How to Get Started with Tai Chi

Question: I have osteoarthritis and find that I am getting stiff. My exercise plan includes Zumba classes, which are less and less satisfying. One of my friends has recommended tai chi, but I don’t really know what it is. I want to stay active and want to use my time effectively. What do you suggest?

Answer: You are definitely not alone in your wish to continue with a satisfying exercise program. As we age, high-impact activities become increasingly difficult to tolerate. I’m happy to recommend tai chi, as it is one of my preferred forms of exercise. I bruised a disc several years ago after a fall on the ice, and tai chi became a part of my recovery.

It has its origins in Chinese tradition that, today, is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. Tai chi involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner accompanied by deep breathing. Participants engage in a set of postures that flow into each other without pause, ensuring that the body is in constant motion. It is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it generally safe for all ages and fitness levels.

It is inexpensive and requires no special equipment. I attend classes at my local YMCA that are led by a well-trained master of the art. She ensures that we practice the postures correctly and pace ourselves effectively. I have found that tai chi has improved my muscle strength and definition, flexibility, balance, and agility, and increased energy and stamina. Try it out. I was surprised that it’s such a workout considering that the process is deliberate and graceful.

Our expert: Jackson Rainer is a board-certified clinical psychologist who practices with the Care and Counseling Center in Decatur, Georgia, helping people living with chronic illnesses. He consults with a variety of experts to answer a selection of readers’ questions in each issue of Pain-Free Living.

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