It’s a growing phenomenon, not just in China and other Asian countries, but across the globe, to see early morning Tai Chi groups in parks welcoming sunrise in synchronistic graceful movement. It almost looks like a dance in slow motion and is fascinating to watch, but did you know that practicing Tai Chi can help you live longer and healthier?
History of Tai Chi
According to Chinese legend, “Tai Chi began in the 13th century when a Taoist named Chang Sanfeng who lived in Wudang Mountain saw a crane swoop down to capture a snake. Despite many attacks, the snake was able to avoid the bird’s beak (the strong point) by constantly shifting from side to side and attacking the crane’s weak side. As the snake tried to dart its fangs into the crane’s leg, the crane would raise the leg and lower a wing to ward off the attack. Chang saw how softness could overcome hardness, and how the idea of yielding to enemy’s strong force and striking his weak part could have practical application in the martial arts. Therefore, he created Tai Chi and handed down through generations. It is believed that Taoist monks began practicing Tai Chi in monasteries for two reasons: one was to defend themselves from bandits, and second was to promote health because they were out of shape from sitting around meditating all the time.“
Practiced for over 2,000 years in China, Tai Chi has often been called ‘meditation in motion’ and is beneficial for nearly every health condition as well as in the prevention of disease and increasing longevity. It doesn’t matter your age, weight or flexibility, anyone can begin the practice. Tai Chi has also been modified for those in a wheel chair, and even if you can’t move at all, visualizing yourself doing the practice can have as many benefits as actually performing them, since our brain doesn’t know the difference.
Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism in around 600 B.C. describes the benefits of Tai Chi in this way: “The new born baby is weak and soft, but the growing force is strong, when he grow up, he becomes strong and stiff, the life strength is weak and soft. When something is overwhelmed, it is near its end, although it looks strong.” as tai chi, with all it’s flowing motions, makes one fluid and soft again like a baby. Once a secret esoteric practice, Tai Chi and it’s benefits of longevity and health are now available to everyone.
Tai Chi Today
Modern research, such as studies done at Harvard University, show that when combined with other therapies, Tai Chi can improve arthritis, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, sleep problems, stroke sufferers, the life quality of those with breast cancer and even strengthen bone density. Tai Chi also helps reduce stress, anxiety and pain as well as increasing flexibility, over-all strength and endurance in those who practice regularly (at least several times per week).
You might be wondering how something so slow and non-aerobic could help with so many problems? Well, Tai Chi is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine and the existence of energy systems in the body known as meridians (used in acupuncture). Tai Chi moves the ‘chi’, or life-force energy around the body, through these meridians, effecting all the organs and body systems beneficially. Many problems result from a lack of this energy flowing, according to Chinese thought and yogic tradition, which is why practices such as Tai Chi and yoga are so beneficial for the whole body. Tai Chi not only moves the energy around the body, but synchronizes the breath with the body movement, helping to link up the energy systems with the physical body, resulting in greater harmony within.
If you are new to the practice and interested in checking it out, you can try a simple video to see if this kind of exercise speaks to you. Ultimately, you want to find a teacher near you so you can receive qualified specific feedback and make sure you are performing the technique correctly. The great thing is, after a short while you will own the skills to be able to take care of yourself independently and be able to practice anywhere you go any time you wish. You can generally find a Tai Chi class at local community centers or specialized locations nearly everywhere these days, as Tai Chi is becoming a popular and medically acclaimed choice for living longer and maintaining healthier lives.
Here is a brief warm up exercise you can try for fun:
Written by: Stasia Bliss