For hundreds of years, long before the emergence of modern medicine, people have been practicing tai chi for optimal health and spiritual growth. But what is tai chi? And what is it about tai chi that has kept people practicing this art form for all of these years? Tai chi is a mind body exercise that connects slow, steady movements to breath. Complete concentration on the body and the body’s energy can lead to a meditative state while practicing tai chi that is said to promote optimal physical and mental health.
Tai chi, or more formally, tai chi chuan, is a form of Chinese martial arts that has its origins in the Sung Dynasty, years 960-1279 C.E. Created by the legendary Taoist master, Chang San-Feng, the art-form of tai chi was developed to keep the body’s life force, chi, flowing freely. The ancient Chinese believed that blockages in chi are the causes of many physical and mental ailments. They attributed everything from minor illnesses, to disease, to mental illness and mood, and even thought processes to the state of a person’s chi. They believed that by mindfully flowing through the poses of the tai chi practice a person could remove blockages in chi to obtain optimal health. They also believed that well being involves a balance of two opposing internal forces, referred to as yin and yang. The movements of tai chi also work to create an internal balance between these two opposing forces that is essential for chi to flow freely. Since the time of Chang San-Feng, the art form has been past down over generations and many variations have emerged. All forms, however, have three things in common; slow movement, breath, and meditation.
Now, in the modern day era, millions of people around the world still practice tai chi on a regular basis. As it turns out, many of the tai chi health benefits, which people have been attesting to since its origin, have been backed up by modern-day medical research. Some of the most well-studied tai chi benefits include its effectiveness as a stress reducer and a mood booster. Tai chi is referred to as moving meditation by many health care professionals, and for good reason. As you practice tai chi and focus on the slow, purposeful movements, as well as your breath, your mind lets go of daily stress and worry, bringing on a sense of well-being and calm. Research supports that daily tai chi practice can actually be used as an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
Tai chi can also be used to treat and prevent aches and pains, as well as disease. Since it is a slow, low-impact exercise it is an exercise option for people at all fitness levels, and is particularly helpful for those with limited mobility and joint injuries. A report published by Harvard health indicates that tai chi can be used to reduce arthritis pain, maintain bone density, reduce heart disease and heart failure, lower blood pressure, slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, improve sleep quality, and reduce the risk of stroke.
With all of these health benefits it is no wonder that more and more people are taking up the practice each year. If you are thinking about giving tai chi a try you can either go to a local studio for a group class or personalized instruction, or order instructional videos to assist you in learning the basics. It is also helpful to study up on the principles that are at the core the tai chi practice. This will help you understand how the poses increase energy flow in your body.
If you are considering taking your first tai chi class, there are a few movements and postures that you may want to be familiar with before beginning. Almost all tai chi moves begin in Wu Chi, or horse stance. In this posture, your feet are placed shoulder width apart. Your knees should be slightly bent and your back should be straight, with your pelvis tilted slightly forward. Your shoulders should be relaxed and the tip of the tongue should touch the roof of your mouth.
From this beginning pose you will be directed to flow through several tai chi moves. In one of the most basis moves, often referred to as ‘parting the wild horse mane’, you will slowly slide your left foot to the left side of your body, with your knees bent. As you are sliding your foot, bring your left hand to belly button level with palm facing up and your right hand to chin level with the palm facing down. Then, pivot your torso to the left. As you do this slightly extend your arms, so that your left palm faces your nose and your right palm turns down toward the floor.
After this pose you will often flow through a set of motions referred to as ‘the white crane spreading it’s wings.’ From where you left off in the previous pose, shift your weight into your left leg. That leg should be bent to a ninety-degree angle at the knee joint and your right leg should not be bent. Lower your right hand, palm down, to hip level. Now, reverse the positions of your hands so that your left hand moves to hip level, palm down, and your right hand moves up to eye level, palm turned sideways. As you are moving your hand position, shift your weight back into the right leg, only this time, keep both legs slightly bent.
There are many more movements and variations that you will learn as you begin your tai chi practice. Your instructor will guide you through the movements and the benefits that they have on your mind and body. As you progress in your understanding of this ancient art form of martial arts you will start to recognize the calming and balancing effects of the practice as well. Most people who practice tai chi report feeling a sense of strong overall well being at the completion of their practice.