What Is T'ai Chi?

Practicing T'ai Chi - WCU T'ai Chi Arts Club of West Chester University, West Chester, PA

The Magical Art of Tai Chi

Centuries old, Tai Chi ("Tie Jee") is a profound exercise that explores awareness of the heartmind, the life force and the body and their harmonious interactions. Deeply rooted in Chinese medicine, meditation and martial arts, this intriguing and enjoyable practice consists of a series of precise, gentle, physical movements combined with energy awareness and mental concentration. The movements are always done in the same order as the early ones lay the foundation for later development. Tai Chi is a sophisticated form of the ancient practice of Ch'i Kung ("chee gung," vital energy work), in which students gradually gain awareness of and learn to concentrate on their physical, energetic and mental center which is called tan t'ien ("don tee in," energy cultivation field.)

It's Fun To Do!
Did You Know . . .
Tai Chi practice is often called "playing" Tai Chi to emphasize its lightheartedness.

Extremely well tested and proven, Tai Chi has long been prescribed by doctors to alleviate a wide range of conditions including stress, sleeplessness, hypertension, balance difficulties, difficulty focusing, lower back pain, etc., as well as for anyone needing the general revitalization that results from improved respiration and circulation.

T'ai Chi Workshops - WCU Tai Chi Arts Club of West Chester University, West Chester, PA

The first steps involve learning the opening movements while increasing physical awareness and training yourself to be relaxed (i.e., not too tight and not too limp). Walk like a cat. Relaxation leads, with guidance, to energy awareness which is the first element of the very important meditative aspect. Reconnecting to your center is the first step towards rediscovering the harmony of body, heartmind (xin) and spirit (shen.)

Harmony With Others
Harmony with others is a major part of happiness. Once a certain level of movement, balance and energy awareness has been attained, those who are interested in interpersonal relationships and/or self-defense begin with T'ui-Shou (literally "push hands" but better described as "sensing centers") which emphasizes timing and sensitivity to another's energy in order to neutralize their force and lead them off balance. These skills are also directly applicable in less overtly physical situations such as discussions, negotiations and arguments. Your size, age and gender do not matter so much as your timing, awareness and understanding of your center.

The Five Tai Chi Principles  
The Tai Chi principles are even more important than the movements for they are based on the laws of nature that shape our every moment and they provide us a way of self-correction. Moving in slow motion while listening internally promotes personal calmness and sensitivity to the eternal laws and rhythms of our universe which are articulated in the principles and manifested in the movements. T'ai Chi starts out as primarily physical; then, as we learn the movements of the body, it eventually becomes more mental and meditative.

WCU Tai Chi Arts Club of West Chester University, West Chester, PA - Woman PracticingRelax ~ Be Soft
Relaxation is the first and foremost principle. Not at all weak or limp nor tight and stiff, this is an alert, vibrant condition that promotes fluid gracefulness while enhancing sensitivity, a prime requirement in our world of constant change. T'ai Chi coaxes the body into loosening and opening so that internal energy may flow freely. Blood circulation is enhanced as the capillaries open, for example. Tension is a blockage resulting from stress and/or trauma. Regular practice with mental concentration provides early recognition and amelioration of physical and mental tension.

Keep the Body Upright ~ The Straight Spine ~ Do Not Lean
Verticality of the spine is another important principle. Leaning even slightly in any direction means tensing the body in a losing battle with gravity. The top of the head is kept horizontal and the spine upright and open so the muscles along the spine may relax. The spine is a major energy path that deserves close attention. After the common cold, back pain is the most frequent ailment reported and it is often caused by tension due to poor posture. Mother was on to something when she said, "Sit up straight!"

Turn the Waist ~ Do Not Twist the Spine
The center leads the movement of the energy and the body. The waist area just below the navel is the central axis or hub of the body and the limbs may be thought of as spokes. Paying attention to the center on the physical level gradually leads to the meditative aspect of T'ai Chi as well. Breathing is deepened and enhanced by concentrating on the center.

Yin Yang Symbol - WCU T'ai Chi Arts Club of West Chester University, West Chester, PAYin and Yang ~ Separate Weight
Empty and Full

Differentiate yin and yang and perceive substantial and insubstantial. Initially, this means to separate the weight completely in the legs. T'ai Chi is called one-legged boxing because of this emphasis on standing on one leg at a time. Obviously, this builds strength and balance. Gradually, one becomes more sensitive to other differentiations as well.

The Beautiful Lady's Hand
Beautiful Lady's Hand refers to a straight and relaxed wrist. During the form, the wrist is almost always straight in order to enhance the flow of energy. If a soda straw, for example, is bent or twisted, the flow through it is reduced. Precision of wrist position also requires concentration and practice to attain and thus builds awareness. 

Anyone Can Do It
If one were to follow the five principles only, they'd be doing the Form 80% correct. These principles are from the classics. Don't think "I can't do it." This is not true. Anyone can do four of the five principles, all except Relax. If you could Relax, then you would not need the other principles.

Medicine, meditation and martial arts are the three interwoven elements of T'ai Chi, providing also a ladder of progression. Initially, emphasis is upon the health aspects. As the movements become second nature, the meditative elements emerge. Later, the martial art proves the principles on another level while helping us learn to deal gently with others.