The T'ai Chi Principles
The T'ai Chi principles are even more important than the movements for they are directly based on the laws of nature that shape us every moment. Moving in slow motion while listening internally promotes calmness and sensitivity to the eternal laws and rhythms of our universe. T'ai Chi starts out as primarily physical; then, as we learn the movements of the body, it eventually becomes more mental and meditative.
Relaxation is the first and foremost principle. Not at all weak or limp nor tight and stiff, this is an alert, vibrant condition that promotes fluid gracefulness while enhancing sensitivity, a prime requirement in our world of constant change. T'ai Chi coaxes the body into loosening and opening so that internal energy may flow freely. Blood circulation is enhanced as the capillaries open, for example. Tension is a blockage resulting from stress and/or trauma. Regular practice with mental concentration provides early recognition and amelioration of physical and mental tension.
Verticality of the spine is another important principle. Leaning even slightly in any direction means tensing the body in a losing battle with gravity. The top of the head is kept horizontal and the spine upright and open so the muscles along the spine may relax. The spine is a major energy path that deserves close attention. After the common cold, back pain is the most frequent ailment reported and it is often caused by tension due to poor posture.
The center leads the movement of the energy and the body. The waist area just below the navel is the central axis or hub of the body and the limbs may be thought of as spokes. Paying attention to the center on the physical level gradually leads to the meditative aspect of T'ai Chi as well. Breathing is deepened and enhanced by concentrating on the center.
Differentiate yin and yang and perceive substantial and insubstantial. Initially, this means to separate the weight completely in the legs. T'ai Chi is called one-legged boxing because of this emphasis on standing on one leg at a time. Obviously, this builds strength and balance. Gradually, one becomes more sensitive to other differentiations as well.
Beautiful lady's wrist refers to a straight and relaxed wrist. During the form, the wrist is almost always straight in order to enhance the flow of energy. If a soda straw, for example, is bent or twisted, the flow through it is reduced. Precision of wrist position also requires concentration and practice to attain and thus builds awareness.
Medicine, meditation and martial arts are the three interwoven elements of T'ai Chi, providing also a ladder of progression. Initially, emphasis is upon the health aspects. As the movements become second nature, the meditative elements emerge. Later, the martial art proves the principles on another level while helping us learn to deal gently with others.