By Arthur Rosenfeld
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2008.
The Chinese discipline known as tai chi is easy for people of all ages to begin because there are no special fitness requirements. This gentle exercise improves strength, balance, hand-eye coordination, and relaxation and gives a surprisingly effective lower body workout.
Tai chi practice is comprised of three parts. The first is meditation, usually done standing up. The meditation is often guided by a teacher who will ask you to imagine that you can see qi as it courses through your body. This kind of meditation helps you become more in touch with your body and also teaches you to focus.
The second part is the practice of forms. Some people refer to these as trance-like, because of the focus they require. These forms are a series of movements, the purpose of which is to test your body’s ability to handle force from different directions. The forms also help you develop hand-eye coordination and a particular kind of relaxation unique to tai chi.
The last element is a set of partner exercises called pushing or sensing hands. While the original purpose of these exercises was to prepare the practitioner for combat, today they are practiced cooperatively and are as important for the bonding they provide between classmates as for the sensitivity to motion and intention they cultivate.
Arthur Rosenfeld is a tai chi master and author. Learn more about tai chi at his website, www.playtaichi.com.
Tai chi and martial arts. Tai chi differs from all other forms of exercise because it’s part of China’s long history of martial arts and was once used as a means of protection.
Tai chi and Chinese medicine. Tai chi’s roots are entrenched in traditional Chinese medicine. In this medical model, energy pathways known as meridians crisscross the body. These meridians carry qi or life force. The object of tai chi is to open all the body’s meridians to receive maximum qi flow for optimum health.
Tai chi and Asian philosophy. Another aspect of tai chi is a philosophy of unassertive action and simplicity called Taoism. Taoists cultivate sensitivity to the natural rhythms of the world because they believe nature is constantly hinting at the best way to do things; tai chi participants learn the same sensitivity to hear their own internal rhythms.