Can I Learn Tai Chi from a DVD?

There are so many fitness DVDs out there. They seem to offer all the benefits of a gym in the comfort of your home and with ultimate convenience. Just pop in a DVD and you're on your way to learning pilates, yoga, a new kind of strength training, or the latest, most innovative aerobic technique.

The question seems inevitable: can you learn tai chi from a DVD?

The short answer to this question is no, you can't, and it's not a good idea to try.

Why is that?

There is more - much more - to tai chi than what you can see on the surface, especially if you've never had instruction before. What goes on inside the body of a tai chi practitioner is much more complex than you would think. With each movement, the spine turns and stretches, the organs shift, and the feet connect with the ground in a much more profound way than most people ever experience. On the outside, you might see the practitioner turning his or her hand so that the palm faces outward. On the inside, there is a whole series of techniques at work to make that turning happen. The hand is connected to the spine and foot, and nothing moves independently.

In order to begin to see the connections - and most importantly, to feel them for yourself - you need an instructor who can see what you're doing and tell you how to deepen it. You need someone to explain it to you.

An instructor is also there to help make sure that you don't injure yourself as you learn tai chi. Every body is different, and everyone has a different set of physical limitations. It is easy to injure yourself, especially in the beginning, by doing the movements incorrectly.

I'll say that again: it is easy to injure yourself if you are doing tai chi incorrectly. Many people think that tai chi is "gentle" and "simple." But if you really go for it, it can be a wonderfully challenging workout. And a movement that's just a few degrees off of correct can result in muscle strains and tears.

Even a small difference in a movement can translate into an injury. An instructor will answer your questions about any discomfort you may experience, will watch to make sure you're not doing anything that will hurt you, and will show you the correct way to perform each step in the tai chi set.

When you find a good teacher, you have an invaluable resource for information and help as you learn tai chi. You have someone who cares about your wellbeing, and will work with you to make sure you reach your goals. You'll need that as you continue down the tai chi path, which is, after all, a path of self-discovery. That's much more than a DVD can offer.

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