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If you would like to learn an easier form of meditation, get fit, meet new people and increase your well being - you should definitely consider taking up tai chi. It's a form of moving meditation, which calms the mind and exercises the body, while being suitable for all ages and levels of fitness.
I have been attending classes with the Australian Academy of Tai Chi for two terms, and I have been loving it. As well as helping to increase my circulation and warm my chilly hands through this winter, I have noticed a palpable difference in my mental outlook - I am calmer, more upbeat, and just generally more able to roll with life's punches after a class. I can't say that the effect lasts all week, but then, I only go to class once a week and (currently) don't practice my tai chi daily, which I probably should do and which would probably make me an altogether calmer, more together person permanently.
Tai chi class - photo from the Australian Academy of Tai Chi Facebook page
With classes all over New South Wales, Queensland and in Western Australia, chances are you should be able to find a class near you.
The average age of attendees is probably between 60 - 70, but there is a great diversity with some people much younger and others much older. Tai chi classes can become addictive - there are people in my class who have been taking the class for two decades - and who have no intention of stopping any time in the next two decades!
In terms of health and fitness pre-requisites, this is one of the safer forms of physical activities to start doing if you are super unfit/ unhealthy. We have had a number of cancer patients attend during their treatment programs - and they have benefitted from being able to engage in this gentle exercise where other forms might have been too strenuous or exhausting. The exercises are even able to be modified to suit people in wheelchairs or who are unable to stand.
Tai chi doesn't require fancy equipment, it doesn't even require a mat or a large space. All it uses is your body's natural weight and a series of flowing motions, done mostly on the spot, which are gentle and calming to do. Because of this, you are very unlikely to be able to injure yourself in the process. Also, because it you are working with your natural balance in doing the moves, it helps remove awkwardness and reduces the risks of falls the longer you practice it. One of the fundamental tenets of tai chi is that no movement should be forced or strain anything - tai chi is meant to work within the body's own limits. But don't be fooled - moving slowly as required by tai chi does take practice and it's not as easy as it looks! This is definitely one of those activities which is easy to learn, but hard to master.
At $15 for a class (it's less if you pay for a term), it's also very affordable. In Queensland and WA the Academy runs special falls prevention classes for seniors in certain locations that are only $5 a class.
Photo from Australian Academy of Tai Chi Facebook page
I tried out several different tai chi classes before I settled on the Academy. The Academy's method of teaching suits me perfectly. Each class plays traditional Chinese music in the background, their method is to let you follow along to the sequence until you gradually pick it up, and there's just that general sense of calmness and ease which is very welcoming.
Classes offered by other providers can be more traditional, going through one movement per class and really focussing on the technical aspects of each movement before moving onto the next one, others are conducted in total silence - what you prefer is dependent on your own personality, so do try out a few different ones if you find the first class you attend isn't to your liking.
The Academy has been in existence since 1976, so it is a well-established and well-respected institution. As well as classes, they sell a wide range of instructional books and DVDs on tai chi, and offer an annual tour to China each year, with the option to practice tai chi with Chinese tai chi masters in the ancestral homeland of tai chi. The Academy allows you to develop your tai chi to whatever level you wish to take it.
For more information, check out the Academy's website and the video below by the founder of the Academy, Grandmaster Gary Khor.
The Academy's website comes with a health warning: -
"Tai Chi and Qigong has been known to cause increased energy levels, health and happiness".