Friday, December 4, 2015

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I think most people are familiar with this old fable about the tortoise and the hare. But in Tai Chi, it is never about the race or the win; it’s about the journey. And because it’s all about the journey, there’s no hurry. Just take your time, stay on the path, and enjoy what you see along the way.

Or put another way, slow and steady builds motor units.

Wait. What?

When most people think of Tai Chi, they envision senior citizens exercising slowly with beautiful and graceful movements. To most of the fast paced, instant-gratification Gen X and Gen Y population (and don’t worry, I fall just outside the brink of that range, so I am not completely immune to those behaviors), this nauseatingly slow movement doesn’t seem like exercise in the slightest. After all, only old people do it, right? It’s all they are capable of doing in their advanced age.

But there is a reason for the slow movement, and this is why Tai Chi is great for people of all ages. When we move with sudden bursts of energy, the muscles become tight and constricted. According to, the definition of constrict is “to slow or stop the natural course or development of.” But when we move slowly and continuously, we are relaxed; blood and energy flow naturally throughout our bodies. And where there is natural flow, there is an undeniable force. Think about rivers that flow unimpeded – no dams to block their rampant flow.  
Photo by Bob Brown
By moving slowly, we build a different kind of strength – strength for sustained movement. At a cellular level, we have an ongoing supply of motor units (nerve cells and muscle fibers) that are alternately resting and working for us, and we are building new motor units all the time to keep us strong into our old age. I realize that this may sound a bit too tech-heavy, so I’ll leave it at that. But for those who want to read a little more, check out this blog post.

I’m not saying that there is no place for activities with sudden bursts of energy. No, no, no! I think we need all kinds of energy to play with; they are all good and serve a purpose. I’m just saying not to underestimate the power of slow, continuous movement. I’m saying…give the tortoise a chance!

Photo from

1 comment:

  1. Like the analogy of the dam! And the tortoise! I often wondered about those old folks and their "slow movements"!! Thanks for the lesson!