Video: Balancing the body and getting active with Tai Chi
- Credit: Archant
One of the slower fitness classes out there, Tai Chi is practised by many millions worldwide. Reporter Mark Shales has discovered his inner zen at the London Aquatics Centre
Parting the wild horses’s mane, white crane spreads its wings and carry the tiger over the mountain.
No, not a scene from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but all moves used in the Chinese martial art of t’ai chi ch’uan, or Tai Chi as it’s more commonly known across the globe.
Roughly translated as “supreme ultimate fist”, Tai Chi can actually be among the slowest types of fitness classes out there, often taught to groups in old people’s homes and secluded corners of parks.
But that certainly doesn’t make it easy, or any less beneficial to the body, as I found out on Saturday morning.
Helping me to stretch muscles I didn’t even know I had was Better instructor Andrew Mantes, 56, from Peckham.
He had our group at the London Aquatic Centre swaying gracefully, feeling the weight of our bodies shift from one side to another, left, right, forward and back.
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“It’s a balanced exercise system that’s stood the test of time,” he explains. “The only thing you need is yourself.
“The body system is natural and it has a beneficial effect on balancing the body out and generally making people feel happier and releasing stress in the modern world.
“When I started tai chi at 25 I was stiff, I didn’t really have a good understanding of my body and Tai Chi’s helped me with that.”
Depending on which historians you believe, Tai Chi has been practised in China for anywhere between 400 and 1,000 years.
Characterised by its gentle, continuous movements, studies have shown it can help people reduce stress, improve balance and general mobility, and increase muscle strength in the legs.
With spring still a distant horizon, classes are currently taking place at the top of the Aqautic centre with plans to relocate to outdoors to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park when the temperatures rise.
Fellow first-timer Tom Doodson, 32, from Greenwich, hopes to return again soon.
“I feel like I’ve had a work-out but quite relaxed at the same time,” he told me afterwards.
The weekly one-hour sessions begin at 9.30am every Saturday at the Aquatics Centre.
Visit queenelizabeth-olympicpark.co.uk for more information. Pre-paid members can get involved for free, non-members will be charged £5 per session.