Why Study T’ai Chi?

©Copyright 2010 by Robert Chuckrow

At present, you don’t have to look far to find classes in Yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique, Tae Kwon Do, aerobics, belly dancing, weight training, ballet, and other forms of movement, exercise, and self-development. All of these activities can be quite beneficial depending on who is teaching them. So why consider learning T’ai Chi? Having studied T’ai Chi (and other movement and self-development arts) for over forty years, I feel that I can provide some perspective regarding its benefits.

T’ai-Chi (pronounced tie jee) originated in China centuries ago. It is a meditative exercise based on Taoist philosophy and other ancient Chinese principles of health, self-development, and self-defense. In China 100 years ago, the ability to defend oneself against a skilled attacker was essential, and T’ai-Chi was studied primarily for attaining martial skill. In today’s world, however, it is much more likely that we will become harmed by a health problem or an accident than by another person trying to injure us. Therefore, T’ai Chi is now taught mainly for health and self-development, and most people who study it do so primarily for those benefits.

As an exercise, T’ai Chi consists of a series of natural, relaxed movements that are ideally learned one at a time over a period of months. Typically, classes are once per week, and the student is expected to practice for a minimum of 15 minutes each day. For those who lack motivation and self-discipline, practicing on one’s own may seem unrealistic. However, practicing the movements alone produces such a delightful feeling of serenity and well-being that little self-discipline is required.

Unfortunately, much popular exercise focuses on the muscles and circulatory system and disregards the mind, nervous system, and internal organs. It is not uncommon to see people exercising on treadmills or stationary bikes and distracting themselves by listening to music on headphones and reading a book or magazine—often simultaneously. On the other hand, T’ai Chi is not boring or repetitive. Instead, one’s mind is actively involved in releasing all unnecessary tension and coordinating and sensing the constantly changing movement of every body part. Being aware of the myriad elements involved produces a feeling of elation and connectedness to the ground, gravity, and one’s breathing and movement. Read more about the benefits of T’ai Chi.

Frequently, people say, “I wouldn’t be good at T’ai Chi because I am so uncoordinated.” Actually, the more uncoordinated you are, the more you can benefit from learning and practicing T’ai Chi. Another thing that people say is, “It’s way too slow.” One reason it is so slow is that, if it were any faster, the mind would have trouble encompassing the many things that are going on. Also, once the movements have been learned, there is a natural rate of motion that coordinates the breathing and flow of something called ch’i (pronounced chee), which will be discussed next.

In our part of the world, ch’i is not usually mentioned—there is not even a word for it in English. In Asia, however, the concept of ch’i is commonplace—it is called ch’i in China, prana in India, and ki in Japan, and other Asian countries have other names for it. In fact, one way of greeting a person in China is to ask, “How’s your ch’i?”

There is no current scientific understanding of ch’i, but it is most easily felt as a tingling sensation, first in one’s hands. Ch’i is the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine, one of whose tools is acupuncture. Acupuncture is a method of inserting needles at specific points in the body to free blockages of ch’i. T’ai Chi achieves similar benefits naturally, without the needles.

My interpretation of ch’i is that it involves the natural movement of cells as they absorb oxygen and nutrients and release wastes. When the body is very relaxed and moves naturally, its cells are more able to carry on such activities. Of course, fixations of muscular tension act oppositely. So when we relax our habitual fixations of tension, the cells are given an opportunity to carry on their cleansing and restorative activities, which are essential to health and healing. Over time, and with the correct teaching, T’ai-Chi practitioners can not only feel the ch’i throughout their bodies but also guide it to an injury. When a minor injury such as a bruise is thus treated immediately after it occurs, it usually disappears within minutes! Read a biological interpretation of ch’i

There is another flow that is known to modern medicine—an ebb and flow of spinal fluid called the cerebrospinal flow. This ebb and flow has a period of about 6 seconds. I am convinced that the cerebrospinal flow is enhanced by and becomes synchronized with the T’ai-Chi movements. If so, that suggests that the oxygenation and cleansing of toxins from the brain may be enhanced by practicing T’ai Chi!

One of the nice things about doing T’ai Chi is that no equipment or special clothing is required, and it can be done in a very small space. It is suitable for people of all ages from teens on up.

When you are old or infirm, you probably cannot do Tae Kwon Do, aerobics, or weight training, but you should be able to do T’ai Chi. That is why it is best not to wait until then to learn it!

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