When the Western world thinks of "martial arts," it inevitably thinks of kicking, punching, fighting, and body contact. Not slow, rhythmic, and meditative body movements designed to enhance relaxation, inner calm, and peace. But that's what the martial art of tai chi is all about: slow, rhythmic, meditative movements designed to help you find peace and calm. In this article, we will cover the history, philosophy, and benefits of tai chi, as well as how and where to get started, and more
In traditional Chinese medicine, human beings are considered miniature versions of the universe, and like the universe, they are thought to be made up of the constant interaction of five elements (metal, water, fire, wood, and earth). It is believed that these five elements flow in an interrelated manner throughout all the organs of the body as the five phases of universal qi (pronounced "chee"), with qi defined as the life force - the intrinsic energy in the body that travels along pathways in the body called meridians. A state of good health is achieved when the interactions between these elements cause the flow of your qi to occur in a smooth and balanced manner. You could say that one reason you study tai chi is to help your qi flow smoothly.
Qigong, from which tai chi (qi) originates, is a discipline that involves the mind, breath, and movement to create a calm, natural balance of energy that can be used in work, recreation or self-defense. Like yoga, where many varieties have evolved over the centuries, there are more than 3,000 varieties of qigong and five major traditions: Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, martial arts, and medical, and two major types: "soft" and "hard." Soft qigong is called inner qigong, of which tai chi is an example.
Some more reasons to practice tai chi:
Movements are low-impact and gentle and put minimal stress on your muscles and joints.
The risk of injury is very low.
You can do it anywhere, anytime.
It requires very little space (no excuses apartment dwellers!) and no special clothing or equipment.
You do it at your own pace.
It can be done in groups or by yourself (find a tai chi instructor to come to your workplace at lunch hour!).
There are lots of movements to keep you interested, and as you become more accomplished you can add those to your routine.
If we were only to perform the Hand Form slowly it would not be sufficient training for combat situations. To develop a deeper understanding of how the concept of Yin and Yang applies to Tai Chi Chuan, we have to work with a partner. One of the first exercises we learn is Pushing Hands, or Tui Shou. Here we have one partner pushing, with his/her palm against the wrist of the other. When your partner pushes against the back of your hand you would then soften your wrist, drop the elbow and turn from the waist. This allows you to absorb your partner's energy or force and neutralise it down into the ground. When their Yang force has been fully expended or neutralised, you would then turn your hands and return their energy by pushing back towards them. If, however, your partner were to push too far, or over-extend you would then pull them downwards, behind you. When the basic push hands exercises have been developed you would proceed to free-pushing. This trains you to incorporate these principles against free-form pushes. In free pushing we try to 'listen' to our opponent's energy or intention in order to allow us to react appropriately. During free pushing it is important to try to remain calm and relaxed. By doing so we will remain sensitive to our opponent's movements or intention. However, we must also maintain our own sense of presence or 'being there'. If we were simply soft or relaxed without a sense of being there, it would be easy for our opponent to overcome us.
There are health benefits associated with Tai Chi for people suffering from:
◾Parkinson's disease - a study published in NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) found that patients with Parkinson's disease who practiced Tai Chi experienced significantly improved walking ability, posture, and fewer falls.
◾Chronic heart failure - researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center revealed in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine that patients with chronic heart failure experienced a better quality of life and mood if they regularly practice Tai Chi.
◾Fibromyalgia - people living with fibromyalgia responded well to Tai Chi, according to a study published in the NEJM. They reported relief from joint pains as well as other symptoms.
◾Diabetes - Tai Chi can improve blood glucose levels and immune system response in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to two studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
◾Depression - a weekly tai chi exercise class with a standard depression treatment for a group of depressed elderly adults could be very effective at treating symptoms of depression, according to a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
A review of Tai Chi was published in the open access journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine which concluded that although Tai Chi appears to have positive psychological effects, more high quality, randomized trials are necessary
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