Originally developed in ancient China as a martial art for self-defense, Tai Chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that facilitates health improvement, disease prevention, healing assistance, and spiritual growth. It involves slow, circular movements, as well as mental concentration, breath control, deep relaxation, and meditation.
Tai Chi uses slow, gentle, flowing movements to reduce the stress of today’s busy lifestyles and improve the body’s overall health. While other types of modern exercise might place an emphasis on pushing the body harder and faster, in Taichi the emphasis is on pushing slower and softer, making it ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Tai Chi practice involves integrating the mind, body, breath and chi (life force or bio-energy). It serves to increase the internal strength while simultaneously bringing healing and rejuvenation to the body.
The philosophy behind Tai Chi is grounded in the Yin/Yang theory of using softness to overcome hardness. In modern life, this teaches us not to meet incoming forces head-on, such as reacting to force with force, but rather to yield and redirect these negative forces to where they are no longer harmful to self or to others.
The many health benefits of practicing Tai Chi are phenomenal. It strengthens muscles, tendons and joints; improves the circulation of blood and energizes the body. It strengthens the immune system, mental concentration, balance, coordination, alertness, memory and has shown promise among those suffering with chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and Multiple-Sclerosis.
Tai Chi is also a form of moving meditation involving the mind, body and breath. Practicing Tai Chi helps one to center their awareness in the present moment and focus on the breath while moving through the gentle postures of the Taichi form. This kind of meditation helps one to step away from the stresses of daily life, restore a balance to the emotions and create a deeper connection with one’s own body. Tai Chi is especially good for those who want to experience the benefits of meditation but find it difficult to practice while sitting.
While not everyone who practices Tai Chi is interested in its martial roots, a basic understanding of the original intention of the postures is helpful in unlocking the greater health benefits. As a martial art, Tai Chi is known as Taichichuan. In Chinese “Tai” means “Grand,” “Chi” means “Ultimate,” and “Chuan” means “Boxing or Fist.” Grand Ultimate Fist, as it may be translated, is classified as an internal martial art which relies on body structure, internal energy and sensitivity rather than muscular strength and athleticism.
Whether practiced for health, meditation or self-defense, Tai Chi is an enduring art form, as relevant today as when it was first created in ancient China.