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Workout Review: Tai Cheng

I'm in the final phase of the Tai Cheng program—just 3 weeks left! And I thought I would take the time to write a review since I haven't reviewed any workout programs since last summer.

Tai Cheng is a program I often recommended to customers who were older, who had injuries and physical limitations, or who were new to exercise. I had heard that it was low-impact and gentle, but I really knew nothing about it beyond what I was able to glean from reading the product guidebook. Although I can't say my illness last summer was a blessing in disguise, I will say that it had a silver lining in that Iearned what it is like to recover from something so debilitating and I think from now on I'll have a much easier time relating to my clients who have been or are sick, weak, or injured.

Tai Cheng is based on the ancient mind-body practices of tai chi and qi gong. (The video series is named for the trainer who leads the classes, Dr. Mark Cheng.) Each session starts with a "neural reboot," which is basically a full-body stretching and flexibility session with some focus on balance as well. It differs from yoga in that it mostly uses repetitive motion instead of static holds. It also includes a session on the foam roller, performing some self-massage. Aside from feeling amazing, this helps break up dysfunctional patterns in which the body becomes overly tight in one spot as it tries to stabilize to make up for weakness. Such patterns can pull the joints into unbalanced positions and prevent them from moving freely. Regular foam rolling as shown in the videos frees up the joints to move through their full natural range.

Each session also includes the practice of some tai chi postures. The first nine weeks follow this progression: learn postures one by one; put these same postures together in pairs; and finally, put six postures together in a sequence. (This is the first three weeks; the progression follows in the same manner for the second three weeks, with a new set of postures; and again for weeks seven through nine.) In weeks 10 through 13, these six-pose sequences are combined and practiced back to back, for a longer session of tai chi each day (in addition to the neural reboot).

Sessions start out at 30 minutes (20 minute neural reboot and 10 minutes of tai chi), and mostly add new things while continuing with what was already included, so the sessions get longer—about an hour and 15 minutes by the end. No equipment is required. Laying down some tape on the floor of your exercise area is recommended, so you can feel that your feet are in the proper positions for each stance. Using a resistance band is offered as an option for those who want an extra challenge.

I have to say that Tai Cheng has been a great complement to my yoga practice as I've worked to regain my flexibility, strength, and balance this fall and winter. I've noticed that is has made me pay more attention to how I am distributing my weight while standing and walking. It cultivates body awareness and insight, and I absolutely think this program is suitable for people who are new to exercise or have significant limitations. In the videos, Dr. Mark Cheng shows the ease of movement that is possible with regular, sustained practice, and a modifier shows a less strenuous version that may still be plenty challenging for a newbie.

The way this program measures results is all about function. There is a test involving squats, lunges, a toe touch, balance exercises, and shoulder range of motion exercises that is given before starting the program and again at the end. I can't wait to take the test again in a few weeks and see what's changed for me!

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