The Chinese system of physical movement designed to harmonize the individual with the forces of nature is known as Tai chi. Many people who practice tai chi believe it can lead, eventually, to spiritual enlightenment, the recognition of the true nature of the universe and the individual’s place within it.
On a practical level, doing tai chi regularly is believed to improved flexibility and fitness, speed recovery from injury and illness, help prevent further ill health and relieve depression and other psychological symptoms.
Tai chi is believed to have developed from qigong, which is itself based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism (also written as Daoism). Taoism was founded on the teachings of the philosopher Lao Tzu who is thought to have lived during the sixth century. It seeks to achieve practical and spiritual harmony with the universe thorough following the Tao, which translates as the way.
Taoism teaches that all living things have their own path, their own personal Tao. It is only when you recognize your own Tao; literally find your way or purpose in life, that you become part of the great Tao or universal purpose. The most important symbol of the Tao is water, which always finds its own level. The Taoist aims to live as simply and effortlessly as water flows.
The graceful, slow, flowing movements of tai chi are designed to integrate the forces of yin and yang within the body, creating the balance that is essential for health and wellbeing, both physically and spiritually. As this balance is achieved the chi or life force, is able to flow correctly through the body and the individual becomes harmonized with the universe and everything in it.
Legend has it that Tai chi was founded by a Taoist priest after he dreamed of a never ending battle between a huge crane like bird and a snake. The two creatures were locked in mortal combat over a piece of food but neither could get the upper hand. He decided his dream symbolized the eternal contest between yin and yang.
No one is sire when he lived but many experts believe that tai chi developed when the principles of qigong were fused with the martial arts practiced in china by Zen Buddhist monks, probably in the 13th century. Millions of people throughout china practice Tai chi today for both its physical and psychological health benefits. It is also still used as the basis for a highly effective martial art.
Tai Chi and Your Back
Back pain sufferers often find that Tai chi is an excellent therapy. Research shows that its slow, flowing movements provide the benefits of Western aerobic exercise but without the stresses and strains that frequently cause injury. Regular practice is said to help weight loss, improve flexibility and tone up the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine and the rest of the skeletal system, which helps to protect against the recurrence of back pain.
In Tai chi the back is kept straight and the head is held high in all the movements, actively ensuring good posture. Tai chi also promotes relaxation, contentment and a calm, clear mind. Those who practice Tai chi regularly report that it helps them deal more easily with the stresses of everyday life.
Tai Chi – Moving Meditation
Tai chi is often described as moving meditation. Students learn a series of separate movements which are then strung together into a continuous sequence, or form. The movements in the form are always carried out in the same order, one movement naturally flowing from the previous one.
There are two versions of the form. The short form consist of about 40 movements and takes, on average, about 8 minutes, while the long form has over 100 movements and can take more than 30 minutes. Like other types of meditation, the movements within the form are linked to control breathing. The time taken to complete the form varies from person to person. Some people are more comfortable with a slightly faster pace, while others prefer a slightly slower pace.
Yin and Yang
In order to set out on the way you must first recognize and balance the opposing forces of nature within you. These opposing forces are known as yin and yang. When they are balanced, the result is the Tai chi. Chi is the universal life force (the equivalent of prana in yoga), while Tai means great. The concept of the life force that flows through the universe and through all organic living matter is fundamental to many complementary therapies.
This state of balance, the Tai chi, or great life force, is represented symbolically by the Tai chi tu, more usually known as the yin and yang or two fishes symbol, because it looks like two fishes endlessly chasing each other’s tail. The two fishes, one dark, the other light, represent yin and yang, respectively. Yin and yang oppose and complement each other in a state of dynamic balance.