"Tai Chi helps reduce stress and anxiety. It also helps increase flexibility and balance" ~ Mayo Clinic
If you are looking for a way to reduce stress, consider tai chi (TIE-CHEE). Orginally developed for self-defense, tai chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that is now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditons. Often described as mediation in motion, tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements.
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What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that, today, is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing.
Tai Chi, also called tai chi chuan, is a non-competitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion.
Tai Chi has many different styles. Each style may subtly emphasize various tai chi principles and methods. There are variations within each style. Some styles may focus on health maintenance, while others focus on the martial arts aspect of tai chi.
Tai Chi is different from yoga, another type of meditative movement. Yoga includes various physical postures and breathing techniques, along with meditation.
Principles of Tai Chi
1. Relaxation: For the serious tai chi student, this is a cardinal principle. This principle must flow through all levels of life. We must strive to relax physically, mentally, and spiritually. Merely reading about these principles will not bestow the experience. Only through continuous practice of these principles of Tai Chi will one gain the required experience.
The entire body must always be relaxed, especially at the chest, shoulders, and elbows. Relaxed never means collapsed. The body should be supple without tension. Exact form must be maintained with a watchful and alert mind.
2. Emptiness and Fullness: One must clearly distinguish between yin and yang; the left leg is Yang when the weight is concentrated there, and the right is Yin. One must empty the upper portion of the body (above the waist) and render that portion Yin, empty and yielding. The legs are Yang. When the upper part of the body is empty, you cannot be pushed over. You become like a blade of grass. Try to push it over and it will merely yield. You cannot upset its center. This principle applies emotionally and psychologically as well.
Aggression and hostility of any kind cannot harm you when you are empty and yielding.
3. Evenness and Slowness: The form must flow continuously without pause, interruption, acceleration, or declaration. It is likened to pulling silk from a cocoon. If the continuity is interrupted or if there is any slack or jerk, the silk thread will break. This principle develops continuous force, as opposed to a system like karate, which focuses on strength or energy at particular movements.
Tai Chi should be performed as slowly as possible, providing that the other principles are not disturbed. Slowness develops exactness, better balance, and patience.
4. Balance: The spine should be held straight and vertically for optimum strength and balance. No tilting, leaning, or twisting. The shifitng of weight should flow smoothly like sand flowing through a hourglass. When one leg is full (Yang), the other must be empty (Yin). If one is double-weighted (weight distributed 50% onto each leg) one's balance can be upset very easily.
5. Rooting and Sinking: As one learns to relax and sink, one becomes rooted. To sink means dropping the center of gravity as well as the center of energy to the lowest possible level. This is done in progressive stages. First, lowering the center down from the chest, then dropping it to the waist, next to the legs, and finally down to the soles of the feet. Once one has reached this point, it becomes virtually impossible to upset balance. In order to sink, one must relax the waist and the joints, particularly the knees and ankles. Rooting is the ability to anchor oneself into the ground like the roots of a tree.
6. Coordination and Centering: The body MUST MOVE AS ONE complete unit. The extemities reflect and extend the torso movements. There are no isolated sections moving independently. The head follows the body, turning only when the center of the body turns. One must keep their center fixed on the Tan Tiem, and all movements must extend from that point. The mind must be coordinated with the body, which is coordinated with the breathing.
Who Can Do Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it generally safe for all ages and fitness levels. In fact, because tai chi is a low impact exercise, it may be especially suitable if you are an older adult who otherwise may not exercise.
You may also find tai chi appealing because it is inexpensive and requires no special equipment. You can do tai chi exercises anywhere, including indoors or outside. You can also do tai chi alone or in a group class.
Although tai chi is generally safe, women who are pregnant or people with joint issues, back pain, fractures, severe osteoporosis, or hernia issues should consult their healthcare provider before trying tai chi. Modifications or avoidance of certain postures may be recommended.