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Will doing Tai Chi help me lose weight?

A common question people ask is if Taiji will help them lose weight? The quick answer is yes, but it depends on a number of factors. Taiji and Qigong can towards managing a number of medical conditions, but weight loss is is less well known. There isn't a one particular method that suits everybody.

Misconceptions about Taiji

Let's clear a few misconceptions if you're new to Taiji.

  • Taiji is for old people

  • Taiji is easy

  • Taiji can be learnt in a short space of time

  • Taiji is doing things slowly

  • Taiji is not a martial art

When people look for things to do to help lose weight, Taiji is not something on the top of most people's minds. The media have for years projected an image that Taiji is for old people. This is far from the truth. Taiji is actually a very sophisticated martial art that has something for everybody. But more people can relate to Taiji for health reasons. Quite often people will consider Tai Chi, because it looks easy and that these slow movements can be self-taught by watching YouTube videos. Only to find, when trying a class, that Taiji is actually quite challenging and takes more time than they thought. Even people have have done other martial arts or yoga may find Taiji challenging.

Why do Taiji? Why not do kickboxing?

This is a matter of preference and perhaps one should look at all options and see which one suits you? If you want to have something to show for, you might do kickboxing. If you just want to do casual bag work, then do boxercise. But don't let Taiji fool you as it covers a lot more than just slow movements. There are weapons, partnerwork, self-defence applications as well as Qigong. All of which offer a good workout, but in different ways. So one should really try Taiji and a lot of people are surprised by how good they feel or how it was more challenging than they thought. Not all schools have a full curriculum, but the school I belong to (Wudang, Practical Tai Chi Chuan International) does. Another aspect one should consider is your state of health. People with back problems have asked me if it is a good idea to do kickboxing. Well no, because you're not particular fit and your back will suffer more. A pianist asked me if it was a good idea to do kickboxing. Again, the answer was no. If your state of health isn't that good or you rely on your hands to make a living, then no, it's not a good idea. All styles or forms of martial arts carry some degree of risk and Taiji is no different. Just remember to be mindful of the dangers and your own limits. If you just practise Taiji forms and Qigong, and do it in the correct manner, then there are few issues you need to worry about.

Will Taiji actually help me lose weight?

Yes, but success depends on a number of things, such as your size, weight and how long you practise for. If you were only doing just hand forms, then you would need to be doing Taiji several hours a day and everyday to make a difference. However, this is not practical, sustainable nor advisable. Furthermore, if you have work commitments, you'd be unable to to do this. One of my mentors mentioned that one of his other students repeat a qigong move more often than they need to. So whilst there are health benefits from doing that, other parts of the body aren't receiving any attention. When you are new to Taiji, then you will find that there are limits to what you can actually do, but practise what you know know. Because when you have travelled further down the road, you will find you won't have enough time to do everything you've learnt.

There are many aspects of our art that can help improve your health and wellbeing. So it helps to have some variety in what you do. Partnerwork such as pushing hands are a lot of fun and you'd be surprised by how much energy you use. Weapon forms are also good fun and then can give you a good thorough workout (if you do it properly). I have measured myself and for my morning routines, I can burn between 150 to 200 calories on gentle movements alone, but more I could burn more if I was doing something more energetic. In a two to three hour session with hand and weapons forms, I could burn over 1000 calories. That's the equivalent of a 12" deep pan pizza or a large burger with fries and soft drink. As I mentioned before, that it does depend on what you do. Everybody trains differently and two hours for me is not the same for you. Furthermore, I don't recommend training for long periods of time, especially if you're not used to that much physical exercise. For most people one hour should be enough and it should be about the quality of the training, not the quantity. If in doubt, speak to your GP before starting any form of exercise.

Lockdown has meant I have had more time to exercise and I have managed to lose some weight over the past six months. OK no Bruce Lee six pack yet, but I feel the difference. My progress has been gradual and I train regularly and in moderation. Progress would not be possible without a healthy diet. If you're looking to lose weight quickly, then Taiji probably wouldn't be your goto answer. If you want something that offers a number of different benefits, then Taiji is recommended.

My advice would be to train in moderation and include a wide range of physical movements. Pay attention to posture and footwork as injuries occur when you don't listen to your body. Eating healthily and getting sufficient rest is also important. Nutrition is important, if in doubt, consult your GP and not subscribe to health fads. Taiji is a reflection of Daoism and moderation is key to the art of living. Taiji has a lot to offer and should be part of an active healthy lifestyle. In time, you should experience or see some improvements. At the end of the day, your training doesn't lie.

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