Tai Chi is a form of exercise that originated in China as a martial art. Dating back to the 13th century, it was developed in the Taoist monasteries and embodies their philosophies. It reflects the importance of the balance of man with nature.
The principle of Tai Chi is harmony, not only with outer forces, but within oneself, harmonizing the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of life. Over the centuries, Tai Chi was a guarded secret, passed down from family to family. In the 19th century this great secret was exposed to the masses, quickly becoming the national exercise of China.
By now Tai Chi has an American history. It was brought here in the 1960's, soon after the great doors of China opened to the world. Introduced by scholars through the universities, it spread across America slowly: first embraced by the counterculture; then by the martial artists; and now by the mainstream.
Tai Chi is actually a type of Chi Gung, an exercise focused on moving chi (life force) through channels in the body, known as meridians. Tai Chi and Chi Gung are an integral part of Chinese medicine. These exercises are often prescribed in the treatment of illnesses, as well as used as preventive medicine.
Today health issues are as predominant as ever. It has become more apparent that the individual must take an active role in preserving and maintaining his or her own health. We see that there is no miracle procedure, or drug, or person that can "cure" us, or rid us of disease. We see the effects of environment and stress on the body; we are becoming more conscious of the role of the mind and the emotions on health and the quality of living. As conscious individuals we see the power of our attitude, therefore, we see the power we have within ourselves to affect our health.
Tai Chi is the personification of this. It helps the individual to focus, to recognize and to strengthen the body, the mind and attitude. The practice encourages discipline. One learns a series of graceful and flowing movements which are both challenging and rewarding, hence the practitioner is inspired to do them routinely. At first, it's a hobby, soon it's a habit, and eventually you can't live without it. As it becomes a part of your life, the discipline spills over into other areas. Many people have used the practice as a substitute for other, less healthy habits.
Tai Chi directly leads one to his or her center. This is most obvious on the physical level. When learning the movements and the accompanied breathing, the focus is on erect posture, proper alignment and deep relaxation, so that there is no stress on the back or joints. Students learn a proper stance that roots them to the ground and allows them to be flexible. These qualities are developed in attitude as well. The deep relaxation builds an inner strength and quiets the mind, giving the practitioner a sense of peace which reduces theeffects of stress. The breathing helps to release muscle tension, which releases emotional stress stored in the muscles, demonstrating the connection between the physical, mental and emotional.
Tai Chi is practiced by individuals for their own enhancement; the lessons learned influence one's daily life. The movements were inspired by nature, therefore they can be seen in nature. The person who practices will find that they walk differently, stand differently, even think and feel differently.
There is quite a large community of practitioners in Sonoma County. I have been teaching here for over 15 years, and have watched the development of people of all ages and walks of life: athletes who do Tai Chi because it improves their sport; business people who practice to relieve stress; children who love it because it's fun; doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists and physical therapists learning in order to enhance their medical practice; seniors learning to improve their balance and keep fit without the risk of injury. I have even had people join to help them through a period of grief.
The group spirit of being in a class is yet another dimension of the learning process. In this non-competitive atmosphere, we all work together, breaking through the boundaries of age and social status. Those of us who come together each week, year after year, view our health holistically. We have chosen to strengthen our bodies, clear our minds and raise our spirits. We have chosen a natural way, the Tai Chi way.
by Jane Golden