This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

Tonight, for some of my students, it was the end of their second year with me, and their third year overall playing T’ai Chi. One of the things we concentrated on tonight was the difference between when they started and where they are now. One of the points that was made, which I thought was very valid, was that it is the regular practice – playing T’ai Chi regularly – that makes the difference in how you feel. You feel completely different after a while. As you progress, you feel different again, and the feeling keeps changing and it keeps improving.

The reason it gets even better is that it is the practice of the form, and the application of the principles to the form that ultimately change you on the inside, both mentally and physically.

On the website, we’ve got a lot of studies listed, including medical studies of how practicing T’ai Chi improves various aspects of people’s health. You don’t have to take my word for it [in fact, you never should have to – everything any T’ai Chi teacher tells you should be verifiable and backed up by evidence – Ed] you can go and see what medical studies – proper research – has been finding out.

Those things aside, I always come back to the point that T’ai Chi is not a mechanical skill that you learn. It is not a tool that you pick up and use for a certain purpose and then put back. T’ai Chi is something that you make part of you – it becomes part of you, and you become part of it. It is a symbiotic relationship, and those people who come to class learning the form to keep themselves happy, and who don’t practice during the week (they only play the form in the class) and then drop it for whatever reason – they’ve completely missed out on what T’ai Chi has to offer them for the rest of their lives.

If you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re thinking that you don’t know when you’re going to practice between classes, I imagine that your teacher would be like my teacher, and like me, imploring you to practice this every day, twice a day if you can, rain or shine. No matter how you feel, do what you can every day, and the benefits mentally and physically will soon add up.


This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

One of the reasons people choose to play T’ai Chi and learn it in Western cultures is also one of its major health benefits: it can improve your balance, and as you get older it can reduce the amount that your balance degrades and help prevent falls as you get on in life. Falls are quite dangerous as you get older in life, as your body just can’t cope with as much injury. [Don’t take my word for it – checkout all of the third-party studies and testimonials for yourself – Ed].

In our form, one of the moves is called the Lotus Sweep. You can view this on the YouTube video that I have of the form [it’s towards the end of the Part 2 video – Ed]. This move really challenges your balance, especially for a beginner. What you have to do is go into cat stance, weight is in the left, and you sweep in with the right leg and you then sweep out once and then twice in a big circle before placing the feet heels in line to finish.

When I play this move, my right knee (the leg that is doing the sweeping) the right knee comes up to hip height as I sweep in and out. It’s quite natural for beginners to want to try and copy that shape, because as a beginner you are learning the shapes. But what happens as you play the form with the knee up when you don’t yet have Single Weight and when you don’t yet have Relax The Hips and you don’t yet have the uprightness that comes from Head And Body Moves As One Unit … what happens to the beginner is that the sweep in and the sweep out cause the body to wobble left and right quite substantially.

It’s not unusual for beginners to fall over at this point, because they are trying to stand on one foot but don’t yet have the balance to achieve it.

I saw a great thing in tonight’s class where one of my students made a choice. Instead of bringing the knee up high, he chose to preserve his balance and his uprightness by playing the sweep low to the floor instead. He brought the right foot up just enough to clear the floor so that he could sweep in once and sweep out twice and keep his uprightness.

I must point this out as being a great choice that he made, and a great tip for everyone who is beginning to try and find their balance.

One of the reasons T’ai Chi teaches balance is that it is teaching the body to understand what it feels like and what it means to be upright. This is part of the mindfulness side of T’ai Chi. But, as a beginner, if you are wobbling left and right all the time, as beginners are want to do, and as I did too when I was a beginner, what are you teaching the body there? You’re not. You’re continuing to confuse the body by lurching from one side and back to the other. By smoothing these things out, by focusing and saying “right, being upright is the most important thing, and my form will have to grow around that core pillar,” over time it improves your balance far quicker and far better than throwing yourself from left to right.

That’s a great little tip from tonight’s class.


Where Do You Play?

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 21st, 2010 in Benefits, Podcast, Your Practice.

This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

If you learn your T’ai Chi as part of a class, do you only ever practice indoors in a training hall, or do you go out and practice outside?

One of the great joys of this time of year for me (remember I recorded this in June before the record-busting winter snows beset us all!) is to watch my Beginners’ Class as it comes to an end make that transition to joining us on a Saturday morning practicing outdoors down at the Knapp out by the sea or, on wet days like today, down undercover in Whitmore Bay.

It is a completely different experience playing T’ai Chi outside, and a much better one, I think personally. And, the reaction of people who have made that transition is always very positive too. You’ve got the whooshing of the sea and the waves and you’re no longer constrained by four walls. It’s just you, the sun, sea, and the wind.

So if you’ve never tried playing T’ai Chi outside, please go and do so. I hope you’ll find it as much an enjoyable experience as we do.

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Many Tai Chi schools put a page on their website describing the benefits of learning Tai Chi. These pages are aimed at potential students, and normally contain lengthy lists of ways that Tai Chi can improve your health. But, all too often, these lists aren’t qualified at all; they do not back up the claim with scientific evidence or testimony. They’re simply the word of the instructor(s) of the particular Tai Chi school.

It doesn’t mean that the claims are bogus, but it goes against one of the core teaching principles that Robert always hammers into me (into the nicest possible way!): I must teach only what I can evidence.

As I’m not a doctor myself, I’ve started searching the Internet for what other people are reporting about the benefits of taking up Tai Chi. I’m limiting myself specifically to reported medical studies, or first-hand testimony. You can find a list of the benefits so far on my new Benefits for Health page.

I have many more sites to add to this list, and a lot of detail to add as well. If you know of any additional studies or reports that are worth a mention, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

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