What is Tai Chi? How does Tai Chi improve health?
People ask me these questions all the time. Some ask because they see so many people doing these exercises in the park. Others ask because they can hardly believe there can be any benefits from such slow body movements. We, Americans, do things so fast. I often ask people when I give lectures “What is the life span of a dog? What is the life span of a turtle”? I guess you know now who preserves their energy better.
Tai Chi is a very special, artistic, and yet gentle total-body, internal energy workout, that provides great health benefits to our body, our mind, and our spirit.
Tai Chi is a form of art, a motion art, similar to dancing; it is like “dancing in the clouds”. You can truly express yourself through these exercise movements. The beautiful flow of Tai Chi gives you a sense of wellbeing and comfort as you move the energy. Tai Chi is a type of meditation, a meditation through movement, which helps to calm brain activity and promote chemical balance in the brain. This makes you feel positive and peaceful by helping you to let go of all the junk in your mind and in your body. This is called “energy cleansing”. That is why many people use Tai Chi for stress reduction. The original movements of Tai Chi were taken from the martial arts. Therefore, Tai Chi is also a martial art, an internal martial art, which can be used for self defense. Practicing Tai Chi can be done in two different ways: the harmonious way and the martial way. Most people enjoy the harmonious way, for health, healing, and stress reduction. Younger people enjoy the martial way, to strengthen the body, the mind, and to develop fighting skills. Many martial art practitioners start to practice Tai Chi when they get older, not only for healing of their injuries, but also to strengthen their organ energy and to prevent aging.
The benefits of Tai Chi
Tai Chi shares the same principles with Chinese medicine which are—to maintain optimum health and a strong immune system, to create wholeness and harmony in the body, and to enhance self healing ability. This is done through the practice of Tai Chi by enhancing the body energy systems and energy flow. This is called the “smooth flow of “qi”. This type of qi benefits our organ systems, such as the cardio-vascular system, respiratory system, gastro-intestinal system, muscular skeletal system, and neurological system. It also helps to increase stamina, daily energy levels, and immune function. Best of all, it balances the two sides of the brain, promotes better learning, enhances memory, and improves body functions; it is like an “Adult Brain GYM”.
In people who have practiced Tai Chi for most of their lives, you will notice the sharpness and clarity of their minds. By practicing Tai Chi regularly intuition improves. The reason for this is that Tai Chi works with your internal energy. There is more awareness of surrounding energies, including the energy of people and the environment.
Those that do energy healing work, body work, or other hands on therapy, may find that their healing work or therapeutic work is much more effective. From practicing many years of Chinese medicine, Qigong and Tai Chi, I have received so many positive and rewarding compliments from my patients.
We have more family members as patients and numerous patients have switched from Western medicine to Eastern medicine looking for a more natural way for healing. They are very happy with the results that they have received from the treatments of Eastern medicine. Why? Because it works. And it is a very effective age-old proven method of healing.
Learning Tai Chi
Tai Chi movements, which are slow and circular, coordinate with body motion. People have often told me that Tai Chi is difficult to learn. I respond, “yes” and “no.” If you learn it correctly; it is not difficult. One of the very important tips in Tai Chi practice is to relax and let go of everything in your mind and body. I often find that people are very tense during my teaching in classes and during instructor training workshops. As soon as they relax, they can see how much better they do. The theory is, if you relax, you allow your energy to flow. If you tense up, you will cause energy blockages, which will make the learning much more difficult.
Tai Chi is an advanced energy workout that needs a relaxed attitude and full concentration on the present you. Breathing is slow and deep and coordinated with each movement. For beginners, the breathing is not emphasized. Most practice is in walking motion, but for the new learner, some stationary practice on Tai Chi basics can be very helpful. This kind of practice, beginners may find easier. Before practicing Tai Chi, always do 10 to 15 minutes of warm-up exercises or fast walking. After practice, do some stretching.
There are five main styles or forms: Yang, Chen, Wu, Wu (Hao), and Sun. The most popular styles are Yang, Wu, Chen, in this order. More people study the Yang style, big frame style, which is easy to learn and easy to share with others. Wu style, small frame style, is also easy to learn, and the older population likes it. Chen style, I call martial style, very energetic and powerful, but more difficult to learn. All of them share the same principles and provide similar benefits. For those practicing the martial way, they should incorporate some Tai Chi Push Hands, to demonstrate and test the true understanding of Tai Chi.
Although Tai Chi offers great health benefits; it is not for everyone. It is not practical for anyone with a severe illness. In contrast, Qigong can be used for any situation. If you have too much stress or a chemical imbalance, Tai Chi is a good tool to use every day. Once you decide to learn Tai Chi, you will need to have discipline, patience, and diligent practice, because learning Tai Chi takes time. It is more beneficial and much more fun, if you incorporate it with the practice of Push Hands. Tai Chi Push Hands, a form of partnership practice, can be used to gain the fundamental skills of focusing and directing energy. Use Tai Chi skills to defend the external force. Push hands share the same principles of Tai Chi.
In order to avoid injury in Tai Chi practice, beginners should avoid low stance, and focus on relaxation, gradually increase the length of practice, alternate the station movements, and walking movements. Always warm up before practice.
Tai Chi is a journey and it serves as a self discipline. It is a life style, a constant awareness of well being and good health. In our fast paced society, we need Tai Chi to balance our life, keep us up-lifting, help us focus, keep us healthy, bring us fulfilled spirit, and happiness.