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Two-Part Series: Group Fitness Trends

Tai Chi: The Soft Side of Martial Arts

Tai chi, practiced regularly in China by people of all ages, is one of the most nonaggressive forms of the martial arts. Its controlled, fluid movements resemble a dance, and its slow speed makes the moves comfortable and easy to execute. Because it is a martial art, tai chi philosophy is combative: Its purpose is to help "fight" fatigue and stress. The circular motions of the limbs and the body as a whole increase endurance and strength without the use of external weights. Its meditative quality improves mental clarity. Participants learn a series of movements while focusing on executing the movements from their center, or "tan-tien". An excellent introduction to the discipline of martial arts, tai chi is also a great way to simply chill out.

Many of these mind-body styles of exercise are being blended into combination classes that offer a mix of styles and techniques. It is not unusual for teachers to add a yoga or tai chi warm-up or cool-down to a traditional cardiovascular or sculpting workout. Health-club schedules may list these mind-body approaches to exercise under different names, such as Mind and Muscle, Flexible Strength or Balanced Body Workout.

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