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Tai Chi for Seniors - The Complete Guide

by Jessica Hegg May 24, 2017 0 Comments

Women practicing tai chi

Tai chi is an art form and type of exercise originating in ancient China. It focuses on integrating the mind and the body to improve overall wellness & centers around control and serenity.  It's low impact and only requires a few minutes of practice each day, making tai chi for seniors the perfect exercise to continue feeling strong and energized. Tai chi has been proven to improve concentration and reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson's, as well as reducing blood pressure, easing arthritis pain, and preventing bone loss. And, just like yoga for seniors, it improves strength, flexibility, and balance.  If you're planning to choose one exercise to practice consistently, tai chi is the way to go.  Here's how to get started...

    Getting Started with Tai Chi for Seniors

    Tai Chi can take years to master, but the good news is that getting started could not be easier. Once you decide to learn Tai Chi, you can begin the same day!

    Tai Chi Equipment

    While there is equipment designed specifically for Tai Chi, none of it is required to begin learning the practice, which makes getting started simple and cheap.

    • Shoes

    Tai Chi Pants Black Tai Chi Clothing Cloth tai chi shoes are ideal for indoor training, but if you prefer practicing outside, athletic tai chi shoes are designed to allow fluid movements & protect your feet ( Image Reference).

    Tai Chi shoes come in three varieties: cloth slippers (indoor), cloth shoe with rubber sole (hybrid), low-profile athletic shoe (outdoor). These shoes are designed to allow you to rotate, unlike running shoes or cross-trainers, which will put stress on your knees while practicing Tai Chi. Many opt to practice barefoot, especially while indoors. If you do decide to use a shoe not specifically designed for Tai Chi, look for a shoe that is:

      • Comfortable and flexible
      • Light, with a thin sole
      • Easy to balance in
      • Shock absorbent
    • Clothes

    The best clothing for Tai Chi is loose and comfortable. Your clothes should allow your body to flow through the movements without restriction. Because Tai Chi also emphasizes the flow of Qi (circulating life force), tight clothing is not the best option, even if it allows unrestricted movement. You can find pants and robes made specifically for Tai Chi, but again, these are not necessary to enjoy the discipline.

    • Weapons

    There are weapons associated with the discipline: sabre, sword, and spear. But you do not need to use them, and you likely shouldn’t until you’re much further along in your training. Weapons don’t add much practical value to Tai Chi for seniors and should be saved for a time when you become bored with your practice and want to take things up a notch.

    Tai Chi Classes for Seniors Tai chi classes Attending group tai chi classes for seniors is a great way to adapt a routine practice & socialize with others ( Image Reference).

    With Tai Chi rising in popularity as a form of exercise and self-defense for seniors, finding a class in your area should be a breeze. Online resources like Supreme Chi Living can help you locate Tai Chi classes for seniors near you. Learning in a group environment is the preferred choice, for a few reasons:

    • Safety. If you fall or injure yourself, you’ll have an instructor and other students to assist you and get help.
    • Motivation. It’s easier to stay excited and inspired to learn when a group is holding you accountable.
    • Ease of learning. Learning from an instructor is definitely the best way to go. You can see the moves and hear an explanation, and you have someone to correct your form.

    Learn Tai Chi at Home 

    If you can’t find a class in your area, or if you want to try out the discipline before you commit to taking classes, there are plenty of ways to teach yourself the basics!

    • YouTube

    We know it’s easier to understand how to perform a move when you can actually see it. The next best thing to watching a real life demonstration? Video! And with YouTube, you can find everything from instructional videos to live recordings of students practicing Tai Chi to daily routines you can follow along with. Just go to and type “Tai Chi for seniors” in the search bar.

    • Articles

    There are a plethora of resources online. Search for “basic Tai Chi moves” or “Tai Chi moves for seniors” to find articles with photos and explanations of simple moves for beginners.

    • Programs

    Find Tai Chi programs on DVD through Amazon or in the fitness section of your local store. You can also check On-Demand for Tai Chi programs to follow along with. If you go this route, pay special attention to the skill level and targeted age category for each program. And of course, if you’re teaching yourself, do so safely. Don’t push your limits past where you’re physically comfortable, and make sure someone you trust is nearby in case of an emergency.

