What You Need To Know About The Most Underrated Exercise You're Probably Not Doing
Michael Taylor is a mind-body movement expert, martial artist, and the co-founder of Strala Yoga. In his new mbg class, The Complete Guide To Tai Chi: Everyday Practices To Drop Stress, Release Pain & Create Whole Body Harmony, you’ll learn not only the basics of tai chi, but how to use it to achieve your goals and dreams with ease.
Tai chi teaches us to create a harmonious experience of ourselves in each moment. It's how we learn to form a positive connection with who we are and, from here, form positive connections with everyone we touch.
Of course, it takes some practice—but it's not complicated. Your body responds really well to what you do every day, both for better and worse. So it's important to do something good every day. Even better, it's important to do something that teaches you about your body, your mind, and how to move more easily through your life.
There are a few steps to follow for developing your abilities here, and I'll share them with you below. Keep in mind that progress isn't linear. You begin at the beginning, but continue circling back through each of the steps. Your experience of them will be completely different after a few weeks, again after a few months, and again after a few decades.
This is one of the things I love about tai chi—it's a sustainable practice for life. You can be much better when you're 40 than when you're 20, and again when you're 80 than when you're 40, at finding harmony in your body and mind, creating a positive connection with yourself and others, and handling all kinds of challenge with ease.
Right now, wherever you are is a good time and place to begin.
Learn the mindset and approach of tai chi, and put it into practice in your everyday life. You can begin with simple things, like tai chi exercises, or a fitness class. From here, your practice will form a new set of habits that become your way of being, something that shapes your life for the better when things get more complicated.
Elements 1 and 2 : Softness and breath practice.
Explore the first two practicable elements of tai chi: softness, as a way of practicing with your mind, and breath, as a way of practicing with your energy. This will begin to help you move nicely in your life.
Stand up for a moment. Now flex every muscle you have and lock every joint in your body. From here, try to walk. It doesn't work, right? OK, let's try something different. Take a deep breath and shake that off. Give your whole body a little shimmy that ripples through every inch of you.
To get that ripple effect, your joints will unlock, and your muscles will let go of some of that tension. This is the beginning of softness: the ability to move without inhibiting your own movement. The practice of softness progresses when it begins with your mind. Your body follows your mind.
Stay standing, and give yourself another full-body shimmy, allow a rippling wave to pass through every inch of you. Now close your eyes, and take an extra-long, extra-deep breath in. Hold for a moment at the top, and then take an extra-long, extra-unhurried exhale. Repeat this a few more times.
What do you notice? If your body is soft enough to be movable, one of the first things you'll notice is that your breath moves you. On every inhale it gives you a bit of a lift, putting a little strength into your whole body. And on every exhale, it releases some of the tension, making it just a bit easier to be where you are.
Explore the third practicable element of tai chi, natural movement, as a way to connect with your body, and make it more usable to you. Learn the first five principles of natural movement and put them into everyday action.
Exercise: Start standing comfortably, feet a little wider apart than your hips, so you have a nice stable base. Now take a really deep breath, and let it go. Really let it go. Maybe give yourself a full-body shimmy, just to check that you're movable, no excess tension. From here, start to roll your belly and hips to face the left, then the right, and repeat. Allow your arms to hang easily, and just go along for the ride. You can make this rolling motion continuous from one side to the other, and shift your weight a little more to your left foot as you roll to the left, a little more to your right foot as your roll to the left.
You can also vary the pace and vigor of this rolling. Remember to breathe, but don't worry much about your breath pattern for now. Notice what happens with your arms as you roll around here. They swing! And with practice, you can get your arms to move in any direction, at any speed, just by moving from your center and being relaxed enough in your arms that they go along for the ride. You've just practiced two principles of natural movement: softness, and movement from center. With time and repetition, you'll be able to move your whole body faster for longer without tiring, using these principles as a starting point.
Tai Chi Form, Part 1
Learn basic tai chi forms, and allow these forms to arise naturally out of your movement practice.
This will help you become comfortable with the tai chi vocabulary of movement, which gives a good structure for progress in building a new set of effective habits for tuning in, bringing your whole self into harmony, and moving more gracefully and easily in your life. Find out more in class!
Tai Chi Form, Part 2
Learn the tai chi chuan form. This is a traditional routine that varies a bit from family to family but has common elements that get you ready to move from practice in connecting with yourself to practice in connecting with others. Find out more in my class!
Advanced Practice: Challenge.
What happens when you go for a run, get on the bike, climb a mountain, or wind up in a challenging yoga routine?
In the beginning, your practice of the tai chi mindset, and of natural movement, will make the most sense within a familiar framework of tai chi exercises. With some time and repetition, you'll find this approach and its principles work well within any vocabulary of movement. You might even notice changes in how you cross a street, open a door, or give a presentation at work.