If you have been looking into the ancient martial art of Tai Chi, you are probably aiming to attend your first class in the near future. First of all, you are making a great life choice. Tai Chi provides great health benefits to those who practice it, but there is more to Tai Chi than meets the eye.
For instance, you are not going to arrive wearing your regular gym outfit and sneakers. Knowing what to wear and what to expect from your first class can make all the difference to the overall experience. And that is why I created this beginner’s guide – to help first-timers just like you.
What should you wear to practice Tai Chi? It’s important to wear loose-fitting, light, and comfortable clothing to practice Tai Chi. Clothing should be made from cotton for breathability and to avoid overheating. You should either practice barefoot or with light, flexible, thin-soled shoes. Avoid wearing perfume or jewelry.
If you have watched a Tai Chi class in progress or even watched a few video clips on YouTube, you will have noticed that the art involves a lot of slow stretches, turns, and seated postures. All of these movements require you to be able to move freely and smoothly, without any hindrance at all. What you wear can significantly impact on how easy it is for you to achieve the right movements and posture.
If you want to learn more about what to wear to Tai Chi, what is worn traditionally in the Chinese culture, and the reasons behind the clothing choices, read on. It’s probably not what you think!
A Beginners Guide to Exactly What to Wear to Tai Chi Classes
Loose-fitting or “roomy” pants.
If you are hoping to show off your curves or slinky physique while practicing Tai Chi, think again. Tai Chi pants are not fashionable, but they are comfortable and functional.
While there are a few suppliers of “Tai Chi pants” readily available on the internet, you don’t specifically have to spend any money on getting anything new or specific. If you have a baggy pair of trainers or sweatpants, they will do just fine.
Your pants need to be ankle length or have a cuff, just so that you’re not tripping on the end of them during your practice. With all the low movements and postures, there is a real risk that you may step on the end of long pants, so don’t risk it. Make sure that these pants are big enough to cover your rear end, as you will be doing a lot of almost-seated squat-like movements and you do not want to feel exposed or surprise your other classmates.
Baggy, flowing shirt or t-shirt.
Just like the pants you need to wear, loose-fitting is the only type of shirt you can wear to practice Tai Chi. Leotards and vests are not suitable attire and should be avoided at all costs. Again, you are not going to look too fashionable while practicing Tai Chi, but making the right clothing choice is essential for the enjoyment of your class and the success of your training.
T-shirts are a firm favorite for Tai Chi classes, but long-sleeved baggy shirts are also suitable, especially in colder weather. You can wear a t-shirt under a baggy sweater to create layers and then simply remove layers as you warm up.
Flexible, thin-soled shoes – or no shoes at all.
I personally feel that Tai Chi practice done barefoot is best, but sometimes this is not possible. If you are training in a public space where the ground is uneven, dirty or littered with leaves and sticks, you might just feel more comfortable wearing shoes, and so the shoes you choose are important.
Sneakers aren’t a good choice for various reasons. For starters, regular sneakers will probably cause problems with your ankle flexibility, and if you are practicing in a gym on a smooth surface, the soles might snag on the floor and make smooth movements tricky to get right. You need to be light on your feet while practicing Tai Chi, so choose light-weight shoes that are bendy (flexible) and have thin soles.
I have heard that Converse used to make martial arts shoes a few years back (sadly, they do not anymore) that are quite comfortable for Tai Chi, so perhaps consider investigating martial art shoes, especially if you do not have anything thin, light, and flexible in your cupboard to wear. Some Western Tai Chi Masters and instructors allow their students to wear their socks to classes, but this is not always allowed. It wouldn’t hurt to ask, though, especially if you are attending classes indoors or in a gym environment.
No extras and accessories.
You might be used to dousing yourself in nice smelling perfume and wearing your favorite necklace, earrings, arm bracelets, and similar things when you head out of the house, but these are not suitable for Tai Chi practice.
If you are just coming from work, remove all of your jewelry and store it somewhere safe before getting started. Perfume, cologne, and dangly/clinking jewelry items merely create a distraction for yourself and others in the Tai Chi class. Remember that Tai Chi is a meditative martial art and requires a quiet mind, concentration, and focus. Avoid wearing these items as much as possible.
Why Regular Gym Clothing is not Suitable for Tai Chi Practice
New students might ask why regular gym attire is not suitable for Tai Chi when, in general, such clothing does allow immense flexibility and range of movement.
It’s a particularly good question, and I concede that regular gym tops and tight pants might be great for an aerobics class or a run on the treadmill. But they are not suitable for Tai Chi, especially in terms of the culture that Tai Chi forms part of. Tai Chi is not merely a form of exercise. The art focuses on activating an individual’s Qi.
What is Qi, and how does clothing affect it?
In traditional Chinese culture, Qi forms a large part of all medicine and martial arts applications. The Chinese believe that Qi (which is the “Chi” part of Tai Chi) is a vital force and component of all living beings. While the direct translation in Chinese for Qi is “air”, it is also taken figuratively to mean “flow of energy” or “life force”.
Qi is a vital element of Tai Chi. It is required in order to be fully immersed in the martial art.
The reason loose-fitting clothing is required is that it is believed that Qi is transferred via energy channels. These channels are thought to run closely along the surface of the skin. Any fitted or tight items of clothing will thus interfere or even cease the activation of a person’s Qi. Because of this, it is not just the main clothing that needs to be loose-fitting. The waist, ankle cuffs, and sleeves must also be roomy.
You can still practice Tai Chi in regular gym wear, but you will not be showing respect to the martial art, and you quite simply will not be doing it right.
What is worn in Traditional Chinese Culture to Practice Tai Chi?
If you take a look at traditional Chinese Tai Chi classes, you might notice that they seem to be wearing some sort “uniform”. What most people do not know is that the Chinese were the sole creators of silk for many years, since the 27th Century BC. When Tai Chi was created, silk martial arts uniforms were worn. These were traditional Chinese loose-fitting pants and shirts, usually with big buttons and minimal adornments.
At the time, the poorer Chinese population had no access to silk and so regular loose clothing was worn for the practice of Tai Chi. Only martial art practitioners, monks, and nuns had access to these silk “uniforms” for Tai Chi practice.
You can do a quick Google search for Tai Chi uniforms, and many options of products will be presented to you. These are not specifically traditional uniforms for Tai Chi, but just traditional Chinese loose-fitting attire that is ideal for the practice of Tai Chi. Most Chinese Tai Chi classes show people practicing in loose-fitting white pants and white shirts.
If you can get your hands on a silk uniform-style Tai Chi outfit (they resemble silk pajamas), it will undoubtedly be excellent for your Qi during practice.
By and large,
As a beginner Tai Chi appreciator, being prepared for your first class is important. What you wear could affect the entire experience for you. If you wear the wrong clothing and can’t get into the right mindset, or feel extra to the class as you don’t look the same as everyone else, chances are that you won’t get the real benefits of Tai Chi.
For your first Tai Chi class (and all subsequent classes thereafter), loose-fitting pants and a t-shirt will do.