as Tai Chi Chih and TaijiFit. It can get confusing with so many version and meanings, and oftentimes no two classes are alike.
Before starting, it’s helpful to talk with the instructor about the class, their training, and their approach. While all Qigong classes promise to deliver benefits, it’s important to know what you’re taking and what you can expect.
It’s not dance.
It’s also helpful to know that Tai Chi or Qigong is not dancing. There are indeed coordinated movements and classes are often taught in a studio. However, dance is focused on the mechanics of the movements. Tai Chi and Qigong on the other hand are “internal arts” that focus on moving and controlling energy inside the body.
Good things will happen.
When people first try a Qigong class, they’re often surprised because they don’t leave sweating and out of breath. With no loud music or fast movements, the class doesn’t feel like a traditional work-out, but it is still highly effective.
Qigong involves doing a series of slow, gentle movements to bring breathing, focus, and energy in line. The practice is meditative, training the body to conserve energy and build strength in how that energy is released. Doing Qigong over time is known to:
- Improve endurance
- Reduce stress
- Help manage chronic ailments
- Improve mental clarity
- Boost athletic performance
Balance gets better.
Qigong also teaches people how to define and control their center of gravity, properly shift their weight, and recognize how it feels to be “grounded.” It’s been shown that developing strength and purpose in these areas through Qigong can improve balance. One study reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that people who participated in Tai Chi-based classes over time experienced fewer falls and fall injuries and decreased their risk of falling by 55%.
It's for people of all ages.
Finally, many people mistakenly believe that Tai Chi and Qigong are only meant for older adults. In reality, the practice is ideal for people at every age, even kids.
It’s something people can do for years. They can learn how to do it in one class, but it can take a lifetime to perfect and master it. Because of this, there is always something new to discover.
It’s also important to know that the need for better balance is not just for older people. Falling is actually a risk across almost all age groups. Of the 10 leading causes of nonfatal injuries reported in hospital ERs, “unintentional fall” is ranked number one for people of all ages, except people 15 to 24. It’s more common than most of us think!
It’s easy to see why Tai Chi and Qigong are attracting more and more fans. It can be an important component of overall fitness, and because it is slow moving, it can help identify other areas to work on when it comes to cardiovascular or strength training.
The YMCA offers Tai Chi at the Schlessman Family YMCA and Qigong at the Glendale Sports Center at Infinity Park. YMCA’s “Moving for Better Balance,” which uses the principles of Tai Chi to teach people how to prevent falls, is offered at several branches. To learn more, contact us.
Anna Pergola is an accredited Qigong instructor with over 20 years of experience. She is certified to teach T’ai Chi: Moving for Better Balance and has worked for the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment as a Falls Prevention Specialist. A certified lifestyle coach for multiple curriculums, Anna teaches at the Susan M. Duncan YMCA and at the Glendale Sports Center at Infinity Park.