Okay, no, not really. Taiji and fitness. I have grappled on whether they are friend or foe. Both are related, yet not completely complementary either. I've just needed to get clear on what I wanted from each, and not conflate the two. For years, my regular gym routine consisted of:
- Elliptical cardio (15-25 min)
- Free weights (arm curls)
- Compound movements (lunge curls, shoulder press squats)
- Machines (presses, pulls)
- Basic TRX
- Floor exercises (stretches, extensions)
These felt good, and I saw results: weight loss and muscle gain. A few years ago, I couldn't kneel into a proper lunge. Working with a trainer on lunges and squats progressively to proper form then with added weight were instrumental in activating the same muscles in the pelvic/psoas area that make it possible to perform my kua-weight-shifting in taiji.
However, over the past six months, I've gradually downgraded this gym routine - so that my allocated time for to exercise could be filled with more and more taiji repetitions. Depending on the movement and pacing, I know my body can do anywhere between a 45-90 minute set, and I'd rather have more of those minutes spent on taiji. So now, my taiji "workouts" look like this:
- Silk-reeling exercises (warm-up for 30 min)
- Forms (30-60 min)
So how do these results compare? Ten minutes of one focused form repetition gets my heart rate up. A second 10-minute set will result in needing to wipe sweat from my face. At my best, I've done six 10-minute sets on my own (not including the group taiji marathons at are three, non-stop hours of 15 reps). Taiji reps also improved muscle tone in my thighs and glutes even better than gym exercises. My theory behind this is that taiji requires supporting one's entire body weight on one leg, not two - with constant shifting back and forth between one leg to the other - as opposed to weighted squats in which body weight plus extra free weights are supported by both legs. So, whereas weights allow you to focus a targeted muscle, taiji works them in clumps - depending on the posture. Taiji isn't a practice to achieve a sculpted physique or an efficient method of weight loss because of the length of a thorough practice.
So why does taiji "win" for me enough to cut my gym exercises? Because, for me, taiji works these particular muscles:
- Focus / Intention
- Centeredness / Balance
I'm not completely knocking the gym - nor am I saying that the gym can't work these three areas I've named. It's just that for me, taiji does it better and with elegance. I still keep my gym membership and go on occasion, when I know I'm not in a focused mood or when I'm craving high octane tunes. I consider the gym a supplement, but not the main event. Sometimes you just have to pick.