Once the decision is made to experience a new form of movement and being, questions and self-doubt may arise about individual capabilities or fear of ridicule or failure. This is exactly what Tai Chi isn’t about.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is actually a martial arts routine or exercise meaning “supreme ultimate force” practiced as an internal art of health”, according to the International Taoist Tai Chi Society. There has been a resurgence of interest in the West due not only to an aging population, but to the longstanding known benefits of Tai Chi. The ancient art has been studied and medicine laudis its benefits for balance and stress, and for patients in varying states of recovery.
Founded by Master Moy Lin-shin the International Taoist Tai Chi Society is a volunteer non-profit organization offering different levels of training, worldwide. Similar to yoga, there are different types of practice, Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. The ultimate goal is an internal health and meditation, relaxing the mind to relax the muscles rather than tense them.
Dressing for the First Tai Chi Class
Dress is casual and loose. There is traditional Tai Chi wear but wait to make any clothing commitments until after the first class. Priority is freedom of movement.
Typical fitted stretch exercise workout clothing is fine, as are drawstring pants and a T-shirt.
Keep hair out of the way and jewelry to a minimum.
Footwear can be sneakers or socks with soles or grips or even barefoot.
Once familiar with the practice, special shoes and clothing can be purchased.
Typical Tai Chi Movements and Exercises in the First Day Class
Initially, introductions are made. There is always someone to follow in class. The class flows with movement and it isn’t difficult to become part of a flow but it is difficult to master the movement gracefully at first. Nothing is expected of the new student except for attempt. This isn’t a mocking or laughter type class but one of silence and seeming ease. Everyone feels better after class regardless of skill level.
A moving meditation of Tai Chi Chi is composed of 19 movements with a pose. Tai Chi Chuan has 67 movements expanding on the 19 original practice. The balancing of internal energy is called chi. The movements flow simultaneously relaxing the joints and muscles in order to strengthen them. It is this gentle flowing movement that makes the practice particularly inviting to stroke or injury patients in recovery or to anyone with a movement disorder.
The initial stance is of feet parallel hp length apart, arms at sides with even steady breath.
As the left foot turns out at a 45-degree angle, the palms open to the front of the room.
Palms are still moving as arms lift laterally and upward to meet above the head and then slowly move down as the legs shift weights. Weight shifts onto the left foot as the right heel steps forward.
The positions are repeated with alternate legs and arms.
Words Describing Exercise or Movement Seems a Contradiction in Terms
Describing movement with words has become the bane and joy of the Internet. Movement must be experienced and observed in order to be understood. Later word analysis benefits the advanced practitioner but confused the beginner. Seeing thousands of practitioners in such a place as Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei is a glorious site not to be forgottten and easy enough to make anyone a lifelong devoteee.
Discipline and dedication are hallmarks of martial arts practice as they are to Tai Chi. Determination to complete the class or the movement is a step toward mastering this ancient art.
Simple T’ai Chi Chuan Exercises
T’ai Chi Chuan is an ancient Chinese soft martial art, widely practiced for its health benefits. It exercises the body and the mind, teaching concentration, awareness and the ability to connect better with the world. It can help improve yourself discipline, increase your energy, alleviate many common ailments and encourage supple, fluid movement.
Ideally, T’ai Chi Chaun (commonly shortened to T’ai Chi) should be practiced in a class with a good teacher. T’ai Chi is learned completely at your own pace, but it is important to know how to perform the different movements correctly in order to gain health benefits. If you are a beginner at T’ai Chi, or have yet to locate a suitable teacher in your area, here are a few gentle exercises you can do on your own, that will help prepare your body. These are the sort of exercises performed during a warm up, and contain basic T’ai Chi movements that are integral to the form.
Warm Up Breathing Exercise
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and your knees slightly bent. Tuck your bottom in, keep your chin down and your head up. Try to imagine a piece of string emerging from the top of your head, pulling you up straight. Now raise your arms straight out in front of you, palms towards the floor. Ensure your arms and legs stay soft, with plenty of bend in the elbows and knees. Your hands and fingers should be loosely flopping over, not pointed or extended. As you raise your arms up to about shoulder height breathe in. Breathe out as you lower your arms back down, palms towards the floor. Lower your arms slowly, with your fingers trailing after, as though you were combing your fingers through a horse’s mane. The finishing position for your arms is resting loosely at your body’s side, with a little space still remaining under your arms. Now repeat, raising the arms up to shoulder height as you breathe in, down to rest at your sides as you breathe out. As you perform this exercise, your tongue should be touching the roof of your mouth, and your feet should be connecting firmly with the ground to encourage the flow of Chi (energy).
Carrying the Ball
Standing in the same position, turn slightly to the right as you lift your left arm up and hold it across your body at chest height. Then tuck your right arm underneath, just below your navel. Try to imagine you are carrying an imaginary ball, with your arms and hands folded loosely around it, top and bottom. Carry the ball by turning from the right to the left. This movement comes only from the waist. As before, your feet stay firmly planted on the ground. Now you are turned slightly to the left you need to roll your arms over so that the left arm is at the bottom of the imaginary ball, and the right arm is at the top. Always do this by rolling the ball away from your body. Now carry the ball back to the right, and roll it over again. Repeat several times, breathing slowly and calmly and focusing your mind only on the movements.
T’ai Chi encourages you to breathe correctly. This might sound like the simplest thing in the world, but in fact many people breathe using only a tiny proportion of lung capacity. This breathing is very shallow, coming only from the chest. In T’ai Chi, the breath should come from deep down in the pit of your stomach. One of the easiest ways to practice natural breathing is to place your hands on your stomach and actually feel your diaphragm filling with air. As you breathe in, your body should physically expand to take in the air, as you breathe out, your body should condense. Breathe in – stomach out, breathe out – stomach in.
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