The Virtues of Tai Chi by everydaytaichi ken chun
A Tai Chi Journey by Kenneal Chun 5-2017
My interest in tai chi began in my youth but it is only later in life that it has become an important activity that brings me relaxation and strength.Tai chi has become a past time for both my wife, Lucille and me.The personal benefits in physical and mental health improvement and maintenance that we have gained from learning and practicing this art has had a great impact on both of us. We have also been able to use our career skills to teach and promote it. Lucille is a teacher by training and uses her significant teaching skills to pass on to others the knowledge of this art. I have tried to correlate my medical knowledge about the function of the mind and body with the concepts of tai chi. My previous knowledge in basic Chinese martial arts has been useful but not essential in understanding and learning this art.
Although tai chi is originally derived from the martial art tai chi chuan, today, it is mainly taught for its benefit as an exercise.The origins of tai chi chuan are centuries old but until the latter 19th and early 20th century, it was a sequestered form of martial art known by only certain clans and privileged individuals.Over the decades since then, the knowledge of this art has been more widely disseminated and the practice routines simplified and shortened.The main thrust of practicing this art slowly changed from promoting a fighting skill to the practicing of its concepts and movements to promote health of the body and mind.
There are several main styles of tai chi with many more offshoots and modifications by individual teachers and practitioners. The most widely known form is derived mostly from the Yang style and is referred to as the simplified 24-step tai chi chuan, universal form, or 24 form. This was formulated by tai chi experts in 1956 under the auspices of the Chinese government to try to provide a form that was easy enough for everyday people to learn and perform as a means of getting regular exercise. It is now performed extensively in China and around the world and is considered by many as one of the “gold standards” for everyday tai chi practitioners.Yang style tai chi, with its slow, soft appearing, flowing and rounded movements is relatively easy to learn. Direct off shoots of this form are the 8 or 10 form and the 16 form which are shortened versions using some of the same movements present in the 24 form.These latter forms were formulated in 2001 to try to provide shorter forms with which to introduce new students to the art. We have taught these three forms to provide a framework of exercise.The rudiments of sequence and body movement of the various forms can be learned relatively easily if pursued diligently. Understanding the subtleties involved in employing the mind to direct the body to perform the coordinated body movements which are the bases for tai chi can continue for as long as this art is practiced. Progressive insights and understanding of these concepts provide an ongoing challenge to improve one’s tai chi making the journey an interesting ever changing and satisfying one. It can be practiced regularly without being over strenuous, and can be continued into old age. As teachers of tai chi we have not sought to master extensive numbers of forms but rather to concentrate on the few we teach to try to both master and teach the basic concepts inherent in each of the movements as they involve both the mind and body. We feel that a few tai chi forms done well and with understanding can still provide the benefits to the mind and body that we seek.
The potential benefits of tai chi are many. There are benefits to the physical body and to the neurologic and psychologic functions of the mind and nervous system. By using the basis of martial arts one can perform some of the physical movements which would be otherwise performed when using tai chi as a fighting form but in a slower and gentler manner. In moving through the various body movements one requires strength, flexibility, coordination, knowledge of sequences of movement of body parts, and focusing of one’s mind in order to direct the body to perform the given movement as precisely as possible.
The body is exercised with martial arts based movements of its various parts to improve its physical function.The slow deliberate movement and need to concentrate helps to calm the mind and relax the body. It can be stress reducing. This has prompted some to refer to tai chi as “meditation in motion.” Learning to concentrate and focus on the immediate task at hand to the exclusion of many of thoughts that otherwise run through our minds throughout the day and at any given moment is a very useful skill to aid our everyday activity. It helps us breakdown our daily activity to deliberate intentional actions which have our focused attention rather than relying on semi automatic thoughts and activities, all being considered at one time, as we try to multitask our way through our days.This multitasking strategy is commonly no longer adequate due to the aging of the body with deterioration of strength and coordination and the slowing of the mind and reflexes. With these age related limitations we are at increased risk of making missteps and slips with resulting injury.
We view the learning and practice of tai chi as a journey. Initially, those trying to learn the movements in tai chi may first realize that their physical strength and coordination is not as it may have been in their youth. Part of the goal of learning tai chi is to learn about one’s body and its level of function and then to try to improve this with practicing of the art. As the student is being educated in how to perform a given movement he begins to realize the given functioning state of his body and mind and this is the starting point from which he can pursue learning tai chi to improve his condition. The body is tasked with moving in an intentional manner directed by the will of the mind. It is trained in a non forceful, safe manner to move in a smooth coordinated fashion moving the various parts of the body in the appropriate manner to master all the components of moving body parts in a synchronized fashion. With repetitive drilling of elements of posture, sequential movement of body parts, and maintenance of center of balance, all directed by a focused mind, the practitioner can learn to use his body in an efficient and safe manner.
With repeated practice the mind learns to train the physical body to comply. In concentrating to direct the body, the mind learns to focus on the task of the moment to the exclusion many otherwise extraneous thoughts. Focusing on the immediate task at hand helps one to learn to think in the moment which may provide benefit in performing daily activity safely with minimal distraction and in an orderly fashion to reduce risk of injury. Learning to focus one’s mind on fewer thoughts at a time and to progress in an orderly fashion can provide clearer uncluttered thinking which can translate into better physical and mental performance. Also, the learning of the sequences of movements can be a means of exercising one’s memory which is an important function to nurture.
It is not uncommon that following a session of tai chi one may feel a sense of peace and calmness which may last for various amounts of time in a given individual.The knowledge that the exercise of the mind and the body in this manner can reduce anxiety and stress can be a useful coping strategy. Over time the familiarity and confidence in this manner of thinking and movement can hopefully be incorporated in the practitioner’s daily life and can lead to improvement of its quality.
Tai chi taught and practiced in a group setting can have a social benefit when one comes into contact with others participating in the same activity with similar goals. This can provide an opportunity to build new social bonds helping to nurture our human need for social interactions as social beings. Recreational opportunities and fulfillment of practical needs can grow from these bonds and friendships.