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Tai Chi – Low impact exercise with high impact results

Tai Chi is recognised world wide for promoting health, developing combat and self- defence skills and improving concentration and overall well being. The Retiree Magazine spoke to Australia’s highest ranking instructor Master Han Jin Song about the history of Tai Chi and how it is the ideal exercise as we enter our 50s and beyond.

“Whoever practices Tai Chi regularly will in time gain the suppleness of a child, the strength of a lion and the peace of mind of a sage” – old Chinese saying

Can you share with us the history of Tai Chi?

Based on the available historical data, Tai Chi was firstly created about 400 years ago in Chen Village, Henan province, China by Chen Wang Ting who combined Chinese Martial Arts with Chinese Medicine theory, Yin/Yang philosophy and Internal Qi Gong to create a new form of martial art in slow motion called Tai Chi Chuan, known as Tai Chi in the West. Although originally developed (and still practiced) as a martial arts system, Tai Chi has been practiced for general health and fitness purposes since the 16th Century.

What are the benefits of Tai Chi, particularly for those who entering their 50s and beyond?

Tai Chi is a low impact exercise developed by the Ancient Chinese as a powerful self-healer. It has been adopted worldwide for health and therapeutic benefits. It provides general wellness and long life by cultivating the body’s vital energy (chi)to nourish the body, mind and spirit. The movements combine deep breathing, meditative techniques and inner strengthening to give a holistic experience.

Tai Chi is fun, easy and safe to learn. The movements are slow, gentle and relaxed. Controlled breathing promotes lung capacity, oxygen in take and better blood circulation. The immune system is re-enforced helping to prevent disease. Regular practice and refinement improve quality of life – harmony of the inner and outer self is achieved. Extensive research shows that Tai Chi helps seniors and people with chronic diseases such as Arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease and Diabetes. It improves physical strength, flexibility, fitness, balance and coordination reducing the incidence of falls. Pain and stiffness are eased. It calms the nervous system giving inner peace, releasing stress and symptoms of depression and insomnia. Mental alertness and memory also improves.

Are there different styles of Tai Chi and are any particularly suitable for the mid to older demographics?

Many variations of Tai Chi are practiced, the principle styles being Yang, Chen, Sun, Wu and Woo. While each style has it own characteristics, the principles involved remain the same. According to Master Han, it’s the Yang style that has been responsible for the spread in popularity of the practice of Tai Chi for health and relaxation, and also the most suitable style for the seniors.

Is there a required level of fitness to practice Tai Chi?

People can learn Tai Chi regardless of age, body type or physical capability. It can be practiced outside in a park or inside in a limited space.

Master Han Jin Song showcases Tai Chi in Melbourne’s Federation Square.
Master Han Jin Song showcases Tai Chi in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

What should people wear when they are practicing Tai Chi?

Loose and comfortable clothing and flat shoes.

What are the important points people should consider when they are practicing Tai Chi?

  1. SOFTNESS:
    All movements should be relaxed. Exert no unnecessary strength. All movements must be carried out with softness. Only sufficient strength is to be used to carry the movement out correctly. The impression must always be of fluidity. The old adage of an iron fist in a velvet glove applies.
  2. IDEATION: VISUALISATION
    The mind leads and controls the body. Visualise the movement. At all times, visualisation is to be used both before and during the movement to improve the position and flow during the exercise.
  3. SLOWNESS
    Allows practice precise control and awareness. All moves must be performed slowly. This is an aid in memorising the moves. The control needed to perform the moves slowly also increases the concentration required to carry out the moves. The moves are also carried out with a greater degree of accuracy when performed slowly. In some of the advanced forms, there are a few moves which are carried out at a faster rate as a means of displaying the explosive power in them.
  4. EVENNESS:
    There should be no stops or gaps. “Flow like a great river.” Maintain control and coordination of movement. All the moves must be performed at an even tempo. There should be no variation in speed between the different moves.
  5. ROUNDNESS
    In all movements, limbs should be naturally extended, yet relaxed and well rounded. All the moves have a degree of roundness to them. There are no absolutely straight moves. The degree of roundness may be due to the bend in the limbs or in the actual movement itself.
  6. DIFFERENTIATE YIN AND YANG:
    (Substantial and insubstantial) There is continual change from substantial to insubstantial. Avoid double weightedness. While all Yin includes a small portion of Yang and all Yang includes a small portion of Yin, it is also necessary to differentiate between the two, ie. between solid and empty stances.
  7. BREATHING:
    Should be “fine, long, calm and slow”, relaxed and ultimately combined with the movements.
  8. ALL PARTS MOVE AS ONE:
    When one part of the body moves, all parts move.

What are some of the most common moves in Tai Chi?

Part the Horse’s Mane
White Crane Spreads Wings
Brush Knee
Play Guitar
Repulse Monkey
Grasping the Bird’s Tail
Cloud Hands
Snake Creeps Down
Golden Cock on Left Leg
Needle at Sea Bottom to Fan Through to the Back

Tai Chi seems to be growing in popularity, with many local councils offering free classes in local parks. Is there any thing people should look out for to ensure the instructors are suitably qualified?

  1. Ask a prospective instructor how long he/she has practiced tai chi (should be at least two years) and how long he/she has trained to become an instructor – this should be at least one year systematically trained, not just a weekend training Course.
  2. Ask a prospective instructor if he/she or his school has Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance cover? It is always better to sight the Certificate of the Insurance if possible.
Master Han Jin Song
TAI CHI MASTERMaster Han Jin Song has practiced Tai Chi since 1971. He graduated from Beijing Sport University with a Tai Chi (Wushu) Bachelor Degree and later gained a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology (Victoria University). He is a Disciple of Grand Master Chen Xiaowang – the 19th Generation and keeper of Chen Style Tai Chi and is one of only two Australians who have been ranked 8th Duan (the second highest grading in the world that can be obtained under the Duan Wei system) by the Chinese Tai Chi (Wushu) Association, the highest ranking in Australia.

Since 1984, Master Han Jin Song has coached and taught at elite level, including coaching national and International Gold Medal students at the China Olympic School. He was the Australian National Team Head Coach from 1995 to 2008 at the World Tai Chi (Wushu) Championships.

Master Han Jin Song founded Tai Chi Australia in 1992. He has worked with health practitioners and research organisations in Australia and overseas to accredit Tai Chi with proven health benefits for chronic diseases and debilitating conditions.

More InformationWhere can readers find more information on where they can learn Tai Chi?
VICTORIA & TASMANIA
www.taichiaustralia.com.au
03 9889 9999
NSW
www.tcfa.com.au
02 9686 2282
SOUTH AUSTRALIA
www.taichi.com.au
08 8371 2488
QUEENSLAND AND WA
www.livingchi.com.au
02 9797 9355
ACT
www.canberrawushu.com
0403 063 150