THE GEN­TLE ART

This an­cient art de­mands lower-body strength – but can it com­ple­ment your train­ing? Matt Huckle finds out

Men's Fitness - - Contents -

Can you use tai chi in your train­ing?

IMF’s

t’s around 15 min­utes into my first tai chi class when I start to won­der how peo­ple man­age to look so serene as they do it. I like to think I’ve got fairly strong legs but try­ing to stay in time with the group, breathe cor­rectly and hold a va­ri­ety of iso­met­ric po­si­tions all at the same time means they’re soon shak­ing in painful dis­ap­proval. Al­ready it’s clear that there’s a lot more to tai chi than old peo­ple wav­ing slowly in the park.

When I men­tion my strug­gles to in­struc­tor Derek Pearce, I sus­pect he’s try­ing not to look pleased at my shock. ‘It’s un­likely you reg­u­larly en­gage your leg mus­cles in the way tai chi de­mands,’ he says.

FIST AMONG EQUALS

Why tai chi? Well, years of do­ing Muay Thai kick­box­ing com­bined with sit­ting at a desk all day had left me stiff and in­flex­i­ble and it was be­com­ing an is­sue. Tai chi chuan, to give it its full name (which trans­lates as ‘supreme ul­ti­mate fist’), seemed like the ob­vi­ous choice be­cause of the sup­posed benefits it of­fers for your flex­i­bil­ity and mo­bil­ity as well as core and lower-body strength. And if I achieved some sort of spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment on the way, well, that would be a plus.

The Mei Quan Academy of Tai Chi of­fers classes at over 40 lo­ca­tions across the southeast – I booked one at the Cam­den branch. Right from the start ev­ery­thing is done in uni­son, in­clud­ing the warm-up, which fo­cuses on loos­en­ing up your hips and work­ing your en­tire body in co-or­di­na­tion.

FULL FLOW

Once warmed up we move into qi gong, an art closely re­lated to tai chi, which is based on rep­e­ti­tions of pre­cise sets of move­ments said to im­prove en­ergy flow around the body. Broadly speak­ing the moves are vari­a­tions on body­weight squats, with arm move­ments de­signed to open up your chest.

The fo­cus here isn’t re­ally on get­ting into the deep­est squat you can man­age but how you dis­trib­ute your weight across your legs while keep­ing your back straight at all times. That de­scrip­tion doesn’t do jus­tice to how ef­fec­tive qi gong is as a re­lax­ation tool. It’s easy to dis­miss the spir­i­tual side of qi gong and tai chi, but it would be a mis­take to do so. I feel far less stressed and more pos­i­tive af­ter ev­ery ses­sion.

The main event, tai chi, builds on the rel­a­tively static move­ments of qi gong and in­cor­po­rates them into flow­ing forms. It’s here that I re­ally begin to un­der­stand how ef­fec­tive the art is at loos­en­ing up your lower back. A lot of the early move­ments fo­cus on prop­erly align­ing your tail­bone, which is vi­tal if you’re go­ing to progress. Pay­ing this level of at­ten­tion to your tail­bone’s where­abouts feels strange at first, and in the days af­ter my first ses­sion my

Classes start with qi gong, a set of move­ments de­signed to pre­pare you for the flow­ing forms of tai chi

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