T'ai Chi For Dummies book cover

T'ai Chi For Dummies

By: Therese Iknoian Published: 08-30-2001

For nearly 5,000 years, people have practiced T’ai Chi as a way to prolong life, build strength and stamina, improve concentration, and achieve psychological balance. Hundreds of millions of satisfied customers can’t be wrong.

Whether you already dabble in T’ai Chi and would like to get a deeper understanding of the basics, or you’re only thinking about trying it and want to find out more before you take the plunge, T’ai Chi For Dummies is for you. In plain English, Therese Iknoian and Manny Fuentes demystify T’ai Chi principles and practices for Westerners. They unravel exotic sounding terms and concepts and break down movements in ways that more traditional instructors and authors either can’t or won’t. And with the help of crystal-clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions, they get you on track with a T’ai Chi fitness program guaranteed to help you:

  • Increase balance and flexibility
  • Combat fatigue and reduce stress
  • Tone muscles
  • Unlock your power centers and boost energy
  • Improve focus and concentration
  • Breathe “mindfully” and meditate
  • Enhance your sense of inner peace and well-being

Discover just how easy it can be to make T’ai Chi and its sister discipline Qigong part of your everyday life. With this friendly reference as your guide you’ll quickly master the basic movements and forms, as well as:

  • T’ai Chi’s Yang 24-Movement Form
  • Qigong and Push Hands techniques
  • Techniques that help speed recovery from specific injuries
  • T’ai Chi movements for aerobic exercise
Exercise is good for the body and soul. Now let Therese Iknoian and Manny Fuentes show you how to energize, find inner peace, and tone your muscles with the gentle art of T’ai Chi.

Articles From T'ai Chi For Dummies

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29 results
T’ai Chi For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-22-2022

The ancient practice of T’ai Chi and Qigong includes postures and movements, as well as a philosophy. T’ai Chi also has its own lingo — words and concepts you need to know.

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The Benefits of Practicing T'ai Chi

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Practicing T’ai Chi on a regular basis may give you physical and mental benefits, depending on how much, at what intensity, with what seriousness, and how often you incorporate it into your life. Some of the benefits listed here aren’t completely proven by fully recognized scientific studies. Nonetheless, the various benefits of T'ai Chi may include the following: Better cholesterol levels Decreased depression Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease Increased immunity (less sickness) Increased muscle strength and flexibility Less lower back pain Less asthma Developing better balance with T'ai Chi Good balance has been easier to study than some other areas. And T’ai Chi develops this skill well. The physical balance that you can hone through the movements in T’ai Chi can train the proprioception of the nerves and muscles (basically, the muscle sense). When the muscles and nerves can sense correctly how and when to contract or fire, you don’t fall or get hurt. Staying upright can help decrease not only sports injuries but also broken hips in seniors, especially if a senior’s bones are affected by bone-weakening osteoporosis. Stamping out stress with T'ai Chi A slow and prolonged exhalation (the breathing out part of breathing) has been shown to enhance a reaction in the body that causes overall muscular relaxation. If you are more relaxed, you handle your stress and your emotions more easily, and you may even sleep better. When you aren’t bound up by stress and anxiety, you feel better on a day-to-day basis. But living without stress and anger may also lower your blood pressure, lower your bad cholesterol level, and cause decreases in other factors that can raise your risk of heart disease. Managing chronic disease with T'ai Chi Chronic disease can mean any number of medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), arthritis, fibromyalgia (a muscle disease that causes ongoing pain), or just chronic pain. Practicing full and deep breathing can stimulate the lungs and can cause positive increases in the amount of air you can get into and out of your lungs. If you can get more air in and more air out, you may be able to diminish the effects of asthma or other breathing ailments. People with arthritis or other kinds of joint pain know that every move can hurt, so they tend to move less. And the reduced movement causes the muscles and tendons that support their joints to get very weak. Over the years, studies have shown that simple, gentle movements help relieve arthritis and other chronic pain and allow people with these ailments to function better day-to-day. T’ai Chi has been used as the gentle movement needed to stimulate the joints and free up movement to relieve pain. This same kind of movement may help alleviate chronic pain. Fostering fitness with T'ai Chi Maybe T’ai Chi is also about complementing your overall fitness — balancing muscles, strengthening them, helping them become more flexible, or helping your heart and lungs develop more aerobic capacity. Maybe you want to finish a marathon or ride a bike better up hills. Even the gentle movements involved in T’ai Chi can help. For someone old or young who is very out of shape, the gentle movements of T’ai Chi can push muscles to get stronger and more flexible. Of course, if you push your forms a bit faster, make the squatting movements lower, or make the kicks higher, you can improve your muscles and flexibility even more — perhaps as much as with some traditional exercise. Some studies in Asia have shown more flexibility and strength as a result of a T’ai Chi practice.

