When my lifelong dear friend, Katherine Loukopoulos, asked me to write a 700 word article on the benefits of tai chi training, I wanted to make sure this would not be simply another bullet point list of health benefits that you already know about…
So, it is my intention with this article, to create a feeling inside of you. Because tai chi is all about feeling!
I will describe how it feels to practice this art, science, and philosophy…
Blanket statement: “Tai chi is an internal martial art based on ancient Chinese medicine, culture, and philosophy”.
When you begin to “learn” tai chi (i.e.- attend classes and memorize tai chi’s continuously flowing, spiral like movements), already something seems different… you feel something going on inside as well as outside. But this is just the first in a series of steps to achieve proficiency and skill in this art. (Art = something that enriches our lives in many ways all of our life)
Of course it takes a little time and effort to memorize tai chi’s beautiful and intricate techniques, all of which are, by the way, applicable for self defense (but we will get to this a little later)…
When you practice tai chi, you become aware of all the imbalances in your body and how much tension you hold in different areas (neck and shoulder tension, toes and teeth clenching, unbalanced coordination of whole body…)
Once you feel these, you learn how to use your intention or “yi’ to let them go (fangsong). Maybe the greatest benefit you get from regular practice of tai chi is to learn how to “let go” of these “energetic blockages” (i.e. – tension).
From this, you can greatly improve your health and heal many if not all illnesses and chronic pains accumulated over a lifetime. For TCM (traditional Chinese medicine, which is one third of what tai chi is based on (the other two thirds are martial art and yin yang theory – the subjects of later articles), states very clearly that most, if not all sickness and pain, are due to one thing: a blockage in the circulation of your qi or vital energy.
Through its practice, without ever having to utter the word “energy”, tai chi teaches you how to relax deeper and deeper. From your first class, you are already reaping the benefits. As you move, your teacher is coming around and correcting your posture, meaning showing you where you are tense, and how to let that tension go… This reestablishes the natural energy circulation, hence healing of pain and illness… So it is not necessary here to make a bullet list of benefits. Suffice to say, when asked what is tai chi good for, maybe better to ask what is it NOT good for? Because what is the benefit of deep conscious relaxation of body AND mind? What are the limits of this quality of relaxation?
On another note, what about the benefits tai chi offers as a martial art?
Again is a bullet list needed? Tai chi as a martial art teaches you many wonderful qualities that are of great benefit in daily life. How about self respect, self control, and self discipline, just to name a few. Tai chi teaches that when you have the power to do damage with these techniques, then you need to respect that kind of power, and to never abuse it! In this way, practicing tai chi makes for better citizens in our society – individuals who are in control of themselves and therefore have no need to show off (i.e. – bullies).
So, what are the benefits of tai chi training?
The actual physical techniques of tai chi are designed to build health and to heal. Tai chi movements are all performed in circles and spirals, which have the affect of healing joints and back pain, maintaining youthful pliability of muscles, assuring optimal circulation of qi and blood to all tissues (especially tendons and ligaments where it is needed the most), cultivating balance (how important for the elderly?), and minimizing the affects of stress on body and mind.
Your mental outlook also improves. You feel a sense of accomplishment and self confidence more and more as you gain proficiency through your daily efforts. You learn to never give up, but rather to face obstacles as new challenges. You will notice a more positive mental outlook on life in general, outside disturbances will not upset emotional balance any more, and you will feel the ability to accomplish anything and everything that you set your mind to do…
Lastly I will describe the spirit of tai chi. Inside, you feel like a pot of boiling water that is bubbling up from deep within, like a cat getting ready to pounce on a mouse… while on the outside you remain perfectly calm and serene.
I hope you are able to get some feelings about tai chi from this short article. And more importantly through training, to manifest these feelings! This is the key to tai chi’s wonderful benefits!