    Benefits of Tai Chi for Seniors

    What’s unique about Tai Chi is that its benefits extend beyond physical health. Twenty-minute sessions of easy Tai Chi exercises also improve mental and spiritual health, as well as building self-defense skills. With its slow, controlled movements, the risk of injury is exceptionally low, making Tai Chi a fantastic form of exercise for seniors. Here are a few benefits you can expect to get from regular Tai Chi practice.

    When it comes to exercise, the first benefits we expect to see are related to our physical health. For seniors, especially, physical fitness and personal health are imperative for the quality of life. Good strength, balance, and flexibility will help prevent falls and injuries, while also reducing pain from health conditions or daily wear and tear. Here are a few benefits of Tai Chi for seniors. The list goes on & on...

    • Reduction of bone loss in menopausal women
    • Improved lower body and leg strength
    • Relief of pain associated with arthritis
    • Reduced blood pressure
    • Higher energy levels
    • Improved balance and stability
    • Reduced joint pain
    • Faster recovery following strokes and heart attacks
    • Improvement of conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s
    • Weight loss from regular exercise
    • Increased flexibility
    • Reduces stress
    • Improved breathing and circulation
    • Enhanced mental capacity & concentration
    • Self defense

    Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors

    Whether you’re trying to decide if Tai Chi is right for you or just looking to learn a few new moves, it’s best to start with basics. Tai Chi exercises for beginners are simple and not overly strenuous. Here are some simple Tai Chi exercises for seniors to introduce you to the discipline.

    Tai Chi for Arthritis

    Without regular exercise, joints become stiffer and muscles weaken, making the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis even worse. Tai Chi improves bone, muscle, and joint health to aid in flexibility and muscular strength. It’s gentle enough that pain and stiffness from arthritis will not be a deterrent—you’ll have no problem doing the moves. And you will feel much better for it.

    • Basic Stepping

    Tai Chi Basic Stepping Method Basic stepping is used to transition from move to move.  Learning the basics of tai chi will help to piece together your practice ( Image Reference).

    One of the first moves you’ll learn is Tai Chi basic stepping, which is how you transition from one move to the next. Stand with your feet together, and turn your right foot slightly outward. Shift all your weight onto your right foot, and gently bend your left knee, lifting your left foot off the ground. Touch your left foot to the ground in front of you, while keeping all your weight on your back foot. Slowly shift your weight forward until your weight is balanced over your center of gravity. This technique promotes good balance, which is essential in developing the flexibility and strength to relieve your arthritis pain.

    • Brush Knee

    To perform the brush knee movement, begin with your weight on one foot. Bend your elbow, and place one hand at chest level with your wrist bent and palm open. Have your other hand at your side, with the palm facing the opposite direction. Slowly step out. One hand rises while the other falls, with elbows bent. Make sure one palm faces up and one faces down. This exercise helps relax your muscles and strengthen your arms, which can relieve arthritis pain in your shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands.

    Tai Chi for Self-Defense

    Most Tai Chi movements have self-defense applications. To best learn to defend yourself using Tai Chi, practice the movements alone and slowly progress to working with a partner.

    • Ward Off and Roll Back

    This move uses an assailant’s natural instincts against them. If someone grabs your wrist, step toward them and extend your hand (the one they are gripping) toward their chest, with your palm facing you. The assailant will naturally push back against you. When they do, turn your hand over and roll back, redirecting their energy down and behind you. Practice this movement by yourself until you are comfortable with the rhythm, and then enlist a partner to play the assailant’s role.

    • Front Attack Defense

    This move is an application of brush knee, so you should work at getting comfortable with the brush knee movement before attempting the front attack defense. Imagine someone approaches you and grabs you shirt. Bring one arm over their head, and circle down, shifting your weight back onto your heels. In a fluid motion, bring your other arm forward, shift your weight toward the assailant, and strike their chest with an open palm. By swooping the first arm over and down, your weight presses against the attackers outstretched arm, placing them off balance. You then enlist the momentum you’ve created in your strike. This move is all about technique and will allow you to take down someone double your size.

