Tai Chi can be an incredibly renewing practice for people of all ages, but especially for seniors. The slow, mindful, low-impact movements of tai chi can help with bodily pains, stress, and overall physical and mental wellness, with a low risk of injury. Tai chi is a great way to rebalance your mind, body, and spirit at any age or skill level. If you’re a senior looking to try tai chi, this article is the perfect place to begin. We’ll look at the basic tai chi postures and then explore what tai chi moves are best for seniors and why. We’ll also introduce you to one of our tai chi instructors and help you get started with online tai chi classes to begin your journey.
Benefits of tai chi for seniors
It’s natural for our bodies to feel more fragile as we age. Our bone and muscle density can deteriorate as we get older, making some of the exercises we used to enjoy more challenging. With this in mind, it’s important to choose exercises that help build up muscle strength and promote holistic health in older age. Here are some of the reasons that tai chi is suitable for seniors:
- Thoughtful movement with low impact. Tai chi incorporates mindful postures, slow-flowing movements, and mindful actions. This makes it suitable for any skill level and easily adaptable for almost any level of movement and ability.
- Low risk of injury. Unlike most sports or activities, tai chi doesn’t require jumping or impactful movements that can cause injury or risk falls. By becoming more aware of your body, tai chi can also help with balance and stability, and help reduce your risk of injury.
- Mindfulness. The origins of tai chi are based on Taoist principles, which are strongly rooted in concepts like connection, love for the natural world, community, and holistic health. Mindfulness practices can help us stay mentally aware and improve memory and cognition.
- Stress reduction. Tai chi calms the nervous system and can help reduce stress.
- Mental health and cognition. Tai chi can positively impact our ability to problem solve and use reasoning and has been shown to improve the overall quality of life when practiced regularly. The tai chi movements are just as valuable for our mental well being as they are for our physical health.
13 Essential tai chi postures
There are 13 essential postures of tai chi chuan. When you’re beginning a new journey with tai chi, learning these postures is like learning the basics of cooking before making a recipe. Once you know the essential tai chi postures, you will be able to reference them easily and create a practice that feels good to you. In tai chi, the postures of steps of tai chi can be thought of as Eight Trigrams or “expressions of energy” (the first eight postures) and the Five Elements or “directions of movement” (the last five postures). Tai chi for seniors can mean modifying these postures to suit your own tai chi practice; if you experience neck pain or stiffness, you may choose a different tai chi flow than someone else who is concerned about their back or looking to improve balance.
The first four steps below are the best place to begin learning tai chi. Once you learn these, you can follow with the final steps to round out your tai chi education. After you’ve read through the steps below, we’ll explore which of these moves are the best for seniors. Let’s explore the postures below to understand their context.
1. Peng posture 1
This first tai chi posture is a rooted, defensive posture. The expression of energy here is “warding off” of the opponent. Peng Ching or “Jing” posture creates a protective shield that lets you feel stable and strong. Rather than a movement, it is a response to incoming energy. Your body is intentionally placed to dispel force and to read your opponent. This first step acts as a foundation for the rest of the postures. When a tai chi master is rooted in Peng posture, they are immovable even by the strongest (or youngest!) man.
2. Lu Ching posture 2
This second tai chi movement is meant to destabilize the opponent or to cause their balance to falter. Lu posture uses your opponent’s own force against them to offset their equilibrium and is more of an offensive posture.
3. Chi or Ji Ching posture 3
Chi or Ji Ching is the third posture of tai chi. The first two steps made us feel stable and threw off the footing of our opponent. Now it is the time to move forwards with an intentional movement. Ji posture uses hands and arms in a forward force towards the opponent, like throwing a coin or bouncing a ball against a wall.
4. An posture 4
The force in this posture pulls from the strong power of the earth below your feet. The force of the tai chi An posture comes from deep beneath the earth, through the power of the legs, and outwards towards the opponent. Energy is pushed downwards to generate strength in this tai chi posture. A good pose to remind us all of our connection to the earth.
5. Cai or Tsai posture 5
Cai is another assertive tai chi posture that intends to throw the opponent’s balance off. This time the movement involves pulling or plucking strength from the opponent. A quick grab uproots the opponent by disrupting them with one fluid movement. When we are rooted and strong, we can act offensively with confidence.
