about tai chi
In its modern form Tai Chi (Taijiquan) was developed as a martial art from the 17th century by the Chen family in Chenjiagou, Henan province, China. Built upon the foundations of the ancient Taoist system of knowledge and wisdom, it is a synthesis of yin and yang, active and passive, hard and soft. It is known as one of China's great 'internal' martial arts - martial systems that focus on relaxation, sensitivity, and postural alignment.
It may seem strange that a powerful martial art could be learned through slow, meditative movements. Indeed from the outset Tai Chi is a bundle of seeming contradictions.
It is simultaneously both a demanding physical exercise, and a profound active meditation. One finds oneself trembling all over just from standing still, sweating profusely while breathing calmly, and discovering a new type of strength gained through relaxation. Tai Chi offers a very different path towards health and fitness than the western approach, and it can be challenging to get your head around it at first. But once understood the benefits are many. To be able to challenge the body while keeping the nervous system harmonious and stress free is something quite unique.
Today Tai Chi is mostly practiced for its quite remarkable benefits to health cultivation and preservation for both the body and mind.
As ones awareness beings to deepen, one uncovers a large amount of unconscious tension within the body. This is within many important muscle groups, and in particular within the joints. This holding inside the joints hinders free and spontaneous movement of the limbs.
Consistent practice allows for the gradual softening and letting go of this chronic holding. The practice also allows for a dynamic relaxation, staying relaxed while in activity and movement.
One of the main foundations of Tai Chi practice is postural awareness. Through practicing the simple movements that conform to the natural bio-mechanics of the body, it's as if ones posture is put under a magnifying glass, with any imbalances and habits of holding being shown in stark relief.
Recognizing and understanding ones postural tendencies are the first steps to being able to change them, and bring the body back to a more neutral position.
As the muscles relax and the holding softens, it allows the for body to start 'opening'.
The oral tradition of Tai Chi states this gentle stretching happens throughout the connective tissues of the body, including the tendons and fascia
Through the practice of Tai Chi, one learns to maintain the breathing in a deep a steady state even when being active. This deep, diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to support the body's natural state of rest and repair.
By avoiding fast, shallow breathing, stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is minimized, so discouraging the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Like other eastern arts, Tai Chi is a wonderful practice for becoming more mindful, deepening ones awareness of the present moment, and not getting disturbed by the chattering of the mind.
However, unlike many sedentary mindfulness practices, it utilizes awareness of the body as a tool for developing this. Working through the body in this way creates a beautiful harmonization of mind and body, with the synthesis elevating both.