Tai Chi Chuan
(pronounced “tie-jee” “chwuan” – tai chi chuan, also: taiji, t’aiji, t’ai chi, or tai chi).
Tai Chi is an internal martial arts practice that offers a long list of health benefits. Many people begin a tai chi program because they have heard it aids balance and reduces falls.
Tai chi is good for health: it can be practiced anywhere. Tai chi is low impact, and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it safe for all ages and fitness levels. Since it is a low impact exercise, it is especially suitable for older adults, and even those who otherwise may not exercise. It is a great addition to a Physical Therapy program when people are rehabilitating from an injury. It can be practiced from a seated or prone position.
Many people find tai chi appealing because it’s inexpensive and requires no special equipment. Comfortable clothes and shoes are suitable. When learned correctly and performed regularly, tai chi can be a positive part of an overall approach to improving your health.
History of Tai Chi
Tai chi is a martial art that originated in China, and it dates back several hundred years. It is an internal martial art, which distinguishes it from the external arts, and it is used either for defense or for health. The other two internal martial arts are Hsing-I Chuan, and Ba Gua Chang.
Some translations of ‘tai’ include highest, or far in the distance; ‘chi’ is extreme, peak or summit; and ‘chuan’ is fist, also referred to as shadow boxing. Tai chi is commonly referred to as “supreme ultimate boxing,” or “grand ultimate fist,” and is often described as a gentle exercise with choreographed moves that flow together like a slow-motion dance. This graceful, self-paced system uses postures that flow from one into the next without pause, ensuring that the body is in constant motion.
Tai chi has ancient roots in philosophical principles embracing theories such as Yin and Yang, or opposing forces, the Five Element Theory, a mind-body connection, and many precepts known to qigong.
Tai Chi Styles
There are five major styles (or four styles and one hybrid) recognized by most scholars.
Chen Style: this style has flowing forms, and also explosive movements. It includes various frames (small – large), and tempos (fast-slow, soft-powerful, etc.).
Yang style: the forms in the Yang style are slow and graceful. They were developed by Yang Luchan, and are still the most widely practiced forms in the world.
Wu (Chuan You/Wu Jien Chuan): It is characterized by gentle and slow movements like the Yang style, but with tight, compact postures.
Hao (Wu Yu Hsiang/Hao Wei Zhen): this style is characterized by very small moves, with an emphasis on less outwardly physical, and more internal movements.
Sun style is the most recent, which is considered by many to be an amalgamation of the small movement Hao style (of Wu Yu Hsiang) with the rooting principles of Hsing-I, and the stepping methods of Bagua. This style is characterized by higher stances, and step-wise footwork.
Tai Chi Internal Work
Part of the focus of tai chi is developing an awareness with the energies inside the body during practice. It is a martial or fighting art, and there are partner exercises and drills, as well as solo training. Tai chi can include standing, power training, and weapons training (which involves fan, sword, broadsword, staff or spear).
Movements, or the physical portion are characterized by methods of using the body through coordination and relaxation, rather than muscular tension when dealing with an opponent. This slow work with specialized breathing techniques opens the internal circulation (activating the diaphragm and lungs, and aiding the flow of fluids, blood and lymph) and allows flexibility and strength with proper alignment of the body. This allows the body to relax, and the life force or ‘qi’ to flow unimpeded throughout the body.
Tai chi practitioners ‘do’ tai chi because it makes them feel good. It may be a feeling of relaxation, or inner peace, or total harmony of the body and mind.
Begin a training program or a class based on Tai Chi or Qigong – both are beneficial for reducing stress, restoring balance and focus.