What is Tai Chi all about?
Can it possibly be incorporated with meditation and yoga?
If you’re looking for a way to reduce stress, consider tai chi. Originally developed for self-defense, tai chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that’s now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Often described as meditation in motion, tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that, today, is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing.
Tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion. Tai chi has many different styles. Each style may have its own subtle emphasis on various tai chi principles and methods. There are also variations within each style. Some may focus on health maintenance, while others focus on the martial arts aspect of tai chi. Tai chi is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it generally safe for all ages and fitness levels. In fact, because tai chi is low impact, it may be especially suitable if you’re an older adult who otherwise may not exercise. You may also find tai chi appealing because it’s inexpensive, requires no special equipment and can be done indoors or out, either alone or in a group.
Although tai chi is generally safe, women who are pregnant or people with joint problems, back pain, fractures, severe osteoporosis or a hernia
should consult their health care provider before trying tai chi. Modification or avoidance of certain postures may be recommended.
Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. It is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: its hard and soft martial art technique, demonstration competitions, and longevity. As a result, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims. Some of t’ai chi ch’uan’s training forms are especially known for being practiced with what most people would categorize as slow movement.
Today, t’ai chi ch’uan has spread worldwide. Most modern styles of t’ai chi ch’uan trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu and Sun.
Medical research has found evidence that t’ai chi is helpful for improving balance and for general psychological health, and that it is associated with general health benefits in older people.
The term “t’ai chi ch’uan” translates as “supreme ultimate fist”, “boundless fist”, “supreme ultimate boxing” or “great extremes boxing”. The chi in this instance is the Wade-Giles transliteration of the Pinyin, and is distinct from “life energy”. The concept of the taiji (“supreme ultimate”), in contrast with wuji (“without ultimate”), appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, where it represents the fusion of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate, represented by the taijitu symbol . T’ai chi ch’uan theory and practice evolved in agreement with many Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism.
Tai chi ch’uan training involves five elements, solo hand and weapons routines/forms, breathing, movement and awareness exercises and meditations, response drills and self- defense techniques). While t’ai chi ch’uan is typified by some for its slow movements, many t’ai chi styles (including the three most popular –Yang, Wu and Chen) – have secondary forms with faster pace. Some traditional schools of t’ai chi teach partner exercises known as “pushing hands”, and martial applications of the forms’ postures.
In China, t’ai chi ch’uan is categorized under the Wudang grouping of Chinese martial arts – that is, the arts applied with internal power. Although the Wudang name falsely suggests these arts originated at the so-called Wudang Mountain, it is simply used to distinguish the skills, theories and applications of neijia (“internal arts”) from those of the Shaolin grouping, waijia (“hard” or “external”) martial art styles.
Since the first widespread promotion of t’ai chi ch’uan’s health benefits, it has developed a worldwide following among people with little or no interest in martial training, for its benefit to health and health maintenance. Medical studies of tai chi support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therap.
It is purported that focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. Besides general health benefits and stress management attributed to t’ai chi ch’uan training, aspects of traditional Chinese medicine are taught as well. Some other forms of martial arts require students to wear a uniform during practice. In general, t’ai chi ch’uan schools do not require a uniform, but both traditional and modern teachers often advocate loose, comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes.
The physical techniques of t’ai chi ch’uan are described in the “Tai chi classics,” a set of writings by traditional masters, as being characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination and relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize, yield, or initiate attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning how that leverage is generated gently and measurably increases, opens the internal circulation (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis, etc).
In modern usage, the term is now commonly understood, both in the West and in mainland China, to refer to the martial art and exercise system. However, the term has its origins in Chinese philosophy. The word taiji translates to “great pole/goal” or “supreme ultimate”, and is believed to be a pivotal, spiraling, or coiling force that transforms the neutrality of wuji to a state of polarity depicted by the taijitu. T’ai chi / taiji is thus symbolically represented by a state between wuji and the polar “yin and yang”, not by the actual yin and yang symbol, as is frequently misinterpreted. The combination of the term taiji and quan (“fist”) produces the martial art’s name taijiquan or “taiji fist”, showing the close link and use of the taiji concept in the martial art. Taijiquan does not directly refer to the use of qi as is commonly assumed. The practice of taijiquan is meant to be in harmony with taiji philosophy, utilizing and manipulating qi via taiji, to produce great effect with minimal effort.
There are now dozens of new styles, hybrid styles, and offshoots of the main styles, but the five family schools are the groups recognized by the international community as being the orthodox styles. Other important styles are Zhaobao t’ai chi ch’uan, a close cousin of Chen-style, which has been newly recognized by Western practitioners as a distinct style, and the Fu style, created by Fu Chen Sung, which evolved from Chen, Sun and Yang styles, and also incorporates movements from Baguazhang (Pa Kua Chang).
In the last twenty years or so, t’ai chi ch’uan classes that purely emphasize health have become popular in hospitals, clinics, as well as community and senior centres. This has occurred as the baby boomers generation has aged and the art’s reputation as a low-stress training method for seniors has become better known.
As a result of this popularity, there has been some divergence between those that say they practice t’ai chi ch’uan primarily for self-defense, those that practice it for its aesthetic appeal, and those that are more interested in its benefits to physical and mental health. The wushu aspect is primarily for show; the forms taught for those purposes are designed to earn points in competition and are mostly unconcerned with either health maintenance or martial ability. More traditional stylists believe the two aspects of health and martial arts are equally necessary: the yin and yang of t’ai chi ch’uan. The t’ai chi ch’uan “family” schools, therefore, still present their teachings in a martial art context, whatever the intention of their students in studying the art.
The philosophy of t’ai chi ch’uan is that, if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certainly to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to t’ai chi ch’uan theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. Instead, students are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin. When done correctly, this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat, or in a broader philosophical sense, is a primary goal of t’ai chi ch’uan training.
Alessandro Sicuro wrote: …”Tai Chi is the best gift that you can do to your body, to your mind and your spirit …”