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How To Tai Chi When You Can't Find a Teacher

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As the morning starts, the day goes.

If I had my preference, I'd always sleep in a bedroom with an east-facing window and wake to the morning light. My husband prefers the blinds drawn and nailed shut, fully-darkened approach to sleeping. Fortunately, our dog, Sally, is on the job to tell me when the sun is up.

It's not that I am actually a morning person. Just try talking to me and you'll soon give up. But I like a slow, calm start. Coffee, toast, reading, prayer. Walk the dog.

Then tai chi. Walking the dog is not always a calm thing. There are squirrels out there. Sometimes iguanas. People to say hello to. But tai chi puts me back into balance and gets the day going right.

A few years ago, for probably the third time, I signed up for classes—and what a difference a truly accomplished teacher made. It wasn't just the sequence of moves, it was the breathing, the exact tension in the hands, where my balance was... all revealed with kindness and encouragement.

Tai chi instructors at that level are rare and hard to find in most of the country. At best, you may find a yoga or taekwondo instructor who has learned the moves and added classes. The exercise itself is so valuable, even that will be a plus for you.

But if you have no instructor, then what? As I learned after spending my own money, most videos aren't very helpful. Books—some of them quite beautiful—are hard to follow because they can't show the flow of changes as they happen.

There's also the question of pacing. If you're like me, you will probably move too fast. The best benefits come from slow transitions from one position to another.

Now that I've brought up all those negatives, I will tell you where I found the best source ever for tackling tai chi when you can't find an instructor. It's a video that explains every move extremely clearly. So if you have to practice alone, this is the one video I would recommend for a complete beginner or even someone who wants to review his or her form:

Yang Tai Chi for Beginners Part 1, DVD from YMAA Publication Center

The instructor is Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.

This is available from Amazon, and cheap! Only $8.99. I keep it on my Kindle Fire for use.

If you are already doing tai chi, you will know why I recommend taking it up. If you've just thought about it, here's why starting a tai chi practice is a wonderful gift to give yourself.

What you get from tai chi

                     It's a moving meditation

                     It's excellent for developing and preserving functional balance

                     It has been proven to help people with back pain

                     It is suitable for the fit and the not-fit because of its gentle, slow movements

                     Nonetheless, it is real exercise

                     It improves blood and lymph circulation

                     In one randomized, controlled trial, tai chi was as effective as physical therapy for people with knee osteoarthritis

                     It improves posture, which may also reduce neck pain

                     It lowers blood pressure

                     It helps with depression

                     It helps cognition, making decisions and other mental tasks

                     In one study on 400 people already showing signs of dementia, tai chi slowed the disease

And if you're lucky like me, it also makes the dog bark. That's a lot of benefit and entertainment to start the day.

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