    Tai Chi for Osteoporosis

    A 2002 study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology found that regular Tai Chi exercise can halt bone loss. Besides decelerating the progression of osteoporosis, Tai Chi is proven to reduce the risk of falls by improving balance and muscular strength. Since falls are the major source of injury for those with osteoporosis, Tai Chi is an all-around great choice to maintain bone health.

    • Knee Rolls

    This exercise promotes knee and spine mobility, which will improve your balance and reduce the risk of falls. Stand with your knees slightly bent, and place your hand on your knees with your fingers pointing toward each other. Gently rotate your knees in a circle, moving both knees together, at the same pace. Perform ten repetitions in the clockwise direction and ten counter-clockwise.

    • Closing Posture

    This exercise is performed at the end of Tai Chi sessions to help you relax and settle your mind. Closing posture is great for balance and overall body awareness. Stand with your feet at hip-width. Cup your hands in front of your pelvis, with palms facing up, as though you are going to fill them with water. Inhale and raise your hands to chest-height. Turn your palms down, and exhale as you push your hands toward the floor. Repeat for several repetitions. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed while performing this exercise. Close your eyes, and imagine you are pulling your energy up and pushing it down as you move.

    Tai Chi for Pain

    Practicing Tai Chi can prevent pain by improving your strength and flexibility, but it can also address existing pain. Most often, pain is caused by weak muscles and a poor range of motion. Stretching out your body can relax sore, knotted muscles and relieve pain. Before you turn to medication, try these simple Tai Chi moves for pain relief.

    Back Pain

    • Salutation

    This exercise will stretch your lower back, while also improving core strength to prevent future pain. Begin in a wide stance, with one foot forward and one foot back. Point both feet forward and bend your knees, with your arms relaxed at your sides. Inhale as you slowly raise your hands above your head until your arms are extended upward with your fingers pointed toward the ceiling. Exhale as you return to the starting position and relax your spine. Perform five to ten repetitions.

    • Moving Clouds

    This gentle movement will open up your spine and relieve back pain. Stand up straight with your feet wider than shoulder-width and your arms extended in front of you. Place your right hand over your left, and slowly extend along your left side, as though opening a sliding door. Be sure to rotate at your waist. Forcing the movement with your shoulders will strain your upper back. Once you feel a stretch, switch your hands and reverse the movement toward your right. Repeat ten times per side, flowing through a full range of motion.

    Tai Chi for Knee Pain

    • Golden Rooster Stands On One Leg

    This exercise improves balance and lower body strength, which will relieve pressure on your joints and reduce knee pain. Begin in a comfortable standing position. Raise one leg, bending at the knee. You may find it helpful to lift your hands into a running position. Stand on one leg for as long as you are able before slowly lowering your foot and repeating the movement with your other leg. If you are not comfortable standing on one leg, try using a wall or table for balance.

    • Carry the Cauldron

    If you’re not super comfortable with your balance, this is a good move to improve knee strength and flexibility without putting stress on your lower body. Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder-width and your hands relaxed at shoulder height. Allow your hands to float out and down. Sink your body as your hands move toward the ground, stopping when your hands are just below your knees. Lift your hands and straighten your knees, as if lifting something heavy. Rise until you return to the starting position. Repeat the movement ten times.

    Neck Pain

    • Windmill Exercise

    Tightness in your shoulders and upper back are a huge source of neck pain. This exercise improves shoulder flexibility and opens up your spine. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and your arms hanging loosely lat your sides. Bring your hands in front of your belly button, with your fingers pointed downward. Inhale as you lift your hands straight up, along with the center of your body, and over your head. Point your fingers toward the sky, and stretch your body upward with a slight arch in your spine. Exhale as you slowly bend forward, lowering your hands toward the floor. Bend at the hips, allowing your arms to dangle, and stretch as far as you are comfortable. Inhale and return to the starting posture. Perform several repetitions.

