Flu-Fighting Tai Chi

By Marianne McGinnis and Christina Sexton

Face winter with a defiant, energised grin by trading vitamin C for a dose of tai chi. It’s cheaper and more effective—ramping up your body’s disease-fighting defences by as much as 47%—and it can triple the protection you get from a flu shot. Scientists suspect that the secret to tai chi’s elixirlike effects lies in its slow movements and controlled breathing—and the power of both to fight germs. It also palms off stress and helps you sleep better, both of which are key to a healthy immune system. Start today with our no-sweat 20-minute routine—you don’t even need to change your clothes!


A clutter-free area—about 3 square metres. You can do tai chi with bare feet or in flat, flexible shoes; loose or stretchy comfortable clothing is ideal.
Perform the routine 3 to 7 times a week. From the beginning stance, repeat the sequence for 20 minutes and then do the final move.
Think of tai chi as a slow, graceful dance. Try each move separately, then link them into one sequence. You don’t alternate sides as in other workouts.
Don’t worry about your hand or feet movements being exact. Tai chi is most effective when your mind and body are relaxed.
Find a tai-chi class at

Beginning Stance

Stand tall with feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forwards and knees slightly bent. Relax arms and hands at sides. Look straight ahead and slightly tuck pelvis to drop tailbone towards floor (A). Touch tip of tongue to roof of mouth to relax jaw. Inhale through nose. Pause for a second, then exhale through mouth, drawing navel into spine. Repeat for 3 to 5 breaths. Breathe this way as you continue.

Circle & Strike Palm

From the beginning stance, inhale as you circle hands up in front of you (as if stroking an enormous pregnant belly) to chin height, palms facing down. At the same time, shift weight onto left leg, bend left knee slightly and raise right heel off floor, rotating foot slightly outwards (B). Exhale, lower hands to waist height, shift weight to right leg, bend right knee slightly and raise left heel (C). Inhale and circle hands out to sides. Exhale as hands come around in front of chest as if they’re going to clap, right hand closest to you. Simultaneously raise left foot and lightly place left heel on floor in front of you, foot flexed (D).

Grasp & Stroke Bird

Inhale, reach both hands diagonally up to right (grasp bird) and tap left toes on floor behind you (E). Exhale and swoop arms down in an arc (stroke bird) as you step right foot next to left one, turning your body to face slightly left. Continue circling hands up until they’re in front of chin, palms facing forwards (F).

Pushing & Gathering Energy

Inhale, rotate torso and step left foot to left, foot flexed and heel touching floor (G). Exhale and shift weight onto left leg (knee bends slightly) as right heel comes off floor and arms straighten, as if pressing away a heavy object (H). On the next inhalation, step back to beginning stance (A). Repeat sequence, moving in the same direction, for 20 minutes. (Even 5 minutes is beneficial if you don’t have much time.)

Final Move

Bring feet together and inhale as you circle arms (palms up) out to sides and overhead. Exhale and slowly lower hands down in front of torso, palms down and elbows bent, so arms end at sides.

Bill Douglas, a tai-chi instructor and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & QiGong ($34.95; Penguin), designed this workout.