Healing The Body With Tai Chi – How Small Changes Make A Big Difference
Tai chi is without a doubt one of the most profound and sophisticated systems of movement ever conceived. To a casual passer by seems like a soft and gentle exercise, but beneath the surface it is strong and powerful. The benefits of tai chi include reduced anxiety, increased energy and stamina, improved flexibility, improved balance and agility, improved aerobic capacity, improved joint health, improved organ health, enhanced immune system, improved brain function, increased bone density, and much much more. How is it that tai chi affects such diverse areas of health and wellbeing? That’s what we will be covering in this article.
Healthy Mind Healthy Body
Health is no longer something we take for granted. Many are waking up to the benefits of good nutrition and the effects this has on our energy and vitality, but a healthy diet is only one piece of the puzzle. A healthy mind is just as important, and in many ways more important, because an unhealthy mind makes unhealthy decisions, and unhealthy decisions leads to unhealthy actions and results. As such, the mind is the greatest barrier for most people who want to achieve vibrant health and wellbeing. Practicing tai chi helps to develop a balanced mind. This occurs through the cultivation of awareness of our internal energy.
In the beginning as we learn the movements of tai chi the mind becomes incredibly engaged. The moments of the tai chi form are far from simple, and there is many details that one discovers as they improve. When we do tai chi we are attempting to move the entire body at the same time. Every part is moving together in unison. The coordination required to have the left and right hand moving continuously while stepping and changing weight all at the same time might sound easy, but when you start doing tai chi you quickly learn that there is a heck of a lot going on. It takes most students a full year to learn the tai chi form, even though there are many repeat movements. During this time we are using brainpower, willpower, recall, visualisation, and this is just at the surface level. The real goal of tai chi is to become more and more aware of what you are feeling inside the body. This is when things really start to heat up.
Cultivating Awareness of Chi.
If you watch tai chi in action you may notice that it kind of flows along. That’s exactly right. In fact getting into a flow state is another quality that comes with regular practice. Flow comes from learning to release, relax, and sink down. This terminology is completely alien to any other art form in existence. No other martial art that I’ve heard of encourages this process. This is why tai chi is called an Internal Martial Art. Most people will never experience their internal energy flowing, because most people are completely hypnotised with everything that is going on around them in the outside world. Experienced meditators understand this problem. We are so incredibly distracted by our wonderful senses, especially sights and sounds, that we are almost continually focused on the external world. The only time we experience our internal world is when we are in an emotional state or deep in thought, and in both of these instances we are again distracted, this time by the feeling or the thought. Feelings and thoughts can consume us. Rarely are people able to observe their thoughts or feelings objectively without reacting to them in some way.
Release, Relax, and Let Go
Chi is very subtle, and it can only experienced after we have learned to let go and release tension within the body. I used to work as a remedial massage therapist, and every person I worked on had various degrees of tension in their body ranging from a little bit here and there, to extremely stiff muscles that had become physically hard with tension.
The most common area we have tension is in the shoulders, so in tai chi we sometimes warm up the shoulders before practice, but when it comes to tension, the fact is that every part of the body is in tension. You can tell just by looking at some people whether they are tense or relaxed. You don’t need to be a tai chi master to recognise when someone is super tense. They look more rigid, inflexible, stiff. When there is tension in the shoulders and neck, the muscle groups in those areas become tight and “pull” together. If the same muscles were to fully relax the shoulders would sink down and melt away from the neck.
To experience the subtle chi energy flowing through the body we have to become more relaxed and released throughout the whole body. This is done through the tai chi form and standing meditation, where we observe ourselves closely and try to notice any areas of discomfort or tension.
When we find the tension we relax that area and release the tension by letting go. When we have learned to dissolve the surface tension, and our body is more relaxed and released throughout, we can then move our attention deeper into the body and listen for more subtle and deep sensations, including our chi flow.
We’ve talked about releasing tension, letting go of tension, self observation, awareness, and flow. Can you see how these qualities might be beneficial? Wouldn’t it be good to automatically let go of any physical tension just by noticing it? Could being in a flow state affect your energy and how you feel? Wouldn’t you be more effective in everything you do when you are more aware? When you begin to let go of things that are holding you back or holding you down you literally spring into life.
Tai Chi is Balance, Balance is Tai Chi
If we had to pick one word to describe tai chi, that word would be Balance. Tai chi at its very pinnacle is balance. It is chaos into harmony, disorder into order. Total unification of Yin and Yang.
Yin and yang
Yin and yang are philosophical expressions for opposing forces. It refers to the nature of existence to express itself in apparent opposites such as night and day, inside and outside, up and down, fast and slow, hot and cold, happy and sad, and so on.
In the context of tai chi as the internal martial art, as the movement of form, the forces of yin and yang manifest in many ways, some of which are difficult to describe, but one way we can understand more simply is to look at the concept of hardness and softness. When we are too hard we are too yang, and to be too soft is to be too yin.
In tai chi we want to be able to demonstrate both, but without excluding the other. If you are too hard you become rigid, stiff, seized up. You become tense, very tense, or even hyper tense.
If you are too soft you become deficient, powerless, empty. You completely give up, surrender, and let go. Essentially you become lifeless. What we want is a perfect blend of both. To be powerful but not excessive, to be soft but not deficient. That is what we strive for in tai chi.
I mentioned earlier how small changes can make a huge difference. When you learn to balance hardness and softness in your tai chi exercises, you develop a more balanced mind in the process, because that is what the mind is focusing on
You become less excessive and more abundant in your interactions with others. You become less combative and more cooperative in your approach to getting things done. You become less rigid in your interactions others without letting go of your values. It makes a huge different in your life when you make changes at a fundamental level. Tai chi is all about the fundamentals.