It is around 2000 years old and a truly ancient form of mind body exercise.
500 million people practice it all around the world. It is around 2000 years old and a truly ancient form of mind body exercise. Harvard Medical School’s Health Publication called it “medication in motion.” It has five official lineages and hundreds of other recognised styles. It is a world renowned internal martial art and healing practice that integrates slow, gentle movements and focused breathing.
Yes, you must have guessed by now that we are talking about “Tai Chi” – the traditional Chinese martial art practiced all over the world for its multitude of health benefits. THE MEANING & HISTORY The term Tai Chi is a shortened form of “T’ai Chi Ch’uan” (or taijiquan) and has been translated variously as “internal martial art” and “supreme ultimate fist”. Integrating the Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang (opposing forces within the body) and Qì or Ch’i (life force or vital energy), the practice of Tai Chi is meant to support a healthy balance of yin and yang and so assisting the flow of qi. Many believe the original set of 13 exercises was developed to imitate the movements of animals; the importance was placed on meditation and internal force in contrast to external strength.
Tai chi is said to descend from the centuries-old Chinese martial art qigong, an ancient Chinese discipline that has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine. The real origins of Tai Chi are however obscure.
The more mystical and possibly romantic accounts date back as far as the 12th or even the 8th century. It is almost impossible to separate Chinese martial art history from legend, but folklores do hold interesting and useful messages. The legendary, Zhang Shanfeng, a famous Taoist priest in the 15th century was believed to possess superhuman ability and immense internal power and is credited to be the legendary figure from whom Tai chi originates.
Less romantic, but more reliably sourced accounts of Tai Chi, date back to Chen Wangting, a 16th century Royal Guard of the Chen village in the Henan Province.
After retiring from the army, he was drawn to the teachings of Taoism, which led him to a simple life of farming, studying and teaching martial arts. Chen Wangting developed the Chen Style Tai Chi around 1670. It is characterised by complementary movements-slow and soft versus fast and hard. It also contains explosive power and low stances. Another prominent figure – Yang Lu-chan learned Tai Chi from the Chen village. He later modified it with higher stances, gentle and slow movements, making it much more suitable for more people and calling it the Yang Style. From Yang and Chen style, three other major styles developed – Wu, Hao, and Sun. Each of these styles share similar essential principles, but contain different features and characteristics.
WHO CAN PRACTICE TAI CHI?
Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery. As beginners, sometimes we make the mistake of wanting shortcuts and quick results. Tai Chi is a lifelong practice that brings in gradual and long lasting changes. As Abu Dhabi based Shifu Alexander Ivanov – the official 16th generation disciple-inheritor of Wudang Sanfeng pai – puts it “Tai Chi did not change my life, my life is Tai Chi chuan.” The slow, deep meditative breathing associated with Tai Chi is beneficial for every human being and calms the nervous system, improves the mood, enhances mental focus and decreases harmful thoughts. Tai Chi will also expand your confidence to exercise and inspire healthy behaviour. Even today, in Chinese communities around the word, people commonly practice tai chi in groups that meet in parks, usually during the early hours of morning.
Tai Chi is a safe, adaptable form of aerobic exercise. If you watch people practice Tai Chi, it might not seem like they are getting any aerobic benefit, but they are. Dubai based Tai Chi master Shi Yan Can (Master Can) a 34th generation of Shaolin warrior monk highlights that the health benefits of practicing Tai Chi are twofold; mental and physical.
BENEFITS FOR THE MIND:
He says that the philosophy of Tai Chi slowly changes the structure of our way of thinking, to be in positive, calmness and lightness in order to balance the world of our own.
He adds that as you regularly practice, it will help improve the immunity and increase metabolism, build strength of the joints and gain energy from nature. Another master based in the UAE – the Austrian Master John Duval who has been practicing Chen Style Tai Chi for 26 years, points out to us that science has proven that the practice of Tai Chi can benefit every organ in our body. Master Duval who is 3rd generation inheritor and successor of Tai Chi from its birthplace (Chen Jia Gou) says, “regular practice helps with better blood circulation, lowers high blood pressure, relieves lower back pain and has shown great improvements for people with diabetes and arthritis.”
Master Hang, also from the shaolin temple in China teaches Tai Chi in Tecom and has been practising for more than ten years with Chen style. He says, “Tai chi is a kind of martial art which can help people get energy, reduce pressure, activate blood flow through practising the movement and breathing. Practising Tai Chi herlps me get inner peace and has made my life better. He adds that the best benefit you can get from Tai Chi is “inner peace” “Tai Chi is different from yoga because the movements are simpler, easy to practice, and are equally or more efficient on reducing pressure, getting energy, and making our bodies flexible. Tai Chi also improves self-immunity, and the body’s self-healing capabilities.”
RECOMMENDED POSES /EXERCISES
We asked a few UAE based instructors as to what basic poses they would recommend for beginners to start with. Here is what they have to say: Shifu Alexander Ivanov – “If one should be practicing one thing, for me it should be Dzan Djuan, or standing like a pole. All other skills are developed based on this practice. But again, remember that, it is not the only way. Many schools today have abandoned this practice. However, I feel like I can write a book on this topic alone.” Shi Yan Can(Master Can) – “I’d like to say one simple form of Tai Chi like 7 movements together, because Tai Chi is different from Yoga. Tai Chi’s movements are all linked together and continuously move like the river flows into the ocean, not stopping in the middle. You’ll feel the energy and connection between you and the universe through the slow, gentle and elegant movements while you practice and in the mean time you will maintain the strength of body as your knees have to be bent when you are moving”.
Though Tai chi originated in China as a martial art, it has been known for centuries as a mind-body practice that brings practitioners fitness, health, and wellness. It is truly a complete moving meditation that involves gentle, graceful movements together with deep breathing which stimulates your body’s natural healing abilities. Dubai based Master Can who started practicing Tai Chi when he was 12 years old adds that “The more concentration you have the more benefit you will receive. Your mind has nothing but just the energy from the movements, so you will naturally cut off the noise from your mind to purifying yourself like meditation”.
One of the most beneficial aspects of tai chi exercise is deep relaxation. Tai Chi can reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing. It can help you manage and diminish stress and improve your disposition. It will support you to soften unhealthy, aggressive actions by increasing self-awareness and creating a balanced way of thinking. Shifu Alexander, who has been practicing Taiji chuan since 1985, sums it up nicely by saying, “I think our modern culture is culture of consumers – “I will do A, in order to get B”. This is not really applicable, or at least will be very limiting in all spiritual and Martial Arts. In a system like Tai Chi we have to focus on practice – not on the result. In both fields one must discover for him-self/ her-self and not trying to repeat the Master. Here I must say, that yes, there is a part when one should copy the Master, but it is only stage, or level. Once one is devoted to practice, sooner or later one will be surprised where one has reached.” We hope we have stirred your curiosity to try out a class of Tai Chi at your nearest gym or studio and to inspire you we leave you with a few lines from a classic Taoist teaching poem- “Breathing Out – Touching the Root of Heaven, One’s heart opens; The Dragon slips by like water. Breathing In – Standing on the Root of Earth, One’s heart is still and deep; The Tiger’s claw cannot be moved.
As you go on breathing in this frame of mind, Let the true breath come and go, a subtle continuum on the brink of existence. Tune the breathing until you get breath without breathing; become one with it, and then the spirit can be solidified and the elixir can be made.” – Chang San-Feng, Commentary on
Ancestor Lu’s Hundred-Character Tablet
Written by: Anjaan
Published in Yogalife Magazine May-June’17