Tai chi, which originated in China as a martial art, is a mind-body practice in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). It is also known as “moving meditation” as practitioners move their bodies slowly and gently, while breathing deeply.
A popular legend credits its origins to Chang San-Feng, a Taoist monk, who developed a set of 13 exercises that imitate the movements of animals.
The term “tai chi” (shortened from “tai chi chuan”) is known by various names, such as “internal martial art” and “supreme ultimate fist.” It is also sometimes known as “taiji” or “taijiquan.”
How is Tai chi performed?
It is an ancient Chinese exercise consisting of slow, relaxed movements, which helps in stress reduction and various other health conditions. For the body, it is an exercise, for the mind, to develop concentration, and for the soul, it is a system of spiritual meditation. There are many styles of tai chi, and each style has its own form. All styles of tai chi are usually done in a standing position and can be performed either as a solo or as a two-person exercise. Each tai chi movement is a series of coordinated sequences. It is often called “meditation in motion,” since it is performed with total concentration and inner stillness. The inner calm within the movement improves the flow of qi, the vital life energy that is known to improve health and balance of life in the Chinese tradition.
A tai chi class might include:
- Warm-up session: Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body.
- Training and practice of tai chi forms: In tai chi sessions, there are short forms and long forms. In short forms, only fewer movements are practiced and in long forms, hundreds of movements are practiced.
- Different styles require smaller or larger movements. Usually, a short form with smaller, slower movements is recommended at the beginning, especially if you're older or not in good healthy condition.
- Qigong/chi kung: Translated as "breath work" or "energy work," this consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body's energy. Qigong may be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down.
Tai Chi is a combination of moving form of yoga and meditation and there are many different styles, but all involve slow, relaxed, graceful movements, each flowing into the next. Many of these movements are originally derived from the martial arts, and perhaps even more ancestrally than that, from the natural movements of animals and birds.
People practice tai chi by themselves or in groups. In the Chinese community, people commonly practice tai chi in nearby parks, often during early morning before going to work. Individuals practicing tai chi must also concentrate, putting aside distracting thoughts; and they must breathe in a deep and relaxed, but focused manner.
Tai chi walking
Tai chi walking is probably the most profound and easy meditation and mostly for those who have some trouble walking.
In tai chi walking:
- The gait in tai chi walking is slow, smooth, and in rhythm
- Body is considered light in weight, and each foot is placed deliberately and firmly on the ground
According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), two basic elements are involved in maintaining the balance of human health.
- Qi: An energy force that flows through the body
- Yin and Yang: Opposing elements thought to make up the universe that needs to be kept in harmony
Tai chi is believed to promote the balance of yin and yang by unblocking the blocked energy channels and encouraging the proper flow of qi.
According to the researchers, if tai chi is practiced rigorously, it improves the physical condition, flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination. It also maintains the balance and reduces the risk of falls in elderly people. Additional benefits include:
- Lowers Bad Cholesterol levels: According to several findings, when tai chi is practiced for 12 to 14 weeks along with yoga, it reduces the bad cholesterol levels by 20-26 milligrams.
- Stress Reduction: According to various findings, tai chi may enhance flexibility and overall psychological well-being. Cognitively, there are indications that tai chi exercise may lead to improvements in mood.
- Strengthens and stimulates every muscle, joint, organ, gland, and tissue of your body.
- According to various studies, tai chi through its mind body approach eliminates internal weakness, the root cause of all diseases.
- Tai chi claims to reverse many symptoms associated with the normal process of ageing.
Side Effects and Risks
Tai chi is a relatively safe practice. However, there are some cautions:
- As with any exercise regimen, if you overdo practice, you may have sore muscles or sprains.
- Tai chi instructors often recommend that you should not practice tai chi right after a meal, or when you are very tired, or if you have an active infection.
- If you are pregnant, or if you have hernia, joint problems, back pain, fractures, or severe osteoporosis, your health care provider may advise you to modify or avoid certain postures in tai chi.
Training, Licensing, and Certification
Tai chi instructors do not have to be licensed, and the practice is not regulated by the Federal Government or individual states. In traditional tai chi instruction, a student learns from a master teacher. To become an instructor, an experienced student of tai chi must obtain a master teacher’s approval. Some training programs award certificates while others offer weekend workshops.
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