|What Is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi chuan, or simply Tai Chi (because there are two translations of the Chinese language it is also written Taijiquan, or Taiji), was developed centuries ago by martial arts experts in order to advance their self defense skills. Most commonly practiced today for its amazing health benefits, this slow, graceful Chinese exercise simultaneously heals the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body. It is performed with a completely focused yet relaxed attitude. Tai Chi forms involve a series of choreographed martial arts poses that flow together like a slow motion dance. They are done in a precise order to help facilitate energy flow, fitness, relaxation and mental concentration. Tai Chi encompasses several styles or forms, and over its long history many interpretations of these styles have emerged, resulting in numerous variations in form. Most traditional forms take 12-20 minutes to perform and over one year to learn, although there are also many simplified forms, which take much less time to learn, make it more accessible to a greater number of people, and are a great way to get your "feet wet" while still providing many health benefits. The moves are simple, gentle, and easy to learn. They require no special skill, clothing, or equipment and can be done anywhere; indoors, outdoors, alone or with a group.
Who Can Do Tai Chi?
Students of Tai Chi are referred to as Tai Chi "players" and they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and fitness levels. Because of the slowness and ease of the movements, it is often thought that Tai Chi is mainly for senior citizens, but that is a false assumption. It can benefit the fittest athlete just as much as the weekend golfer, the teen-ager, or the arthritis sufferer. It can also be practiced by those in wheelchairs. In fact, studies show that even watching others "play" Tai Chi can reduce blood pressure in the observer. Athletes find greater balance, flexibility and more connectedness on a mind-body level, which helps with any sport. Companies see that Tai Chi improves productivity by helping employees to be happy, relaxed, and creative. Hospitals see Tai Chi as a potent, yet cost-effective, therapy for nearly any condition. Schools find improved concentration and higher test scores. Even if you think you're not coordinated or agile, you can learn these movements at your own pace.
What is Qigong?
The concept of qi (or chi, pronounced chee) has been a fundamental belief in most eastern cultures for thousands of years. "Qi" in Chinese means breath, or the vital life force which flows through all living things. It is scientifically observable and measurable. "Gong" means skill, exercise, or work. So essentially, qigong (also spelled chi kung) means "breath work". There are thousands of qigong exercises falling into two categories: dynamic qigong (dong gong) which is exercise, and tranquil qigong (jing gong) which is meditation. Tai Chi is a form of dynamic qigong. Chinese medicine includes acupuncture, herbology, massage, and qigong. Many doctors of Chinese medicine prescribe medical qigong for their patients. This helps them recover much more quickly. Anyone can practice qigong. Because there is sitting, standing, moving and even lying qigong, there are techniques suitable for every age and physical condition, and it is an ideal exercise for the disabled.
How Does Qigong/Tai Chi Work?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, disease is the result of the weak and sluggish flow of qi through the meridians. Fourteen main energy meridians link all the organs and the entire physical body to the mind and emotional systems. You can't see the meridians; you can only detect the energy that moves through them. The slow and gentle movements of Tai Chi open up these energy channels, and the rhythmic movements of the muscles, joints and spine pump energy through the body, thereby flushing out the stagnated qi and replacing it with fresh, oxygenated, "smooth" Qi. As we go through life, we all collect fear, anger, hurts, etc. If we are not willing to practice forgiveness for others as well as ourselves and let go of these things, they get stored in the tissues of our body, literally tightening our body with tension. This creates illness and dis-ease. Going slowly through the movements is like doing an internal scan to clear and release any place the body is holding this tension. As we let go of the meaningless, irritating debris (dead wood) floating around in our mind and body, we create more room for love, light, and abundance (fresh, green growth) to enter our life. In addition to working with the meridian system, Tai Chi also provides a gentle massaging of the internal organs, as well as clearing the joints of calcium deposits. This is because the movements require the body to rotate about 95 percent of the ways it can be rotated. The next closest western exercise to that is swimming, and it only rotates about 65 percent of the body's potential movement. Other forms of exercise like jogging, for example, improve circulation but do not affect internal organs. In order to perform Tai Chi properly the body must move as a unit. This principle of unity in movement is one of the ways in which it contrasts most basically to western calisthenics, which use various parts of the body independently. Research has shown that Tai Chi provides all the benefits of a rigorous workout but because it is not strenuous it carries no potentially harmful side effects.
Tai Chi and qigong's health benefits have been studied for nearly 2,000 years in China and for only about 20 years in the west. However, western medical research is quickly discovering what Chinese medicine has long realized, that Tai Chi provides more benefits than any other single exercise. No wonder it is the most popular exercise in the world! Besides providing the lowest weight bearing exercise known, regular practice of Tai Chi can also:
- Boost the immune system
- Slow the aging process
- Help ensure full range of mobility
- Enhance body's natural healing powers
- Speed heart attack recovery
- Increase breathing capacity
- Reduce asthma and allergy reactions
- Reduce risks of falls in elderly
- Improve grip strength in elderly
- Slow bone loss
- Improve posture
- Sharpen mental focus
- Reduce anxiety
- Improve coordination
- Help with ADD and ADHD
- Increase flexibility
- Awaken energy
- Improve balance TWICE as well as anything else known
- Lower high blood pressure and heart rate
- Help with gastric disturbances Reduce joint pain of arthritis, rheumatism, and fibromyalgia
- Provide cardiorespiratory conditioning
- Ease back pain
- Stimulate circulation
- Enhance muscle tone
- Help with weight loss
- Reduce amount of stress hormones
- Calm central nervous system
- May help with MS
- Alleviate stress response
- Promotes quiet mindfulness
- Limber up joints
Tai Chi can change what the world looks like for us by changing our view of it. After all, our health and our lives are merely reflections of our state of mind. As the body and breath move, so does the mind, clearing energetic blocks that normally lock us into fixed emotional and psychological patterns. This empowering "meditation in motion" reminds us that change is always constant and that new beginnings always follow closures.