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Alternative & Holistic Therapies

Tai Chi

"Use the mind to direct the chi and the chi to mobilize the body." Cheng Man Ching

The History of Tai Chi

Tai chi chuan literally means the “supreme ultimate fist.” It is a Chinese martial art that is often practiced these days to promote health and improve agility. There are many accounts about how tai chi chuan was created by the Taoist master Chang San-Feng during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 C.E.). The most common of these accounts tells how Master Chang once watched a crane fighting with a snake and mimicked the slow, coiling motions of their movement. His initial form was comprised of only thirteen postures, corresponding to the eight trigrams of the I Ching and the five natural elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth). Master Chang passed on his form and it continued down through the lineage until in the 1600s, when a man named Chen Wang-Ting adapted the form with inspiration from silk reeling techniques. The Chen family’s form was kept secret until the 1800s when it was finally passed on to a student outside of the family and eventually became standardized.

These days there are many new styles and hybrid styles of tai chi, but each of them can be traced back to Master Chang. Over the last twenty years, tai chi has become very popular in the Western world and in contemporary times this slow-moving exercise is used for relaxation, meditation, and health as well as self-defense.

How Tai Chi Works

Tai chi places importance on moving through a form slowly in order to improve the connectedness and fluidity of the motions. All motion starts in the spine, goes to the waist and moves down the legs to the feet and simultaneously upwards through the arms, hands and fingers. Breathing should always be focused on your dan-tien or energy center and your knees remain slightly bent throughout the form to enable maximum balance and flexibility.

Once you have learned the form, while you are practicing tai chi, your mind should be clear and empty of thoughts, sounds or pictures.   

According to Bruce Frantzis, tai chi instructor and author of Tai Chi: Health for Life, “through practice you learn how to relax your mind and body so that inner pressure is replaced with inner peace.”

While practicing tai chi, you should be aware of feeling the straightness of your spine and the energy or chi flowing through the core of your body and the balance and shift of weight as you pass through the motions.

Functions of Tai Chi

Tai chi has a number of health benefits. These include:

  • Lower risk of falling
  • Improved mobility
  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved circulation
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • Reduced risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Better sleep
  • Improved posture
  • Reduced pain

A Typical Tai Chi Lesson

A typical tai chi lesson usually lasts for about an hour and a half and consumes around 260 calories. A session may include all or some of the following:

  • Tai chi warm up exercises
  • Tai chi form
  • Tai chi dance
  • Partner exercises
  • Tai chi yoga

Precautions

There are a few things you should consider before and after beginning tai chi lessons. These precautions are:

  • Always begin to learn tai chi in a class rather than a DVD or video. Although you may and attempt to follow the moves correctly from a video, you will not have the benefit of a personal instructor who can physically show you the moves and help you correct them. This can prevent you from hurting yourself and from learning the form improperly.
  • Make sure that your teacher has the appropriate qualifications and experience.
  • Always warm up before a tai chi lesson and cool down after one.
  • Always take your time and don’t try to push yourself too hard, to avoid straining yourself. 

How to Find a Tai Chi Instructor

Search for a Tai Chi School

International Tai Chi Classes

Groups and Organizations

American Tai Chi and Qigong Association

2465 J-17 Centreville Road, #150
Herndon , VA 20171

International Tai Chi Society

134 D’Arcy Street
Toronto, Ontario M5T1K3
Canada

FAQs

What is tai chi push hands (Tui Shou)?

Tai chi push hands is an exercise carried out by two people who wish to practice and improve their tai chi form. It enables you to maintain body balance and stay relaxed while having physical contact with another person who is also moving. Tui shou is particularly useful for those using tai chi as a martial art. Push hands usually uses restricted steps. Both people face each other at arm’s length and with the same foot forward. Each person has a forward hand raised to chest height and the back of it rests against the partner’s forward hand. The rear hand is placed gently on the opponent’s elbow. Exercise is initiated by either partner making a forward movement with legs, arms or waist.

Is tai chi better than other forms of exercise?

Tai chi may be better than many other types of exercise because the movements and alignment of tai chi forms work with the body rather than against it. This helps to relax the cardiovascular system while putting gentle stress on the muscles to help increase their strength.

Do you have to be fit to practice tai chi?

Tai chi can be practiced by people of all ages and may even be performed if you are in a wheelchair. It is however important to check with your medical practitioner before starting a tai chi program to find out if you have any health conditions that may restrict certain movements.

What type of clothing should you wear for tai chi?

There is no special uniform for tai chi but loose fitting, comfortable clothes and soft shoes will help you move and balance more easily.

What is Chi Kung?

Chi kung or chi qong is the Chinese equivalent of the Indian practice of yoga. Often described as energetics, chi kung is a meditative practice that incorporates slow, graceful movements and breathing techniques to improve general health. There are a number of different forms of chi kung, some of which are done with little or no movement in sitting, standing of lying down positions.

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