Tai Chi is an ancient traditional Chinese form of movement, a martial art developed some 3000 years ago. Over time, it has evolved into an entire system of exercise that has excellent health benefits, today, tai chi is used by people the world over as a physical and mental preparation for each day. Tai chi is a kind of contemplation through movement, a form of movement meditation. The moves, performed in slow motion, smoothly link various defensive postures with flowing arm gestures while continually shifting weight from one leg to the other. Because these smooth, fluid movements require body awareness, muscle control and strong concentration, tai chi is an intensive discipline for both body and mind; it helps balance and integrate the physical and the mental. The movements themselves stimulate healing of the joints, muscles and internal organs.
Tai chi was developed by Taoist monk Chang Sang Feng after he dreamt of a snake and crane in combat. He combined the healing art of chi gong with the suppleness and grace of animals to form the basis of tai chi. Many of the modern tai chi sequences have names that reflect this influence, for eg., "the white crane beats his gleaming wings" or "ride the tiger to the mountain".
Tai chi consists of 108 basic movements flowing one into the other. You can learn these movements in 8 to 10 lessons but regular practice is essential; the entire basic sequence takes about 30 minutes to perform. Courses are often offered by gyms, martial art studios and community centers.
According to a Chinese saying, "Tai chi makes you supple like a child, strong like a lumberjack and composed like a wise man." The harmonious movements bring body, mind and spirit into balance, teaching body awareness, muscle control and mental focus. Tai chi improves blood circulation, deepens breathing, enhances the body's defenses and supplies energy. It fortifies ligaments and increases joint flexibility. By building composure, it also boosts self confidence.
The view point of mainstream medicine
Scientific studies of tai chi's effectiveness have primarily focused on the elderly. It has been found that older people practicing tai chi daily are healthier than those who don't practice it; they have less heart disease, more joint mobility and greater mental alertness.
Daily Ritual : Practicing tai chi outdoors daily, in a natural setting, enhances its overall effects. In China, people like to have a tree nearby in order to draw from its strength.
Effective for reducing joint stiffness, muscle and tissue weakness, nervousness, sleep disorders, poor concentration, circulatory problems and metabolic disorders; valuable for increasing self confidence, energy and resilience.
Chi and posture
Tai chi emphasizes a balanced body posture, so that the flow of chi, or life's energy, can be enhanced. The position of the head is particularly important. If the head is off center, the spine cannot be elongated properly and the muscles of the neck clench up, leading to muscle tightness and headaches. According to classical texts on tai chi, the head is carried in such a way that it appears to float on the top of the spinal cord; at the same time, it is as if the top of the head is attached to an invisible string hanging down from the heavens. This allows the spine to stretch without tension or effort.
Basic preparatory exercise
Stand, relaxed and tall, with your feet firmly on the ground, hip distance apart, and your weight evenly distributed between them. Hold your head up straight, without tensing your enck. Gaze straight ahead into the distance. Let your arms hang loosely at your sides and breathe deeply.
Slowly lift your elbows to shoulder level. Keep your forearms parallel to the floor and your palms facing down, with your hands about shoulder width apart. As your arms go up, try to keep your muscles relaxed and your shoulders from lifting.
Bend your knees slightly. At the same time, slowly lower first your elbows and then your forearms in a flowing motion. Let your hands fall slowly, palms facing down, like leaves wafting down from a tree.