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Improving Your Flexibility through T'ai Chi

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

You can perform T'ai Chi routines to target a specific area, such as flexibility in your trunk, hips, back, and legs. This is helpful if you don’t have enough time available for a complete T'ai Chi practice. Lunging side to side in T'ai Chi Lunging side to side is a warm-up movement, depicted below. By taking a wide stance and sliding your hips back and forth, you stretch not only your hips but also your inner thighs and legs. Kick with Left Heel — Kick with Right Heel in T'ai Chi For the best stretch, do the Kick with Left Heel — Kick with Right Heel movements slowly, lifting each leg as high as you can while keeping good body position. If you want, you can do this mini-form without the arms and hands so that you can focus on the leg and lower body position. These kicks fine-tune balance and leg strength. Start in a good T’ai Chi Posture. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees slightly, relax your chest and shoulders, and let your arms hang naturally at your sides. Step into the first Kick with Heel, choosing one side to start. Be sure to inhale before you start and be sure to exhale with the kicks. After your foot has reached its peak, lower it slowly to the floor and put your weight on it, shifting your body so your opposite foot lifts off the ground and you're in a Centering Step. From the Centering Step, do the Kick with Heel on the opposite side. Repeat this sequence. You move slightly forward with each kick. A little bonus to this sequence is the balance and leg strength that the kicks help fine-tune.

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T'ai Chi's Standing Meditation

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

For quieting the mind, calming the body, and developing chi, nothing surpasses T'ai Chi's standing meditation practice. It can give you an even better (and more peaceful) kick-start to your day than that cuppa joe. You can also use standing meditation to give yourself a little stress-free oasis in your day. (Try the bathroom stall at your office if you have to — who will be the wiser?) This is also a fine way to unwind at day’s end. Any time is a meditative time, but dawn and dusk are the tops: Dawn: Yang energy of the day begins to grow, and yin energy of the night begins to wane at dawn. Practicing meditation in the morning allows you to greet the day with a fresh, open, and relaxed mind, ready to face whatever the day brings. Dusk: Yang energy dissipates, while yin energy grows as the sun sets. Practicing in the evening allows the accumulated mental sludge and sediment to settle or even drift away so that you can enjoy a peaceful evening. The Standing Like a Tree forms are important calming stances and powerful developers of the mind and energy flow. Do your daily Standing Like a Tree meditation with several arm positions, or alternate one each day. Here are some variations to try (as depicted from left to right, below): Place palms on table top: Hold your hands in front of your hips with the palms facing down and the elbows slightly bent. Fingers are facing forward and are spread slightly without being forced. You feel as if you have your palms resting on a hip-high table in front of you. Embrace the tree: Hold your arms out in front of you with the elbows soft and rounded. A slight curve goes from your shoulder down to your fingertips. Imagine that you are hugging a tree very gently. Frame your face: This is the most advanced position because it takes the most endurance to hold your arms up. Lift your hands up so that they frame your face. You kind of look like you are holding very large binoculars except your palms are turned slightly more outward and your fingers are softly extended.

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Understanding T'ai Chi Forms and Mindful Movement

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Most people who know a little about T’ai Chi think of its movements, called forms. But T’ai Chi isn't just about moving in interesting ways with your body (making the shapes of T'ai Chi). You actually build on the principles of mindful movement so you can gain healthful benefits. Every movement in T’ai Chi has its origin in some martial application. Sure, the movements look pretty. They flow. They look graceful. But behind the curtain of beauty, the movements are self-defense applications. Knowing this information can help you learn the movements even if you never plan to do combat with them, because you know why you pull back or why you place a hand in front of your face. Focusing on T'ai Chi forms Learning a single move in isolation is one thing. But learning an entire series of forms (or movements) that make up an entire sequence is an entirely different thing. Imagine learning the waltz. You pick up one box step just dandy. But what happens when you want not only to string together a whole bunch of steps but also to flow while you're doing them? To find the flow in T’ai Chi — as in waltzing — and the energy needed to achieve it, you need to learn entire sequences, not just one itty-bitty step in isolation. Of course, you don't need to learn all the steps at once! T’ai Chi is a lifetime practice. But if you aren't ready to dedicate your life, you can practice a few minutes every few days or an hour or two a week so you can learn the techniques of the forms and their sequencing. The forms are your alphabet, and after they become linked, they are your T’ai Chi vocabulary. All together, the forms are indispensable for developing balance, honing coordination, and building strength. They also help you move the chi within your body. Forms help you fine-tune the energy flow that helps unblock chi in your body. Practicing the principles of T'ai Chi Forms also provide an excellent vehicle for learning to apply the principles of T’ai Chi. Although you may come to T'ai Chi for the movement, you may find that you want stay for the principles and the internal changes that you experience. Nothing gives you a better chance to work on the principles than the forms. Knowledge of the forms is essential to learning to move with the physical and mental relaxation that T’ai Chi requires. You can’t practice good T’ai Chi — physically or mindfully — while making a mental shopping list or worrying about your next project at work. Training in forms lays a sound physical and mental foundation for everything you do in T’ai Chi. It allows you to work on the opening of the joints, the stretching of the muscles, and the development of song (pronounced sung). Song refers to relaxing and sinking your body lower. Maintaining mental focus ensures that the mind and body work together harmoniously.

