As of 2007, more than 2.3 million adults in the United States had tried tai chi for stress reduction or to combat the effects of aging, according to The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. While it can take a lifetime to fully understand the nuances of this ancient Chinese form of moving meditation, it only takes a few minutes to learn some basic tai chi exercises and begin to reap the benefits.
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Basic Tai Chi Stance
Stand with your feet close together. Turn your left foot so your toe is pointing 45 degrees outward. Slide your right foot straight forward until it is a full step ahead of you. You are now in a basic tai chi stance. In pushing waves and tai chi stepping, you’ll maintain this 45-degree angle at all times. Make sure that you aren’t stepping across yourself. Check by drawing your front foot back in a straight line. If it passes your back foot without your heels hitting each other, your stance is correct.
Pushing waves is a great way to use the basic tai chi stance and enjoy the meditative benefits of continuous movement. Place your feet in the basic tai chi stance. Push forward, driving your back foot into the floor and straightening your back leg, while bending your front knee. As you push forward, extend your hands straight in front of you at chest height. Push back, driving your front foot into the floor to straighten your front leg, while bending your back leg. As you push back, your hands retreat with you. Bend your elbows slightly. Repeat 20 to 30 times before changing your feet and working on the other side.
Pushing waves is most effective when you visualize yourself as a wave breaking on the shore as you push back, and as a powerful swell lifting a boat as you push forward, notes Ramel Rones, martial arts gold medalist and consultant of mind/body therapies at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, in his book “Sunrise Tai Chi.”
Tai Chi Stepping
Tai chi stepping is designed to build leg strength and help you develop better balance. Begin in the basic tai chi stance, with your right foot forward, your right leg bent, and your left leg straight. Stand up by pushing your right leg into the ground, and rolling up off the left heel. Your weight should be primarily on the front leg.
Bend your right leg and pick up your left foot. As you sink deeply onto the right leg, bring the left leg forward. Place the left foot on the ground a full step in front of you, maintaining the 45-degree angle between your feet. Keep your weight over your right leg; don’t throw your weight forward as you step. Push your weight onto the front leg by straightening the right leg and bending the front leg. Stand up, rolling off the back heel. Sink to bring the back leg through. Repeat. Tai chi stepping becomes easier the more you can achieve whole body relaxation, notes Robert Chuckrow, tai chi practitioner since 1970 and instructor in Northern Westchester, New York.