A Tai Chi Exercise: Circling Hands

Tai chi is all about cycles and circles. It embodies the philosophy of cycles. What expands now, will soon shrink back in, and what retreats will later surge outward.

In the tai chi form, the body bends inward then stretches outward. There is a calming rhythm of growing and shrinking, opening and closing throughout a tai chi practice.

In tai chi, all movements are circular. Expansion outward, including strikes and blows, is circular. Yielding, or retreating, also has a circular nature, and is not linear.

The circling hands exercise is a simple way to practice the physical circles and energy cycles of tai chi.

It’s a good and simple warm-up before doing your tai chi form. By isolating and repeating a simple circular movement, you’ll be better able to feel the energy cycles in your tai chi form. And, your movements will be smoother, fuller, and rounder.

Here’s how the Circling Hands Exercise is Done.

Start As If You’re About To Give Someone a Standing Applause—as if you’ve just witnessed a breath-taking tai chi performance or a moving piano concerto.

From this standing position--using the basics discussed in --your palms are facing each other. Hands are in front of your chest, fingers outward. Both hands are the same distance from your centerline.

Pick A Distance For The Space Between Your Hands. This is the distance you’ll be using for the exercise. Feel the energy connection between your hands. Don’t let your hands come in closer or spread further apart when making circles.

Start Making Circles With Your Hands. Just start making slow, vertical circles. The hands move up and out away from the body, maintaining the same distance apart. Then, bring your hands back down and inward.

Someone watching from the side should see your hands tracing a circle in the air. You can ask a friend or check in a mirror to see if you’re really tracing circles. If your movement looks more angular than circular, work on smoothing the motion out to a true circle.

Keep the same steady rate of movement throughout.

The hands maintain the same distance from your body’s centerline.

tai chi symbol and water
As your hands move outward, expand them. Feel your hands and wrists growing as your hands move away from your body. Expand the spaces between all of the bones in your hand and wrists. There are 27 bones in the hand and 8 more in the wrist—so there are many places to expand.

This expansion brings more blood and energy out to the hands and fingertips.

As Your Hands Move Inward, Contract Them. Close the joints and spaces back down again as your hands come closer to your body. This will help to return the blood and energy back to the body.

Get Your Entire Body Involved. After you’ve gotten a sense of the hands and wrists growing and shrinking as they move out and then back in, do the same for the other parts of your body. Feel this growing and shrinking throughout your entire body, from your feet, through the ankles, knees, and upward.

When doing this exercise—as well as during your tai chi form—feel the movement in your entire body. As stated in the , “One part moves, all parts move; one part stops, all parts stop.” This is one of the core principles of tai chi.

Keep Circling. Continue making the circles, growing and shrinking with the circles. Remember that the size and position of the circle stay the same.

Change Circle Direction. Then, keeping the same circle in space, simply change the direction of the circle. Someone from the side might have seen a counter-clockwise circle, and now they would see the same circle traced in a clockwise direction.

Try to do the same number of circles in both directions.

When you’ve done that, you’re ready to start a new set of circling hands--or ready to move onto another tai chi warm-up or to begin your tai chi set.

Other Variations of Circling Hands. The basic exercise is simple, but there are a number of ways the circling hands exercise can be done.

• Experiment with different sized circles—very large, airy circles or compressed smaller ones.

• Vary the space between your hands.

• Change the height of the circles, from higher, up to eye level, or lower circles done in front of your belly.

For all variations, it’s best to complete the same number of circles in both directions.

Have Fun Circling. Sometimes groups of tai chi practitioners have entire conversations while circling their hands. This isn’t too unusual in China. It’s a useful and relaxing exercise.

Have fun with the smoothness and simplicity of the Circling Hands warm up.

Next: Read about a partner exercise for tai chi, Push Hands.