Tai Chi, also called T’ai chi ch’uean or Tài ji, sometimes colloquially called “Shaolin boxing,” is an internal Chinese self-defense art developed for both health and defense training. Tai Chi has been used by the Chinese for more than 4000 years. Today it is widely practiced in China, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries. The origin of Tai Chi is attributed to the Taoist teachings of Confucius, who wrote a book called the Analects of Tai Chi, in which he advocated the use of gentle self-paced movements for meditative purposes. In addition to using the physical strength of one’s arms and legs to strike an opponent, Tai Chi also employs the mind to overcome attacks.
Tai Chi has five basic styles, including the standard, simplified, defense, and meditative styles. The simplified style is the fastest and simplest of the different styles. In this style, the majority of movements involve sticking your palms to the ground a number of times, in order to create a firm foundation for various other movement sequences. One of the most basic movements in Tai Chi is the Five Animal Taijitu, or Tiger, which is performed by moving your arms and legs in a circular pattern up and down the length of your body, pausing at the elbow or foot collars, then returning to the starting position. The Five Animals can be made faster by varying the distance between the collars.
Another popular movement in Tai Chi is the open hand form, or Uechi, which involves the practitioner keeping his or her arm straight with the palm facing away from his or her body. The sequences of movements in this form are easy to learn, but can be made even more difficult by engaging in slow and meditative breathing. A variation on the open hand form is called the shut hand, where the palm is held close to the body and the wrist is rolled over it. Both forms of Tai Chi have been used to great effect as stress reduction techniques, and are simple enough that even those who do not practice Tai Chi regularly may be able to learn them.
A third type of Tai Chi helps to achieve balance, and this is achieved through the practice of various postures. Tai Chi teaches that there are seven different types of Tai Chi, all of which are important for promoting balance and stability through the body and each of their individual postures. The primary posture for the mind is the level of awareness that is achieved when one properly aligns their chest with their stomach, while also allowing their shoulders to relax and stay still. This form of Tai Chi helps to promote a feeling of wellbeing that transcends the physical realm and lends a spiritual dimension to one’s overall well-being.
There are many more positions and sequences of movement that teach the practitioner how to remain balanced and relaxed while also engaging in what some call a “flow” of movements. This, too, has the potential to be very useful as a stress reduction technique and as a means of achieving inner peace and a general sense of wellbeing. There are many Tai Chi styles, both older and newer, that can all be used for these purposes, and a person does not necessarily need to begin exercising in order to practice Tai Chi. Most schools will introduce students to Tai Chi and provide the means of learning how to engage in these self-defense exercises.
Overall, Tai Chi can be used as an excellent method of both relieving stress as well as promoting general bodily well-being. It is important to note, however, that Tai Chi should only be introduced to people who are capable of exercising control over their breathing and whose muscles are capable of relaxation. Anyone who feels out of breath or otherwise unable to move their arms or legs should not try to enroll in a Tai Chi class, for this is not a standard training regimen. Tai Chi offers excellent benefits no matter who is involved, but beginners should exercise caution as Tai Chi can be extremely intense and strenuous for the first few weeks. Tai Chi classes should only be taken by people who are capable of maintaining proper body posture and are eager to learn a new physical activity as well as a new way of life.