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Tai Chi Basic Steps for Beginners

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.

Although Tai Chi is technically a martial art, it doesn't involve fighting. Rather, it's a slow-moving and deliberate form of exercise that teaches you how to find your center of gravity and move gracefully.

Tai Chi has a reputation of being popular among the elderly, probably because it improves balance and coordination. There's also a very low risk of injury when practicing Tai Chi, making it a gentle art. However, even a youngster can benefit from this activity.

After you master some of the basic moves, you can put them together into a coordinated, flowing workout.

Dan Tian Breathing

Controlling your breath in Tai Chi is a big part of the practice. There are two ways to think about breathing — the first is to adapt your breathing to every single movement, and the second way is to use the same breath through all of the movements. It's much simpler to keep your breathing the same through your Tai Chi practice. Long, slow, and deep breaths relaxe you and complements the graceful nature of Tai Chi.

Dan Tian Breathing helps you work on this style of breath and getting air deep into your lungs, either while sitting or standing.

Step 1

Put one hand below your belly button and one hand above. Breathe into your lower abdomen, pushing out both hands.

Step 2

Breathe out and use the muscles of your pelvic floor and lower abdomen contract. You should feel the muscles under your bottom hand tighten.

Once you are comfortable with this style of breathing you can incorporate it into your practice.

Read More: The 8 Best Tai Chi Movements for Health

Horse Stance

Horse stance offers a lot of power and stability and is often used in other martial arts, such as Karate. To get into horse stance, start by spreading your feet wide. Your toes should be pointed forwards as much as possible. Then, squat down slightly, feeling your leg muscles contract. There are a few movements in Tai Chi that begin in this pose, but a beginner can start with simple breathing exercises, such as practicing Dan Tian breathing.

Ball of Energy

If you watch someone perform Tai Chi, you'll probably see a series of exercises where it looks like they are holding an imaginary ball. The ball is known as a "qi ball," or life force energy. To make a ball, start by briskly rubbing your hands together like you are trying to get warm. Then, pull your hands apart and push them back together without touching, feeling the warmth between your hands. From here, rotate your hands around the ball and add in some flowing steps while holding the ball.

Beak Hand

Hand movements are added into plenty of Tai Chi moves, and one of the most popular is the beak hand. To form a beak hand, start by bending your wrist down. Next, touch your thumb to your pinkie finger, ring finger, middle finger and the index finger. You'll use this hand motion consistently in your Tai Chi practice, including movements like the Single Whip.

Withdraw and Push

Pulling energy toward you and pushing it away is very useful in martial arts, whether you're literally pulling someone in and pushing them or throwing a punch and pulling it back. Like all Tai Chi movements, this will be practiced slow and under control.

Step 1

Start with your left foot forward and right foot back, turned out at a slight angle.

Step 2

Bend your left knee and lean on that leg. Your arms should be stretched out in front of you, elbows slightly bent and hands facing each other.

Step 3

Lean back toward your right leg and bend the knee, straightening your left knee. As you do this, breathe in through your nose and pull your hands in toward your waist, turning your palms to face forward.

Step 4

When your hands are at your waist and all your weight is on your right leg, slowly push forwards and breathe out. Gradually bring all your weight back to your left leg and push your arms out straight.

Spreading Your Wings

Gently stretching your chest and shoulders, this exercise also lays the foundation for other exercises, such as the White Crane, which involves "spreading your wings."

Read More: Tai Chi Exercises and Movements

Step 1

Start with your left foot forward. Breathe in and raise your arms in front of your body, chest high, with elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other.

Step 2

Breathe out and slowly rock your weight back to your right foot.

Step 3

At the same time, spread your arms out like you're spreading imaginary wings. Spread your arms as wide as you can, then breathe in and return to the starting position.

Step 4

Alternate between spreading your wings and closing them.

Basic Stepping

Stepping in Tai Chi should be smooth and fluid. When you step, keep your center of gravity low and try to roll your foot smoothly on the ground from your heel to your toe. Your body shouldn't go up or down as you step to avoid putting extra pressure on your feet. This type of step is more fluid than regular walking because it's less jarring.

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