What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a form of exercise characterized by slow moving forms varying in sequence and postures, performed in a relaxed and conscious manner, creating vitality with calmness, release of accumulated stress and tension, balanced strength with flexibility, and controlled energy with awareness.
Traditionally, Tai Chi is considered a complete physical conditioner, a health and regenerative exercise, a way to longevity, a moving meditation, a self-defense art, and a philosophical way of life that brings harmony and balance through developed consciousness and awareness of one’s body, emotions, mind, and the spirit.
Internal vs. External Exercise Systems
Tai Chi is distinguished from other exercise forms as it is considered an internal (mind-body) system, as opposed to an external (muscle strength) system. The uniqueness of the internal system is that the developed or conscious mind directs the energy, and the energy in turn directs the body (often in ways that are physically “impossible”). This is a key factor in acquiring energy without tenseness, strength without nervousness, and tranquility (as vigilant attention) without lethargy. While exercising, the mind cannot be anywhere but on the action, since the variation and repetition of postures demand total attention. A result of this conscious effort is a heightened and more sustained concentration.
Most existing forms of exercise are sufficient in their capacity to relieve stress and tension; however, these reaccumulate as the individual goes about a daily routine repeating the same habitual physical, emotional, and mental patterns. Through increased awareness Tai Chi not only relieves existing stress and tension through slow relaxed movements, but also reorients the body, emotions and the mind to healthier and more appropriate responses to stress, preventing chronic anxiety and accumulated tension.
Who can benefit from Tai Chi?
In today’s world, Tai Chi as an exercise offers something unique to almost everyone. As an exercise it demands no physical strength to begin with, therefore the weak as well as the strong, the young as well as the old, and men as well as women all have the opportunity to participate equally. The practice of Tai Chi eliminates certain limiting considerations, such as traveling to distant locations, availability of exercise space (3 square yards is more than sufficient), weather conditions, practice equipment and dress, and exorbitant fees for classes. These conditions provide for a very important factor of success to exist: the opportunity to practice “consistently.”
General Benefits: Tai Chi as a tool for development represents many dynamic uses and possibilities. Practiced daily, Tai Chi will facilitate good health and promote longevity. As a daily meditation it provides the opportunity to relax away stress and accumulated tension, revitalizing and nurturing. Also Tai Chi provides a training process in which self-discipline and perseverance are cultivated.
Occupational Benefits: Tai Chi provides a tool for individuals to release stress and tension acquired while performing occupational tasks. Tai Chi also provides training in awareness of inefficient and stressful patterns of movement that are less productive and debilitating to the body. After practicing for several minutes (10 to 30 minutes) an individual can experience significant revitalization and rejuvenation.
Geriatric Benefits: Tai Chi provides excellent exercise opportunities for older adults restricted from exercise by physical limitations. However, Tai Chi uses a range of movement which reflects the individual’s capacity, from a sitting sequence for wheelchair and limited-standing persons to completely ambulatory motion. Since the exercises are taught and practiced at a slow pace, they are easily grasped by newcomers. This results in external as well as internal health, and brings forth the vital motivational life force that is often lacking in aging individuals due, in significant part, to lack of exercise.
As one practices Tai Chi an important method of breathing develops. Normally we only use the upper third of our lungs in breathing, resulting in poor oxygen absorption, and minimal elimination of carbon dioxide and other toxic metabolic wastes. This results in the bloodstream being polluted and inefficiency in supplying nutrients and oxygen to the body’s vital systems. However, in practicing Tai Chi the breathing develops naturally into a deep, rhythmic pattern, producing a balanced exchange in the lungs, purifying the bloodstream, and producing a rhythmic massage to the liver, kidneys, and other visceral organs.
Tai Chi can be important in preventing heart disease, as this daily stretching exercise prevents arteriosclerosis. Due to the continuous relaxed movement, it has a strengthening, endurance building, and stabilizing effect upon the circulatory system.
Slow conscious movement has a beneficial effect on the Central Nervous System, as it tends to balance the erratic impulse behavior of the nerves that result from environmental stress and shock. The kinesthetic senses are tuned and refined, resulting in a greater sense of balance and harmony with the internal and external world. Correct posturing throughout the exercise is emphasized to develop and maintain correct vertebral alignment.
From the versatile, slow stretching all 700-plus muscles, all joints, ligaments, and tendons are exercised, resulting in good muscle and skin tone. This also reduces tendencies toward sprains, strains, arthritis, and other joint-related ailments and injuries.
One of the principles of movement in Tai Chi is the turning of the waist, and the associated areas. The turning of the waist produces significant stretching and manipulation of the digestive organs, increasing digestion, absorption of nutrients, and elimination efficiency.
Basically, Tai Chi can do much to facilitate and improve the functioning of all nine vital systems: the skeletal, muscular, circulatory, lymph, excretory, digestive, endocrine, nervous, and sensory. This will provide better health, resistance to disease, and a better emotional and mental state.
Most people (70-80%) study Tai Chi for health, philosophical insight, and stress reduction. Tai Chi as a martial art system is slow to develop, but thorough. First, a significant level of form practice must be achieved. Then the student learns to apply the form’s movements in cooperative training exercises, through exploration of the principles and practice of receiving, neutralizing, and countering. A cooperative-competitive training environment encourages students to “do their best” while helping others to do the same, an enriching and enlivening process.
Tai Chi, while manifesting external activity, produces internal quietness. As one moves smoothly and continuously through the postures the mind and the body become one, creating relaxation and tranquility. This moving meditation creates a practical tool with which to maintain centering and internal balance while meeting the demands of a dynamically moving world.
Tai Chi in the essence of its philosophy represents the Way of balance and harmony between the Supreme Spirit, Man, and Nature. As one practices Tai Chi and begins to comprehend the Truths of the art one begins to find the balance and truths in themselves, in their relationships, and in their day to day living experience. Through consistent and devoted practice, and through sincere adherence to the highest values and virtues of this art, the deepest, highest, and most profound levels of Spiritual Awareness may be realized.