Strength Ain't The Way
I once read a quote from Forbes that said something like, "for each generation to make progress, it must view the one before it as barbaric."
These days, exercise is all about muscle and strength. But in the future, we will look back on these concepts as barbaric. Why? Well, for a lot of reasons.
We're starting to realize that building muscle is not as valuable as enhancing function, i.e. those with great coordination and balance tend to be much more athletic than those with great strength.
I thought yoga was fad. Back in the 90's, all the ladies and metrosexual men were dashing into yoga classes and workshops. (I think Madonna had a lot to do with it) I was sure that yoga would be dead in ten years. I was wrong. But the way I see it, many who practice yoga still talk about how it builds strength.
The hottest emerging exercise is called functional exercise or (gulp) "functional fitness." The concept is that conventional weight training isolates and builds muscles, but it doesn't "teach" those muscle groups to work with other muscles. So "functional" movements focus less on raw strength and more on integration and coordination. These are more like whole-body exercises that will help you lift a toddler out of a car seat or carry a 60-pound suitcase down the stairs.
Doctors and trainers are closing in on the exercise of the future. They know "functional" is better than strong, and that stretching (yoga) is really important. Tai Chi is all that and a bag of chips.
Tai Chi is all about coordination. In fact, the movements are slow so that you can fine tune your coordination. When you move slowly, you begin to feel which parts are not linked up. In the west, we view "coordination" as aggregate. But in Tai Chi, there are six coordinations: three exterior (shoulders & hips; elbows & knees; hands & legs) and three interior (heart & intention; intention & chi; chi & strength). At higher levels, all six must also coordinate.
Tai Chi is also a phenomenon of stretching. Sure, yoga gets you stretched, but not like Tai Chi. Tai Chi focuses on "functional" stretching in the waist and hips so that you can stand on your feet, balance very well, and turn your body at will. Tai Chi masters can move like the wind.
Tai Chi focuses on cultivation of "chi" or life energy. The chi provides amazing speed and power. While a western trainer might believe this is just an alternative method of strength training, the Tenets of Tai Chi translate STRENGTH with the word "Li." In Tai Chi, strength is forbiddenand "Li" is a dirty word.
My teacher's father once wrote, "when you practice Tai Chi there should not be a single iota of brute strength remaining in your sinews."
The popularity of yoga has paved a perfect path for Tai Chi. Time Magazine calls Tai Chi "the perfect exercise," and it is. In 20 years, we will look back and say, "how silly that we used to focus on strength."