    • Buddha Asks Heaven for Forgiveness

    This exercise will loosen your shoulders and T-spine, relaxing your neck and relieving pain. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width. Begin with your palms together in front of your chest, like you are praying. Slowly move your hands downward, gently sinking your knees. Allow your palms to break apart at the bottom, and bring your hands to the side with open palms. In a fluid motion, bring your hands above your head. Stretch toward the sky, place your palms together, and sink back to the starting position. Flow through ten repetitions.

    Tai Chi for Mental Wellness

    One of the most unique aspects of Tai Chi is the integration of mind and body. The discipline does not focus only on improving physical health, but mental health as well. Consistent practice will reduce stress levels, improve mental clarity, and help you lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

    • Breathing Practice

    Deep breaths are key for clearing and relaxing your mind and allowing it to work in harmony with your body. As you practice Tai Chi, focus on timing your breathing with the movements. But you don’t have to be exercising to practice proper breathing form. Here are some tips you can practice while performing Tai Chi or throughout your day.

      • Keep your tongue in the roof of your mouth.
      • Inhale and exhale through your nose. This is particularly helpful for those with asthma because it warms the air before it comes into contact with your passageways.
      • Don’t pause between breaths. Focus on transitioning smoothly from inhale to exhale in one long, continuous circle.
      • Breathe from your belly, not your chest. Feel your belly expand with each inhale.
      • Relax your muscles. Let the tension drop from your body.
    • Swinging Hands

    Stand in a comfortable position and relax your arms at your sides. Keeping your knees slightly bent, turn your trunk from side to side and allow your arms to loosely swing in rhythm with your body. Allow your hands to lightly tap your body. This movement helps you release negative energy and relax your mind. Try it when you’re feeling stressed or angry.

    Tai Chi Sitting Down

    Seated Tai Chi Moves Seated tai chi classes are a safe and easy way to modify challenging tai chi moves for seniors who may have balance issues ( Image Reference).

    Tai Chi is such a flexible discipline, you can even practice sitting down. If you struggle with standing for long periods of time or if you’re recovering from an injury or a surgical procedure, try a few seated Tai Chi moves.

    • Touch the Sky

    Sit up straight. Place your hands in your lap with your palms facing upward and your fingertips pointing toward one another. Your elbows should be splayed outward. Take a slow, deep breath, and raise your hands to chest level. Turn your palms outward and lift your hands above your head, keeping your elbows slightly bent. As you slowly exhale, gently lower your arms to your sides and return to the starting position. Remain relaxed throughout the entire movement. Repeat up to ten times. This exercise is a fantastic warm-up. It will get your body moving in rhythm with your breathing and help you focus and clear your mind.

    • The Golden Lion Shakes Its Mane

    Sit up straight, with your hands resting on your thighs. Focus on taking deep, slow breaths. As you exhale, lean forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back. Twist your shoulders to one side, allowing your head to turn with your shoulders, keeping your neck neutral. Inhale as you reverse the motion and return to the starting position. Exhale and repeat in the opposite direction. Perform up to ten repetitions per side. This exercise will increase flexibility and strength in your lower back, as well as increasing abdominal and core strength to promote overall health and balance. Incorporating timed breathing with the movements encourages a full range of motion and helps you center yourself.

    Becoming Stronger with Tai Chi

    It’s no wonder is one of the most popular fitness disciplines for seniors. The movements are gentle and natural, placing no additional stress on your body, which means the risk of injury is low. Tai Chi improves flexibility, balance, and muscular strength for injury prevention, pain relief, and overall improved health. Plus, it’s easy to learn and widely available, and the integration of mind and body reduces stress levels and leads to improved concentration and happiness. Get started by watching videos on YouTube, and then find a class in your area! With Tai Chi, you never stop learning. As you master new moves, you’ll attempt more difficult and intricate variations. Yes, Tai Chi is fantastic for health and self-defense, but it can easily become a passion—something we could all use a little more of. As you begin your Tai Chi practice, keep a positive attitude and an open mind. Embrace the discipline and all it has to offer.


    Jessica Hegg
    Jessica Hegg

    Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.

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