What is Tai chi?
Tai chi is more accurately known as Tai
chi Chuan, which means ’the supreme way of the fist’. It is a non- combative martial art system that includes meditation and exercises
to promote and enhance total health. Tai chi is part of the complex
system of Oriental medicine which also includes acupuncture,
acupressure/tui-na massage and herbal medicine. Together with these
other areas, tai chi is used to promote longevity and aid spiritual
The system itself has in time
developed and divided into many different styles, such as the Yang
style, Chen style, Lee style and Wu style. The Yang style, for
example, is slow, strong, rhythmic and flowing, while the Chen style
is varied and constantly changes pace from slow to fast. These
various styles illustrate that there is no one correct way to perform
tai chi. Ultimately, it is a very personal endeavour. And, although
an instructor can show you a style and the different movements, it is
basically up to you make tai chi your own.
How does it work?
The basis of every style of tai chi is
the practice of ’the form’. A form is set of slow-moving,
graceful exercises performed in a definite pattern. There are short
forms and long forms. Traditionally, a long form involves 108
movements and can take anything from 20 minutes up to one hour to
perform. A short form can involve 48 or only 37 movements, and rarely
takes more than 5 to 10 minutes to perform.
The movements of the form are
essentially self-defence movements, and are practiced in a slow,
flowing sequence in order to encourage general relaxation and harmony
between the mind, body and spirit. The movements achieve this harmony
because they are designed to rebalance the flow of chi or energy that
flows through channels in the body called meridians (see acupuncture
page) and by regulating the circulation of the body fluids, such
as blood and lymph.
Ideally, tai chi should be
practiced outdoors, In China it is traditional to practice the form
near trees so that the performers can absorb the energy given off by
Wherever you practice tai chi, it
is important to relax, focus your mind and concentrate on how you
breathe, so that you can coordinate breathing with all movements of
your body. This special attention to breathing has earned tai chi the
special title of ’meditation in motion’.
Which problems can it help?
Tai chi can help stress-related
problems. Anxiety, tension, blood pressure and circulation are all
problems which have been alleviated by the exercises.
Tai chi has been shown to benefit
people suffering from arthritis, to aid recovery from injury, even to
assist in the rehabilitation of heart attack patients.
Those people who practice the art
long-term have been shown to be more flexible and less susceptible to
spinal problems and some bone conditions such as osteoporosis.
It is also used by the Chinese for the
treatment of chronic disease.