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Ways to Supplement Your T'ai Chi Practice

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Trying or reading about other things can supplement your practice so your T’ai Chi actually becomes better. Take a look at the following items, any one of which can help you become a more well-rounded and better T’ai Chi practitioner: Read a little Taoism: Taoism (dow-ism) is the philosophy underlying T’ai Chi, as well as other Chinese internal martial arts or spiritual and health practices, such as Qigong. Taoism, as a philosophy of going about your life, is not a religion (although it can be a religion practiced in other ways), and it doesn’t request that you give up your current beliefs. This kind of Taoism is a way of living in — and looking at — the world harmoniously. It advocates simplicity and selflessness. Understanding the basic principles of Taoism can enhance your T’ai Chi practice, particularly a solid understanding of the concept of yin and yang. Watch T’ai Chi videos: You can always pick up more by watching other teachers. If you choose to study with a teacher, videos can help you with lessons in class. If you study on your own, videos can help expand your world with extra instruction. Every teacher has his or her own way of doing things. Be open-minded to these variations. Expose yourself to them gladly. Only with a broader view can you determine what is best for you. Peruse T’ai Chi books: Books can be a valuable supplement to your practice, although finding out all you need to from one book is difficult. However, books can be great resources and references as you progress along the path. For starters, check out T'ai Chi For Dummies by Therese Iknoian (published by Wiley). Watch yourself on video: Just as watching sports on TV can be an enlightening way to pick up technique — good and bad! — watching yourself can be an eye-opener, too. Try meditating: Meditation, in some small way, is a part of every good T’ai Chi class or practice session. So what about the sitting meditations? They are another facet of a practice and are something you can try apart from your T’ai Chi session. Practice mentally: Great athletes visualize or mentally rehearse a game or technique as a part of training. You can do the same thing. Start by relaxing your mind with a little meditation. Then visualize yourself moving through a T’ai Chi movement or form. Dabble in other martial arts: Reading books, studying with teachers of other martial arts styles, or even watching a few Jackie Chan movies (really!) can enhance your practice and open your mind to additional applications of your T’ai Chi techniques. Apply T’ai Chi principles to everything you do: There are opportunities to put a little T’ai Chi practice into practically everything you do. Here are a few physical ways: Sink a little and do some abdominal breathing when stuck in a line at the bank or grocery store. Write T’ai Chi-style. Grasp the pen or pencil with the least amount of force necessary. Drive with a relaxed grip on the steering wheel rather than white-knuckling your way down the road. Pull doors open by shifting your weight rather than pulling with your arms.

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Visualizing and Using Your Mind in T'ai Chi

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

When you start to perform any action in T’ai Chi, you visualize it. In other words, you think it through first. Don't just let your mind go along for the ride — use it to see not only what you’re going to do, but sort of inside what you’re going to do. You see yourself completing it. You imagine the energy flowing to all the right places. You know that you’re relaxed, not tense. And you can even visualize the breath moving in and out and through your body. Visualizing connects many of the mind-body concepts of T'ai Chi. Because visualizing is not just about relaxing, breathing, and aligning. It’s about seeing it. And visualizing is not just about mechanically doing something the way that you are told. It’s about feeling it. In the practice of Hsing-I, otherwise known as “mind-shape boxing,” the mind forms the intent, and the body follows. The mental aspects make internal martial arts, such as T’ai Chi, more than just ways to use the body. They become platforms for the discovery and elevation of your character. Jim Lau, a well-known instructor of a martial art called Wing-Chun, has said: “I can defeat you physically with or without a reason. But I can only defeat your mind with a reason.” Use your mind, and the body will follow. When you start doing some mindful movements in T’ai Chi, you may not be sure where to look with your eyes. Your eyes may sort of skip about, catching some dust that you should wipe up on a shelf, something on the floor that you should put away, or a neighbor in the yard next door. Wandering eyes distract you from putting T’ai Chi concepts into full practice. You need to see — without truly seeing. Here’s a tip: Soften your gaze as if your eyes are open but nobody’s home. You want to look inward and focus on your breath and relaxation. Let the gaze follow your fingertips, although you aren’t really looking at them. The eyeballs are just moving in the same direction. You can also try some movements with your eyes closed, but work into keeping them open or halfway open.

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What is T'ai Chi?

