(Updated, revised and republished from a 2015 post)
I’ve read that globally more people do tai chi than any other exercise. More than yoga even. You can go to parks in any town or city and find groups of people doing both tai chi and qigong. My experience has been somewhat different. When I started showing others how to do what I had learned from studying tai chi I learned that tai chi just doesn’t automatically resonate. Competition with other activities, such as sports and outdoor recreation, is big. Yoga is huge. Aerobic exercises with new names (Taebo) that combine dance and martial art moves are popular; as are hard martial arts, such as karate and tae kwon do.
Tai chi might be too slow and boring for many, but they may also discover that it’s not as easy as it may seem. The moves seem easy, but the practice is more involved. Many actually give up trying. Conversely, many take a practice as a challenge and become hooked on it, so to speak. They become strong advocates for tai chi. This in part is because real taijiquan is a very sophisticated movement art. Every cell of your body and mind is engaged in constant effort to evolve out of an old self into a new, more-vibrant, capable being. In more ways than you can count, it is a deeply mindful movement, especially when practiced enough. Achieving mindfulness in the moment is what the practice is all about. You immerse in the mystery of moving, seeking new awareness about your body and even about awareness itself.
Taijiquan and other Chinese martial arts have thrived for centuries, not just as fighting arts, but because they are comprised of something that attracts us to movement itself. It’s really a “whole being” stimulation of mind and body—not just mind, not just body. Physically, tai chi can be quite a workout. It requires endurance and dedication. You sweat on warm days, your muscles get toned, your heart rate can even increase beneficially. It’s so powerful with others in a group, as well. A group of people can generate a lot of energy working together. The magic of tai chi is that it can apply to any kind of movement you may do: dance, swim, ski, run, hike, walk, skate, think even, and even sit in meditation. It’s fundamental to movement in general. All this makes me think that tai chi could be the most popular exercise in the world if it’s not already.
Paul Tim Richard