Last updated on November 23rd, 2023.
A common sight at parks and open spaces these days is groups of people moving their arms and legs in graceful, sweeping motions, in perfect unison with each other. What are they doing? Practicing tai chi – an ancient Chinese art that is often referred to as “meditation in motion”. Tai chi is a family of practices, each with its unique characteristics. So what is the most popular tai chi form?
The appeal of tai chi is that there is something for everyone. The most widely practiced form of tai chi is the Yang style which has gentle, fluid motions. If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging with elements of martial arts, then the Hao style is for you.
It is said that tai chi combines elements of martial arts and meditation to create a practice that promotes physical and mental well-being. Tai chi is an activity that can be enjoyed by practitioners of all ages and levels of fitness. Keep reading to learn which form of tai chi is the most popular and how you can get started on your own tai chi journey.
What Is a Tai Chi Form?
The term tai chi refers to a collection of unique disciplines that relate to each other much in the way that yoga encompasses a number of distinct practices sharing common roots. Generally speaking, tai chi combines elements of martial arts, breathwork, and meditation to create a unique category of mind-body practices. As far as shared characteristics and fundamental concepts, they include:
Thoughtful body movements – one of the core principles of tai chi is that full control over body movements can only be achieved with a clear mind
Relaxed body movements – tai chi philosophy also teaches that it is through relaxed and unrestricted body movements that true motor control can be achieved
Synchronization of mind and body – mastering tai chi (or any mind-body activity for that matter) requires harmony between the mind, breathwork, and body to achieve synchronization between intent and action
Circular motions – one of the underlying doctrines of tai chi is that the universe is cyclical in nature and the circular motions of its movements emulate the natural flow of energy in the world around us
Continuous flow – just as circular motion is a key concept in tai chi, so too is the notion that life energy flows continuously and uninterrupted
Within the tai chi umbrella, there are variants, known as forms or styles, and each of these has distinct characteristics that set it apart from the others.
For instance, some forms of tai chi emphasize large, sweeping movements of the arms and high stances that do not require deep bending of the knees. These styles are ideal for beginners and practitioners who have physical limitations that make them less agile and flexible (e.g., seniors and people recovering from injury).
Other tai chi forms feature complex footwork and sudden bursts of movement like jumps, punches, and kicks. These styles have an approach that focuses more on martial arts components compared to other forms of tai chi and are better suited for practitioners who are physically fit and prepared to engage in more exertive activities.
How Many Tai Chi Forms Exist?
The exact origin of tai chi is difficult to pin down, but it is widely accepted that there are five primary forms of this ancient Chinese art that are practiced today. They are:
- The Chen form – this is the original style of tai chi, developed during the 1600s, and characterized by gentle movements intermingled with sudden bursts of punching, kicking, and jumping
- The Yang form – with its smooth, flowing motions and methodical pace, the Yang style is the most popular form of tai chi practiced today
- The Wu form – this tai chi variant was developed from the Yang form and features stances that shift forward and backward as opposed to a centralized base stance
- The Sun form – this form features dance-like movements with intricate footwork and nimble maneuvers with the hands
- The Hao form – of all the styles of tai chi, this is the most physically demanding and features complex movements requiring great skill
Beyond these main five forms, there are a handful of minor variants that have very specialized methods and limited numbers of practitioners.
Which Tai Chi Form Should I Learn?
When it comes to choosing a form of tai chi to learn, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach. After all, people have different physical abilities and limitations. Fortunately, between them, the five forms of tai chi are welcoming and inclusive toward all comers.
Deciding which style of tai chi is best for you depends on several factors including:
- Your physical conditioning and fitness level
- Your flexibility, agility, and sense of balance
- Your ability to jump, kick, and perform rapid arm movements
If what you seek from learning tai chi is a gentle, non-strenuous mind-body activity, then the Yang, Sun, or Wu forms may be best suited for you. However, if you are looking for a tai chi style that is more vigorous with challenging movements, then you want to explore the Chen or Hao forms.
It Is Possible To Learn Tai Chi From My Home?
For centuries, the various forms of tai chi were taught in intimate settings by masters to students who then passed on their knowledge to others. Generations of practitioners learned to practice tai chi through personal interaction with their instructors.
In the modern world, attending in-person tai chi programs can be challenging for many people who want to learn the ancient art of tai chi but cannot attend a formal class. Whether because of distance or scheduling conflicts, traditional in-class instruction simply isn’t an option for many learners.
Fortunately, the digital age has made learning more accessible and this certainly applies to getting started with tai chi. There are a number of online tai chi courses and video libraries that enable students to learn the basics of tai chi on their own.
Some at-home and online tai chi resources to consider include:
- Tai Chi Foundation (books and DVDs)
- Taoist Tai Chi (instructional videos)
- Tai Chi Online Classes (online courses)
Learning tai chi at home has its advantages, most notably, practicing on your schedule, in a comfortable and convenient environment, and at a pace that best suits your physical abilities.
Whether you are looking for a strenuous form of exercise to stay fit or a way to collect your thoughts and calm the mind, there is a form of tai chi that is perfect for you. If you are looking to take it to the next level and become certified as a practitoner, check out the best tai chi certifications.