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Building Strength with Tai Chi Chuan

For most people building strength with Tai Chi just doesn’t compute.  Tai Chi is very slow and you seem to be barely exercising.  You are not moving fast, stretching much, or lifting any weights.  How could it possibly be strenuous?

Sometimes, I think certain students pick Tai Chi because it seems to be the least exercise possible.  They want to check the exercise box on their to do list the easiest way possible, without actually doing much exercise.  Boy, are they in for a surprise! Tai Chi is in fact far more exercise than it looks.  Certainly, you can find Tai Chi classes that are extremely gentle and conservative in their movements.  These extremely mild classes are good for the very elderly.  However, if you find anyone who is really qualified in Tai Chi you have found some real exercise.

Build Upper Body Strength with Tai chi

tai chi build strength

Tai Chi builds strength in two main ways.  The first way you are building strength is by holding your arms up continuously for the length of your Tai Chi form.  Depending on the length of your form that could be between 5 and 20 minutes long. Holding your arms up doing anything for over 5 minutes is going to build some strength in your shoulders and entire upper body.  For many people this is actually a lot of exercise.  Again there are some people who absolutely try to minimize this by holding their arms as close to their body as possible and as low as possible.  But that isn’t real Tai Chi, none of the lineage masters perform their Tai Chi this way.  If your arms are up, away from your body,, and extended you will definitely build strength.  If your arms are away from your body, and partially, or fully extended, there is a decent amount of leverage on your shoulders, and they will be working.

Building Leg Strength with Tai Chi

The second main that way Tai Chi builds strength is in your legs.  Done properly Tai Chi should be a terrific workout for your legs.  In Tai Chi, your legs should be bent and your center of gravity lowered throughout your entire Tai Chi form. Keeping your legs bent will cause your thighs in particular, and the rest of your legs in general, to become much stronger.  Building strength in your thighs is healthy, and will make long walks, hiking, and all outdoor activities much easier. It doesn’t look like much, but that slow weight shifting, and stepping with your legs bent can be quite strenuous.  In the beginning, if you are not feeling the strain of exercise in your thighs during your Tai Chi practice, you either have very strong legs, or you need to improve your leg techniques.  Building the strength of your feet, shins, and calves will help you to have rock solid balance.  Maintaining the strength in your legs, especially your feet, shins, and calves, will allow you to remain active, and avoid falls, and the fear of falling, as you age.

Building Strong Hips with Tai Chi

Another way that Tai Chi helps you build strength is less obvious.  This is building the strength of your hips and lower back.  Tai Chi involves continuous rotation of the pelvis.  Rotating the pelvis causes your hips to open and close. This strengthens and exercises all the muscles around your hip joints.  Using the muscles around your hip joints causes the muscles to pull on the bones that they attach to.  This action stimulates the bones to strengthen themselves and add density to the pelvis and thigh bones. Hopefully, this will help to prevent you from needing hip replacements.  (Note: In the case of genetically caused hip degeneration it probably won’t prevent your hip decay.  We can hope it might slow it down a bit.)

Building Mental Strength with Tai Chi

Tai Chi Master Scott Jensen performing Yang Style Tai Chi

Tai Chi Master Scott Jensen performing Yang Style Tai Chi

Tai Chi also builds mental strength.  Most of us rarely think about mental strength.  Keeping your mind strong, able to concentrate, make decisions, and use your will power is incredibly important. It takes considerable concentration to do Tai Chi correctly,  Especially if you practice a longer Tai Chi form.  It is quite easy to let your mind wander as you practice Tai Chi.  At first, people need to concentrate to remember what the next movement is or they forget what they are doing.  With more practice it is easy to remember the movements.  After a little while, you might barely need to pay attention, and you can go through your movements successfully.  However, that is just going through the movements. It is not really playing Tai Chi.  I find Tai Chi takes all of my concentration to do correctly.  Literally every part of your body is involved in Tai Chi.  Every part of your body has a specific action, role and timing in every single movement.

In addition, you’ll want to continuously remain conscious of your breathing.  Following your breath is one of the main forms of meditation.  In Buddhism, it is considered to be one the few objects of meditation that can lead you to the highest states of meditation and concentration.

As you progress in your Tai chi skill, you’ll focus your will power on gathering Qi into your Tan Tian or center. This is the most important form of Qi Gong. Concentrating your Qi in your Tan Tien is considered to be one of the true treasures of Tai Chi.  Concentrating your Qi in the Tan Tien is not easy.  It takes will power, intention, and regular practice to achieve.  Practicing Tai Chi with total mental focus and concentration will definitely strengthen your mind.  Then you will gain both the physical and mental benefits of Tai Chi.

Wishing you success and joy in your Tai Chi.

Learn Tai Chi Now!

I teach Tai Chi group classes in San Rafael, San Anselmo,and Berkeley.  I also offer Tai Chi private lessons throughout Marin county including, Fairfax, Novato, San Geronimo, Lagunitas, Corte Madera, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Ross, and Sausalito.

We have new classes starting in San Rafael at the San Rafael community Center on B street right now!


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