Tai Chi Chuan is an ancient Chinese system of movement, meditation and self-defense, consisting of a sequence of postures which flow together in slow, smooth, continuous movement.
An ancient art in today’s modern world, the practice of Tai Chi leads to a greater sense of stability, a deeper connection to oneself and to others and a wonderful lightness of being born of an awakened spirit.
We gain greater physical strength and improved balance, and as we learn to quiet the mind and center ourselves we feel fully awake. We are less stressed and are free to relax into our true being and come to enjoy life fully.
The benefits of Tai Chi Chuan are realized on several levels.
As a Tool to relieve Stress:
The most important principle in Tai Chi is relaxation, and the movements of the Tai Chi form follow a precise system of balance and relaxation. As we practice we become aware of where we are relaxed and where we hold tension. The sequence of postures and movements helps the body to release the build-up of tension in the muscles and to improve flexibility in the joints.
As Physical Exercise for Fitness and Health:
The slow, smooth shifting of weight from foot to foot strengthens the legs and helps the circulation of blood through the body. The feet are flat on the ground and the knees are relaxed, enhancing stability and balance. The spine is straight, resulting in improved posture.
On a deeper level, the practice of Tai Chi improves health by encouraging the circulation of our internal energy (qi) through the body. The movement of qi nourishes the internal organs and a regular practice of the form helps to send the qi through the body in a more balanced flow.
Traditionally the Tai Chi form is performed twice a day: at the start of the day and last thing at night.
So both for our qi (internally) and for our physical body (externally) Tai Chi is an essential practice for good health.
As a Moving Meditation:
The Tai Chi practitioner comes to experience an intimate mind–body–spirit connection. As we discover where we hold physical tension and learn to let it go, we also become aware of mental or emotional tensions that have accumulated from the stress of every day life – our job, family and relationships.
When practicing the form, we bring our awareness down to the center of gravity of the body (dantian) and feel our body and our movements from there. In relaxing our mind and emotions to the dantian, the internal turmoil we often experience will calm and subside.
The meditation of Tai Chi does not involve shutting out the outside world in order to go within. Rather it is the balancing of internal and external awareness, which enables us to experience and deal with the world from a more grounded and centered base. Tai Chi meditation is therefore a practical tool, available to us at any moment throughout our day.
As a Spiritual Exercise:
Tai Chi is a path to deeper self-understanding and transcendent spirit. With daily practice of the slow, gentle and conscious movements, we come to reconnect with our essential self.
Our individual sense of balance and harmony radiates out and positively effects our interaction with others and the world around us.
As a Martial Art:
Tai Chi Chuan can be translated as “Supreme Ultimate Fist”, although it is essentially a non-aggressive form of self defense. Contrary to the hard martial arts where force is met with force, Tai Chi teaches us to yield without fear and harmonize with the movement of others. With Tai Chi we learn to respond with relaxation, timing and balance from a peaceful state.
Tai Chi as a form of self defense is practiced through “Push Hands” (T’ui Shou) although “Sensing Hands” would be a more appropriate term. In this partner exercise, we use postures and movements from the form and kinesthetically “listen” for our partner’s balance, timing and tension. Through the Push Hands practice we learn to play with the energy of our partner’s movements and to develop relaxation and balance in our response to force coming toward us. As we grow in this study we find that it enhances our contact with all around us, and leads to a warm touch born of an open heart.
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Photo by: Karen Kohlhaas