Understanding Tai Chi in the Modern World
T’ai chi ch’uan, which is often shortened to just t’ai chi or tai chi, is an ancient form of internal Chinese martial art. In its modern incarnation, t’ai chi is practiced both for its health benefits and its defense training purposes. Keep in mind that t’ai chi combines the benefits of both physical yoga exercises and mental meditation, thus, its numerous health benefits.
As can be expected from an ancient art, t’ai chi has evolved into several distinctive forms including Yang, Wu and Sun, among others. All of these forms, nonetheless, share numerous things in common most notably the emphasis on gentle physical exercises characterized by a series of continuous movements and postures done in a slow, graceful manner.
The physical movements are also performed in a rhythmic manner, which should be coupled with appropriate breathing patterns. Practitioners of tai chi must also exercise extraordinary focus on the movements by living in the present while putting aside distressing thoughts of the past and future.
In most cases, the variations in the forms of t’ai chi lie in the focus of training, which can either be for their health benefits or for their martial arts applications. For example, the Cheng style focuses on martial arts training while the Yang style is popular among senior citizens obviously for its health benefits.
Chi as Energy
One of the most vital concepts common to all forms of tai chi is chi or qi. To put it simply, qi is energy flow, life energy and life force rolled into one such that it is the most active principle underlying the existence of any living thing. Its literal translation is breath, gas or air – said translation of which explains why every living thing has a qi surrounding it albeit with different strengths.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the concept of qi is also useful in that the herbs and rituals done are designed to restore the normal qi balance in the individual. Even in acupuncture, the qi concept is the foundation of the meridian points.
Qi, of course, is not limited in use to Chinese culture in general and tai chi in particular. In other cultures, qi is also prana (Vedan), mana (Hawaiian), and lung (Tibetan) with Western philosophers calling it vital energy.
Nowadays, the most common application of t’ai chi is as a form of exercise-cum-meditation for everybody from teens to the elderly. The sight of individuals moving gracefully against the rising or setting sun in outdoor spaces like parks has now become an everyday occurrence for many city dwellers.
Recent scientific studies have proven that, indeed, t’ai chi has numerous health benefits. The most notable of these benefits are as follows:
• Lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression
• Improve physical flexibility, balance, muscle strength
• Lessen the risks for falls in older adults
• Boost sleep quality and improve stress management
• Lower blood pressure levels
• Improve cardiovascular fitness
• Relief of chronic pain in people with health conditions like arthritis
• Increase levels of energy, endurance and agility
• Improve feelings of well-being in both the physical and mental sense
How does t’ai chi bring about these health benefits? First, your body moves in a continuous series of poses, which is equivalent to exercise. Second, your mind concentrates on breathing, thus, encouraging a state of relaxation.
Indeed, tai chi is a total mind and body workout that you can translate into becoming a better swimmer! Combine tai chi with swimming practice for the healthiest and most effective swimming technique.