6. Lieh or Lie posture6
Lie posture is a posture that intends to free us from an opponent’s force or power by dividing force into two directions, breaking down its power. Lie posture releases any hold an opponent has on you. Similar to how a rock in a stream disrupts the flowing water’s force, Lie posture divides the force of your tai chi opponent. This can remind us as seniors that we are strong and stable, even when met with new challenges or external forces.
7. Zhou or Chou posture7
Zhou uses an elbow strike to break free of an opponent. It is a forceful gesture and powerful movement that breaks the hold of your opponent.
8. Kao posture8
Kao is a shoulder strike that channels energy through your shoulder, using the strength of the whole body to throw the other person off balance. The shoulder itself may not be strong, but when carried by the body, it has incredible force.
9. Chin or Jin
Chin or Jin is the first of the five elements or directions of movement. This core stepping technique uses the back leg as a root or anchor, moving forwards assertively with the other foot.
Sometimes in tai chi, or in life, it’s important to know when to take a step back. This move is a retreat, taking some space to move backwards with an awareness of what surrounds your body.
Ku means “look left.” This step and the next posture work together, looking right and then looking left to minimize risk and raise awareness of what is around us.
Pan means “look right.” This movement involves steps to the right after looking to the left or faking a left-side movement. Ku and Pan are a consecutive pair of movements.
13. Ting or Ding
The Ding movement recentres our energy and brings us back to the core of our strength. Look left (Ku), look right (Pan), and then come back to the centre (Ding).
Watch this video if you would like to see a demonstration of these postures.
The 5 best tai chi moves for seniors
The best tai chi moves for seniors bring us back into our bodies in a mindful way, increasing circulation as we build stability and balance. If you’ve read through the tai chi moves above, you can likely sense that some involve more movement or skill than others. Let’s take a look at the best tai chi postures for older people.
1. Lieh or Lie posture to disperse force
Lie posture teaches a powerful lesson about strength. The story of David and Goliath is a relevant metaphor in understanding this posture. Lie posture allows anyone to take down even the mightiest conqueror by dispersing force and breaking down power. Lie posture teaches us to release the hold of an opponent by diverting the force of that opponent, making it an excellent psychological metaphor that reminds us of our own ability at any stage of life.
2. Peng posture to stay rooted and strong
This defensive posture creates a strong sense of being deeply rooted, making it perfect for seniors who would like to reinforce a sense of strength and physical wellness. The act of creating a protective shield and warding off force reminds us of our strength, brings awareness to our footing, and can improve balance. Peng posture can remind us of our strength when times are challenging—a strong foundation allows for stability.
3. Chin or Jin posture as a foundation for movement
We learned in the exercises above that Chin or Jin is the first of the five elements or directions of movement. If you are a senior beginner in tai chi, learning to use your back leg as an anchor is an important basis for the rest of your tai chi movements. The awareness that this pose brings to our sense of balance and footing will also help with coordination, balance, and core strength. After you master this move, you may find yourself using it when you’re lifting something, trying to reach an item on a shelf, or maintaining your balance.
4. Kao posture to channel strength
For many of us, our senior years can make us feel less strong than we used to feel. That’s why Kao posture is such a powerful tai chi exercise for older people. This movement’s power lies in its ability to channel the strength of the rest of our body through our shoulder. Similar to the reminder to “lift with your legs” when you’re picking up something heavy, Kao posture engages the whole body and makes the one part feel stronger as it is supported by the whole physical being.
5. An posture to pull from the strength of the earth
An posture is meant to make us think of the power of the natural world and the Earth below us. Psychologically, this tai chi move reminds us to connect to the natural world and with those around us, for encouragement and inspiration in difficult times. Physically, An posture brings an awareness back to coordination, sure footing, and balance, to create a strong, offensive, confident movement. As we enter this next phase of life as seniors, An posture can help our body and mind to feel strong and centered.
Learn from tai chi instructor Sifu David Leopold
At Boomerang, we’re passionate about connecting our community with experts who bring interactive, educational workshops that engage our community. Sifu David Leopold is a Martial & Healing Arts Specialist and a Certified Tai Chi & Qigong instructor. With over 25 years of extensive experience, Sifu David has a vast knowledge of wellness philosophy, theory and practice, and delivers his Tai Chi workshops with a creative, innovative approach that is accessible to everyone. His classes address pain management, beginner tai chi movements, and can help anyone transition into a tai chi practice with confidence. Looking to learn more from a wellness expert? Our online community at Boomerang is a great place to begin.
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