What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi has developed into the ideal exercise for stress relief and other health conditions as it is low impact and generally a gentle form of exercise.. The movements are slow and gentle, and the degree of exertion can be easily adjusted, making it suitable for people of all levels of ability. It is often described as meditation in motion with the movements flowing into one another bringing a constant flow of motion accompanied by deep breathing. There are various styles of Tai Chi with their own forms; some emphasizing the deep meditative health element aspect and others emphasizing the self defence martial arts.
Although there are numerous styles of Tai Chi each with their own form, they all share the same principles:
- Mind integrated with the body;
- Fluidity of movement;
- Control of breathing;
- Mental concentration;
- The central focus is to enable the qi or life force to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body.
The principles of Tai Chi are reflected in its symbol of the Yin and Yang – a theory that in all things there is a “duality”: night and day, sun and moon, male and female, active and passive. Tai Chi is a way to balance between the yin, the receptive side and the yang, the assertive side, creating the path to stay balanced within yourself and within your life. This is done through gentle movements that flow one to the other, control over our breathing and deep focus and concentration.Total harmony of the inner and outer self comes from the integration of mind and body, achieved through the ongoing practice of Tai Chi. The practice of Tai Chi offers immense health benefits including strengthening body and mind, balance and self-confidence.
How does it work?
Originally a martial art for self defence at the beginning of the 20th century the enormous health benefits were recognized and given prime focus. This was especially true of “Qi” which originally was used for increasing the internal strength of the physical body for combat. Now these same techniques have been proven effective as life prolonging, healing, and rejuvenating exercises. It is these health benefits that makes Tai Chi so popular today. By concentrating on exercises to strengthen the physical and energetic body many potential diseases may be either prevented or even cured.
The Tai Ci Sequences practiced in Tai Chi come from two sources:
- 24 postures which were selected out of 148 postures from the traditional yang style Tai Chi. This compilation was made by the Chinese Sports Commission in 1956
- 48 postures were taken to form an advanced sequence taken from the traditions of Yang, Chen, Wu, and Sun styles of Tai Chi. These were compiled by the National Chinese Athletic Association in 1978
Along with the health benefits, performing these movements in a precise manner brings a quiet and focused mind.
What to expect in a Tai Chi Class:
There are many varieties of Tai Chi with many different style of instructors. To find the right Tai Chi class for you identify what are your needs, what you are hoping to gain from a tai chi class and then look for the one that benefits you the most. It is useful to watch a class or two before you decide to join in. Decisions could be based on:
- Is the session challenging. It should push you physically, require significant focus, and you should see how it will continue to challenge you as you grow stronger
- Are you enjoying the class – a critical element in whether you will continue the practice
Tai Chi , Qigong and Push Hands all teach the same basic principles in various ways. Whether practiced together as a more complete art, or separately, each has a positive effect on one’s spirit, mind and body.
Tai Chi is especially helpful to seniors as it is low impact. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that Tai Chi can help people over 65 feel steadier on their feet and improve their hand eye coordination. The National Association of Orthopedic Nurses endorses Tai Chi for seniors seeking to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and get gentle aerobic exercise.
Structure of a Tai Chi Class:
- Warm-up: this could be done either seated or standing where you use Qigong type of guided imagery.
- A Tai Chi class then either forms a circle if it is small and intimate class or long lines with enough space to move your arms around. The instructor can move around the room either facing the class or with his back to the class to demonstrate the moves and sometimes there are advanced students able to guide the beginners. There is no escaping the fact that Tai Chi moves are complex and involve focus to achieve the flow. The beginner should be reminded that everyone has to start somewhere. Even if you cannot join in totally at the beginning just by copying what you can and using your breathing techniques will make you feel like you gained in some way.
- Finally there is a cool-down
- You can continue to practice the moves at home and in time you will find that you have made significant progress. All classes include simple, low impact movements that increase flexibility, balance, range of motion, vitality, relaxation, mental focus, strength and overall well being. Each student can learn at his/her own pace in a relaxed, non competitive atmosphere.
- The slow, relaxed, condensing and expanding movements of Tai Chi Chuan provide a total body exercise.
- As the muscles are allowed to relax, blood circulation can be improved.
- The gentle movements loosen up the spine, ribs and the internal organs.
- By “massaging” the organs, you can loosen up the tension around them and increase the blood circulation.
- The slow movements allow the body to move with less tension than high pace movements, which require fast muscle contractions.
- The slow movements of Tai Chi Chuan allow the lungs to be more relaxed and to increase the intake of oxygen.
- Tai Chi Chuan exercise helps to redistribute energy in our body, by leading excess energy from tense areas, so as to regain balance.
- Performing Tai Chi Chuan early in the morning clears the mind and prepares one to tackle any task during the day.
Learning to do Tai Chi correctly provides:
- Fine-scale motor control,
- Rhythm of movement,
- Being able to better stand, walk, move, run, etc. in other spheres of life,
- Improved posture, alignment or movement patterns which can contribute to tension or injury,
- A meditative nature of exercising that is calming and relaxing in and of itself,
- Lower blood pressure,
- Improved circulation,
- A sense of empowerment, especially among seniors.
Even though Tai Chi is a low impact class, you should feel physically challenged by the end. The exercises are safe for all ages, but please let your instructor know if you have any physical limitations, especially problems with your knees.