Tai Chi Basic Steps for Beginners

Senior man practicing tai chi on beach
A man practices Tai Chi on a beach (Image: Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art form often referred to as the practice of "meditation in motion." The gentle, flowing movements in Tai Chi promote relaxation, stress relief and conscious awareness of the present moment. Tai Chi may help reduce stress, depression and anxiety, improve your balance and coordination, lower your blood pressure and promote better sleep, among many other benefits. Because it is a gentle, low-impact exercise, Tai Chi is generally suitable for people of any level of physical fitness.

Warm Up

Warming up your body is important for facilitating Tai Chi movements. According to Tai Chi instructor Ellae Elinwood in her book, "Stay Young With Tai Chi," Tai Chi warm ups not only help open your body, they also promote a relaxed attitude and encourage a state of well being. One basic Tai Chi warm up is the waist loosening exercise. Stand with your feet parallel and slightly wider than hip-width distance apart. Relax your arms by your sides. Rotate your hips to the right and then the left, allowing your arms to follow the movement of your body. Let your arms hang loosely and flap against your body as you make each rotation. When your body has warmed up, incorporate your neck, shoulders and spine in the rotations, making each movement smooth and fluid.

Windmill Exercise

The windmill exercise is one of the basic Tai Chi movements for promoting flexibility and opening up your spine. Stand with your feet parallel and slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart. Relax your shoulders and let your arms hang loosely. Bring your hands in front of your body by your pubic bone, with your fingers pointing down toward the floor. Inhale and raise your arms up the center of your body and over your head, fingers pointing up. Stretch toward the ceiling and arch your spine slightly backward. Exhale and slowly bend forward to the floor, moving your hands down the center of your body. Bend forward from your hip joint, allowing your arms to hang loosely in front of you. Inhale and return to your starting posture.

Knee Rolls

Knee rolls encourage mobility in your spine and knees and can help improve your balance. Stand with your feet a few inches apart and your knees slightly bent. Place your hands on your knees with your fingers pointing toward each other. Rotate your knees in a circle, rolling from the left, back, right and front, as though you are tracing a large circle on the floor with your knees. Perform the circular motion in clockwise, then counter-clockwise, directions.

Hand Exercises

The Tai Chi hand exercises help open up your hands and promote flexibility in your shoulders, arms and fingers. Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width distance apart. Raise your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor at shoulder height. Stretch your hands as wide as you can, then begin rotating your wrists in a clockwise and then counter-clockwise direction.

Closing Posture

The Tai Chi closing posture is performed at the end of a Tai Chi practice to balance your energy and promote feelings of relaxation and stillness. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. Relax your shoulders and bring your hands in a cupped-position with your palms facing up, resting in front of your pelvis. Close your eyes. Inhale and imagine that you are pulling your energy upward as your bring your hands up the center of you body to your chest. Exhale and rotate your hands so your palms are facing down. Imagine you are pushing your energy down as you push your hands toward the floor. Perform several repetitions of this exercise.

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