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

T’ai Chi (properly pronounced tie-jee, but often heard as tie-chee in the West) is an ancient martial art focusing on smooth, slow movements that cultivate inward focus and free energy flow. T'ai Chi — compared to fighting arts — wants you to use your mind to focus and move. Some people even call T’ai Chi a moving meditation. T’ai Chi is rooted in the Taoist (pronounced dow-ist) philosophy of harmonious living. You may hear the term mind-body fitness to describe movement forms like T’ai Chi, as well as other stuff like yoga. That term is basically interchangeable with the descriptor mindful. Although the definition of mindful movement is changing practically daily, one can loosely describe it as a “physical exercise executed with a profound inwardly directed focus.” In other words, you use your muscles, but you also engage your mind. T’ai Chi is a member of the martial arts family, just like all the other practices in which you engage in flamboyant, teeth-kicking combat. They all belong to the family called Wushu, which basically means “martial art” or traditional self-defense activities practiced with or without weapons. Other Wushu forms date back much further than T’ai Chi. If you observe the movements of those participating in a T'ai Chi class (for example, the circling, torso-turning, hand-pushing, and leg lifting), you can to see the resemblance to fighting martial arts. The T'ai Chi form "Grasp the Bird's Tail" includes several different T'ai Chi movements. Although some people practice T’ai Chi to perfect these movements (called forms), to gain inner strength, and to improve their combative martial arts, most people in the West practice T’ai Chi for the peace, inner calm, focus, energy, balance, stress relief, and body control.

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Discovering Qigong, a Variation of T'ai Chi

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Qigong (chee-gung) covers a lot of different types of movements and practices that involve using and feeling the body's energy. That can include being healed by someone else's energy, passively meditating in a way that unblocks and uses your energy better, and moving in a meditative way that unblocks your energy channels. The whole point of Qigong is to work with your energy — that's the qi (chee) part, which is just another spelling of chi (the word you more commonly see in the West) — to get it to move better so you can feel better and be healthier. Qigong has innumerable systems — health, medical, spiritual, and even combat-oriented systems — that advocate perhaps hundreds or even thousands of movements and even some passive and non-moving practices. And different teachers and different schools all find what they think are the best ways to accomplish the goal of tapping into the energy. All of this information can be pretty bewildering to the beginning student! Where do you start? What, if anything, do you add to a T’ai Chi practice? Why should I add something? For now, realize the following about Qigong: Qigong is an important element of a full T’ai Chi practice. You can choose to do more, less, or none of the movements depending on your needs, time, and focus. You may find that Qigong can help you perform better T’ai Chi. Some people believe that T’ai Chi itself is a complex form of Qigong. Other purists disagree, believing they are separate and distinct mindful arts. But just as modern dance is an offshoot of ballet, both parts can be important if you want to fully delve into, explore, and learn the art. With so many styles and movements to choose from, there is most certainly a Qigong style for everyone. All it takes is a willingness to explore.

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Following the Principles of T'ai Chi

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

T’ai Chi is not only about the movements (or forms), but about the principles by which you practice the movements. If you tap into the principles of T'ai Chi properly, you discover the stillness in the movement and, in turn, the energy that flows through your spirit. If you don’t tap into the principles, T’ai Chi becomes nothing but a series of dance steps without a soul. Slow down. This is the Grand Ultimate Principle because you begin to find all the benefits of T'ai Chi if you go slowly. Take it easy. Forcing things is an antithesis in T’ai Chi. Physical and mental stress makes you tense up and get all the forms wrong. Think in curves. Movement in T’ai Chi is always curved and circular, never straight and linear. This allows one movement to flow seamless to the next and promotes a better flow of your chi (energy). Be simple. Live fully. Live naturally. And be simple at your core. Sink lower. In other words, let your knees relax and bend at the joint. This grounds you, lets energy flow from the earth into your body, and allows you to overpower your opponent by getting beneath his or her energy and center. Balance your movements. Just as all things in the universe are reciprocal, T’ai Chi is about balancing your moves — for example, forward and back, weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing, and reach and pull back. This is based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, in which all living things are opposing yet complementary. Stay balanced. Both physically and mentally, good balance is essential to good T’ai Chi — and to life. Move the whole package. Your whole body, not just a wrist or leg, is a part of T'ai Chi movement. Think action-reaction. Think flow. Go with the flow. Think smooth as silk. Move and think as if you are on wheels. Not herky-jerky with breaks. That cuts into your energy flow. Stay rooted. Always feel that you are firmly planted on the ground. This applies not only to T’ai Chi but also to life — what else is new? Like the forms and names in T’ai Chi, the list of principles varies slightly depending on the school, teacher, or style. No set list is handed down from generation to generation. But if you look and listen closely, you find that the core of any set of T'ai Chi principles is identical.

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