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Tai Chi: Pursuit of Health

By Jean Teller, Sr. Assoc. Editor

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In my role as senior associate editor for GRIT, I spend a lot of time reading and writing about food (you may have noticed – LOL). Food is and has always been an issue for me, and I struggle with my weight. As time passes, I’m becoming more aware of my health, of how I’m not taking care of myself, and that I’m the only one who can take of me. So, with diabetes and fibromyalgia at the top of my health concerns list, I’ve started taking steps in a more healthy direction.

On our Food Forum, I detail a bit of my life with diabetes. I mention that exercise is always a struggle. I found yoga – enjoyed it for a while – and then I discovered tai chi, and I’m hooked.

Tai chi offers a number of health benefits as well as exercise.

In this photo, a woman demonstrates tai chi during the Chinese Culture Days at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. Photo is courtesy Josh Monken/Missouri Botanical Garden.

I suspect that food will always be an issue with me. Chocolate and other junk food choices seem to call the loudest when I’m stressed, tired or upset. So it seems to me that if I can deal with the stress in other ways, I might stand a chance against those yells from the peanut gallery known as the kitchen cupboard.

That’s why I sought out my city’s parks and recreation department’s classes. I’ve set aside the yoga mat for now, and I’m concentrating on tai chi. A weekly class keeps me moving one night a week. The rest of the week, I try to practice as much as I can. I figure any movement these days is a step in the right direction; my couch potato time is a big shorter these days, and that’s a good thing no matter how I look at it.

Tai chi, also known as moving meditation, is defined by Merriam-Webster Online as “an ancient Chinese discipline of meditative movements practiced as a system of exercises.” While there are three basic forms of tai chi, there are hundreds of styles, and no two instructors see the form in exactly the same way. The three basic styles are Yang (most common, with slower and more open movements), Chen (faster and more martial), and Wu (somewhere in the middle). The form I’m learning is called Wu Dan, so it’s a modified Wu style. And I’ve only gotten through the short form, about 5 to 7 minutes long.

The health benefits of tai chi are well documented, and I can attest to some of them myself. My balance has improved, as have my breathing and posture. If I pay attention, I can get some of that stress to disappear, too. Now that I’ve learned the movements to the short form, my instructor and I are working to refine my technique, which to be honest is a bit rough. One of the keys to tai chi is fluidity, making each movement flow easily into the next. I’m also working on keeping the movements slow and even, and focusing on my breathing. I also like tai chi because I can do it anywhere anytime.

For a quick overview of the three styles, visit the Tai Chi Academy’s website. There are many other sites, as well as videos, found on the Internet. And check out the offerings from your local parks and rec, or at local martial arts studios. Here's one of the 61,000 plus videos on

Do you have any experiences with tai chi or other martial arts forms? What’s in your exercise program? Any hints on how I keep motivated and focused?

Tai chi is much too complicated for me to do it justice here. I would urge anyone thinking of a new exercise program to consider tai chi. From my perspective, it is more than worth it. In fact, I’m off to sign up for the next session!