Tai chi is an excellent choice for beginners and for those who haven’t exercised in a long time. However, despite its reputation for being the supreme “gentle workout,” tai chi can cause injury if one doesn’t perform the correct approach. The following are some tips to help you avoid pain and injury and to help you optimize your new body-mind fitness workout.
1. You first need to be cleared by your healthcare provider or medical physician. If you’ve recently suffered an injury, had undergone surgery or physical therapy or are currently taking medication, talk to your physician about the movements you need to avoid or need to be extra cautious.
2. Consult with your tai chi instructor. See to it that your instructor has a solid background working with individuals with physical handicaps or challenges. While there may be really skilled instructors out there, there also are a lot of mediocre ones. Make sure that just because someone is Chinese or “pleasant,” doesn’t mean that person is the best one to help you learn tai chi.
3. Don’t overexert yourself when performing tai chi for the first time. Take your time to learn tai chi in safely by holding back a little in the beginning and then adding intensity later on. It’s much more difficult to start out with zeal and enthusiasm and then find out that you hurt yourself or overdid it the next day. You’ll then have to spend time to heal and cope with the vexation it causes.
4. Observe your structure. For individuals getting injured in tai chi, this is perhaps the biggest culprit. Your instructor should be a fusspot when it comes to your posture and structure due to the simple fact that the very essence of tai chi is built upon it. The top of your head should always be level with the ground, your ears in line with your shoulder and your head always straight with your ears. Instead of pulled back or hunched, your shoulders should be straight down and relaxed. Your pelvis needs to be tucked under lightly to take pressure off the wall of your stomach and to lessen the extra sway out of your low back. On any lunging stances, your knees should never buckle inward. Most importantly, make sure your instructor demonstrates these structural elements. How else can your teacher help you get better?
5. Allow your breath to be totally free and never hold it. When you learn or concentrate on difficult physical movements, you usually hold your breath a little bit. This can result in tension, headache, and dizziness. Make it a point to not hold your breath. Breathe out as if you’re sighing with a sense of relaxation and relief. Let it go.
6. Perform narrower and higher stances as best as possible. Observe how you feel the next day. If you feel okay, it means that you can go wider and a little deeper the next time. It’s okay to feel a little discomfort because this implies your body is changing – but pains and aches that are really bothering you are signs that you need to hold back a bit.
7. Never ever forget to take a pause from your routine if you need it. Listen to your body and never feel ashamed or embarrassed take time to relax when you really need it. If you’re in a traditional school, bow out respectfully and be polite in all your interactions in class. A good instructor tends to generate a learning atmosphere where the student is pushed and challenged, but he also knows when to tell a student to take a break if he or she really needs it. Always keep in mind that tai chi is not about self-harm but about self-development. “Protect yourself” is the first rule of tai chi.
8. Almost all masters of tai chi believe that with constant practice, a student will undergo major changes in his energy and body around three months. Some students who are sensitive to energy may undergo changes within a month. Consider your tai chi practice as like a garden wherein you regularly tend and care for it but without overdoing it. Cultivate it with the proper principles of tai chi. Do not attempt to hasten it or use force when you begin to see any indications of growth. Never give up and be patient. Only then will you reap the tremendous improvements in your body and mind wellness.
Tai chi is really all about “balance.” Never being challenged or doing too little will do nothing but impede your development. But more often than not, the issue that often plagues beginners in class is overdoing it and trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. Neither should you blame your instructor nor tai chi if you overdo it. More importantly, you should never blame yourself. Chalk it up to experience and understand that it’s a lesson that will make your wiser and all part of the learning process.
Apply ice to the area immediately if you feel pain after practice (a standard first aid procedure). If the pain persists, see a physician. Not all pain is bad, you know. In tai chi practice, pain might just indicate that your body is in a rebuilding process. However, you need to always treat your pain with respect. Don’t make it an excuse to quit, just ease up.
By always seeking a balanced approach when following these eight steps, you’ll start to realize the positive changes in your skills, body, and most of all, in your quality of life.
Emily Farish is a licensed acupuncturist in Spokane, WA and the founder of Emily Farish Acupuncture.