Originating in ancient China, Taiji (also written as Taiji Quan, Tai Chi, Tai Chi Chuan) has gained enormous popularity throughout the world as its health benefits have become more recognised.
Taiji, as practiced in the west today, is a usually seen as a slow, choreographed, set of posture that is used for exercise, relaxation and health. It can perhaps best be thought of as a moving meditation.
There are a number of different styles (family styles such as Chen, Yang, Li, Wu & Sun as well as the more recently formalised Beijing styles) and within these styles there are various forms which consist of a sequence of movements and postures. Originally developed as a martial art, each of these movements was formulated with self-defence in mind.
Taiji has its origins in Taoism and Taoist martial arts. The literal translation of Taiji Quan is “Supreme Ultimate Boxing.” This is not a big-headed, boastful, claim to be the supreme martial art as the term “Supreme Ultimate” refers to the Tao. The symbol that is usually referred to as the Yin/Yang symbol is actually called Taiji and it represents the duality of our perception of Tao, of which the universe is only part. Taiji, in this context, can be seen as a microcosm of the Tao (universe) as its movements, shapes and breathing patterns reflect dynamic forces and interactions of the universe.
The concept of Qi is a fundamental part of Chinese medicine and philosophy. Qi is the intrinsic energy that the universe is made of, and it is also the energy that animates the body. The movements of Taiji promote the circulation of Qi within the body creating health and vitality. The Qi circulates through pathways that are known as meridians and the meridian contain the access points that are used by acupuncture, shiatsu, tuina, etc. for their healing properties and by martial arts for their harming properties.
Using these principals, Taiji Quan is a sophisticated method of combat where the Taiji Quan practitioner aims to neutralize his opponent’s use of force (strength – Li) before “borrowing it” and applying a countering force (focus – Jing) of his own. This is the interplay of Yang and Yin.
To the uninformed, it is hard to see how these slow, graceful and fluid movements could be used for defence against someone who is attacking with speed and strength. In any confrontation, the Taiji practitioner will also move faster………… with a speed to match his attacker’s but with the same fluid, relaxed and rooted movement that has been practiced in the form. It is by practicing at a slow pace that perfection in balance, rooting and technique can be gained.
However, for the vast majority of Taiji players, the martial aspect is never really touched on and the emphasis is on the tranquillity of mind and body, along with all the health benefits, that Taiji provides.
Taiji fosters calmness and tranquillity of mind as the focus of the practitioner is solely on the precise execution of the forms. The precision that is required within the postures also helps correct poor postural alignment that can contribute to tension, excess pressure on joints, or injury.
Today we may use Taiji to rid ourselves of the fatigue that stress, overwork, poor posture and the lack of atunement with our own body can bring. It is aid that Taiji increases longevity…………. This is something that modern scientific research is starting to agree with. This longevity does not mean that you will live forever. What it does mean is that daily practice promotes a healthy body, clarity of mind, better balance, denser bones, better circulation, more balanced blood pressure, lower (more efficient) respiration, and a more efficient and active lymphatic system (assisting the immune system. The list goes on! One more thing that Taiji can do for you is that you smile more……… Great big smiles, that
come from deep within.
In the words of Aldous Huxley (from Island):
“No leaps, no high kicks, no running. The feet always firmly on the ground…movements intrinsically beautiful and at the same time charged with symbolic meaning. Thought taking shape in ritual and stylized gesture. The whole body transformed into a hieroglyph, a succession of hieroglyphs, of attitudes modulating from significance to significance, like a poem or a piece of music. Movements of the muscles representing movements of the consciousness…It’s meditation in action; the metaphysics of the Mahayana expressed not in words, but through symbolic movements and gestures.”
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Further information on Taiji including case studies, etc.
- What is Taiji Quan?
- What is Qi (Chi)?
- Taiji – Private Tuition
- Yin Yang and the Five Element Theory
- Taiji Shibashi (十八) Instructors course
- Taiji Shibashi Qigong Workshop
- Tai chi and Parkinson’s disease
- Tai chi and persistent low back pain
- Tai Chi research review
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