Good Health: Why Young and Old Should Look into Taichi

I started thinking about this post because a good runner friend of mine happens to love Tai Chi. This piqued my interest for sure! Could this be a new sport I’d like to try out in one of my upcoming decades? The questions started rolling…

Since I don’t know very much about Tai Chi, I invited a middle school/high school classmate of mine, Mickey Lee, to give me the scoop, the inside on Tai Chi. He really was the perfect person to clue me in on this martial art sport. Why is he the right one to talk to? He’s an instructor! What??? Yes, friends, I am talking to an expert.

To start, Mickey taught me that the better spelling of Tai Chi is actually Taiji. Wha??!! I had no idea and am so thankful Mickey pointed this out to me first thing. Apparently, Taiji happens to be the more proper Mandarin-to-English spelling for Tai Chi. Thank you Mickey for correcting me and preventing me from future embarrassment!

What is so cool is that Mickey and his mom, Melody, coach together in their own company called Sun and Moon Taiji One, which is located in Bethesda, MD and Falls Church, VA. Mickey has been doing Taiji for a long time (he actually started the Georgetown University Tae Kwon Do Club and helped run it for 14 years) and then started his Taiji journey in 2003. So, with that, if you’ve ever wondered how or why Taiji is a great exercise for both older adults and YOU to consider, check this post out. Welcome to Mickey!

Mickey, why should people consider Taiji as an exercise?

It is a unique form of low-impact exercise in that it works the essential major muscle groups and exercises the mind through challenges of coordination.  Both aspects combined help to promote longevity and quality of life, especially as people age.  Plus, for people like me who hate running, weight-lifting, or other monotonous activity, it is a fun exercise, performing art, sport, and martial art all wrapped up into one terrific life-long pursuit.

What makes Taiji a great exercise to consider? And specifically for older adults? 

There are many health benefits that we have witnessed with our own students (which include improving health problems like stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, knee pain, just to name a few). Here is a helpful recent article by the New York Times.

People might think Taichi is slow, boring, maybe not a good way to get your blood moving…what are common misconceptions? What’s the truth?

The common misconception is that Taiji is for elderly East Asian people chilling out in the parks in the morning.  It is a terrific low-impact exercise suitable for the elderly, often of the Chinese diaspora in parks during the morning hours.  However, it benefits people of all ages because it helps to improve posture, balance, flexibility, strength, focus, and coordination while lowering stress/blood pressure in the form of complex movements that have the potential to be applied in self-defense situations!  Taiji is one of the most complete forms of exercise for the mind and body.  While not explicitly a form of cardiovascular exercise, we have witnessed those who are Black Belt martial artists and a competitive Triathlete become drenched in sweat from our Taiji classes.
When performed by a skillful practitioner, Taiji should be flowing, graceful, and balletic while powerful and martial in its intent.  When performed as a pair or group, it should add a mesmerizing element of synchronicity and collective energy

If someone wanted to start Taiji, where should they start? Are there certain Taiji stances or movements that are good to practice in the beginning?  Do you have to do it with an instructor? 

From our experience, you need an instructor–specifically one who is a skillful practitioner as well as a teacher of the art who is capable of conveying it to the student AND willing to share said knowledge (some teachers are not very open to fully sharing the precious knowledge they know).  Taiji can be very complicated and difficult because it requires a ton of coordination just to follow the basic outline movements; simply following a DVD (I was almost going to say a videotape) or online video simply does not work in reality.  Unless you are a very seasoned practitioner, you need to learn from an instructor–videos are supplementary rather than accounting for the bulk of learning.

What recommendations do you have for someone starting out?

Search online and seek out a Taiji instructor who is a skillful practitioner as well as capable and willing teacher.  Then, try out a class and see if you have the right chemistry with the instructor.  Finding a good instructor you click with is essential.  The distance to this teacher should not matter–we have students who drive ~90 miles round-trip to our classes–twice a week!  It all boils down to how much you value improving your quality of life with the multitude of benefits Taiji offers.

Thank you Mickey for visiting About Being Old today!