Tai Chi Chuan
What is Tai Chi ?
Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) means ‘fist of the mind’ and is an internal martial art that emphasizes Nei Gong (internal practice). It is based on the principles of Yin and Yang for developing conscious movement and energy interpretation. Tai Chi Chuan began around 1000 years ago with Taoist monks experimenting with moving meditation and the physical interpretation of the philosophy of Tao. Later, Chinese military leaders interwove their own style of martial arts with Shaolin Gongfu into the original Taoist system, such as activating tendons more than muscles, and focusing the earth force to a single point of contact. Originally, Tai Chi Chuan was a spiritual practice that integrated mind and body for enlightenment, and a fast and powerful free-form martial art for self-defence. Today, Tai Chi Chuan is still practiced by many purists as a fighting form, but its popularity is mainly based on Yang Style Tai Chi For Health which combines slow simplified Chinese martial arts movements into a relaxed aerobic set for health and relaxation, which is actually categorized as a form of Health Qi Gong.
Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan
Yang style Tai Chi Chuan was founded by Yang Luchan (1799-1872) and was popularized by Yang Chengfu (1883-1936). After he was already an accomplished martial artist, Yang Luchan learned Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan from Chen Changxing in Henan Province, China, which he later modified into the Yang Style. He taught his new style in Beijing where he remained undefeated acquiring the name ‘Yang The Invincible’. When Tai Chi Chuan was passed down to his grandson Yang Chengfu its movements had undergone great changes, removing some of the more difficult martial forms. Characterized by its easy, nimble and leisurely style, combining vigor with grace, this newborn school of Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan has since been very popular among the Chinese people. The Yang lineage was also influential in the establishment of the Wu, Hao, and Sun family styles of Tai Chi Chuan. Since the 1950’s, Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan has spread across the world becoming the most popular Tai Chi style for improving health and curing illness. Extended and graceful, carefully structured, and relaxed, gentle and flowing, Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan is loved by tens of millions of practitioners for being enjoyable to learn and providing a remarkable contribution to the health of mankind.
How It Works
Tai Chi focuses on relaxation, body alignment and breathing, and has very distinct mechanisms of benefit unique from conventional vigorous exercise. Tai Chi emphasizes sensory learning which results in movement that is more flexible, pleasurable and free from aches and pains. Guided by the instructor’s experience and encouragement you let go of all tensions and move more gently and lovingly with improved posture and alignment. A sense of space, lightness and openness is created by relaxing the mind in the present moment through the felt connection to your body’s Qi (internal healing energy). Reduced muscle tension, combined with slow, deeper breaths, results in greater blood flow and oxygen distribution throughout the entire body (including the organs), as opposed to more vigorous exercise where muscles are tense and only the main muscle groups are usually affected. Relaxed mindful movement increases blood oxygen saturation and diffusion resulting in enhanced metabolic function, which increases the disease-fighting and healing abilities of the body.
Difference Between Tai Chi & Qi Gong
Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) and Qi Gong (Chi Kung) are two forms of mind-body exercise from ancient China that have more similarities than differences. Most people who practice Tai Chi Chuan also incorporate Qi Gong into their practice as they result in similar benefits including increased oxygenation of the whole body, mental calmness and renewed strength and vitality. Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong both centre around the philosophy of cultivating Qi, the life force or vital energy in our body. Both involve good posture and gentle movements. Both practices integrate breath with movement and use cognitive skills such as imagery and visualization to heighten awareness of energy circulation.
One major difference is that Tai Chi Chuan was originally created as a martial art with all its movements being either attacking, defensive and neutralizing. Tai Chi Chuan also has partner exercises known as Pushing Hands for developing advanced techniques, self-defense and martial power. Health Qi Gong is not a martial art and does not have any self-defense movements or Pushing Hands exercises. Health Qi Gong can be practiced sitting, standing and moving, but Tai Chi Chuan only has moving exercises. People get confused because when practiced slowly for health and relaxation Tai Chi Chuan is categorized as a form of Health Qi Gong.
However, both are easy to do, benefit everyone, and the results can be extraordinary. Each lesson builds on the next which helps to create a conversation of sensing, feeling and relaxing that engages your whole being in a process where old habits can be replaced by new awareness and skill. To train the mind to deeply connect with the language of the body is an art that requires guidance form a teacher and regular practice. As your own inner wisdom awakens it guides you through your healing journey and beyond.
10 Principles of Yang Chengfu
1-4 Arranging the Body Frame
- Top of the head floats up to raise the spirit
- Relax the shoulders and drop the elbows
- Relax the chest and open the shoulder blades
- Relax the waist and lower back
- Separate empty and full
- Synchronize upper and lower body
- Practice slowly, continuously and without interruption
- Use intent rather than force
- Match up inner and outer
- Seek stillness within movement
This means pushing up and energetic so the posture of the head is upright and straight and the spirit is infused into its apex. You may not use strength. To use strength makes the back of the neck stiff, whereupon the Qi and blood cannot circulate freely. You must have an intention, which is empty, lively and natural. Without intention, that is empty, lively, pushing up and energetic, you won’t be able to raise your spirit.
Relaxing the shoulders means the shoulders are sinking, open, and hang downward. If you can’t relax them downward, the shoulders pop up and then the Qi follows and goes upward, causing the whole body to lack strength. Dropping the elbows means the elbows are relaxed downward. If the elbows are elevated then the shoulders are unable to sink. When you use this to push someone they won’t go far. It’s like the ‘cut of’ energy of external martial arts. External martial arts are thought to use energy from parts or sections of the body, as opposed to the ‘whole‐body’ energy of Tai Chi Chuan.
The phrase ‘relax the chest’ means the chest is slightly reserved inward, which causes the Qi to sink to the dantien. The chest must not be puffed out; if you do so then the Qi is blocked in the chest region. The upper body becomes heavy and the lower body light and it will become easy for the heels to float upward. ‘Open the shoulder blades’ means to round the upper back which makes the Qi stick to the back. If you are able to hold in the chest then you will naturally be able to slightly round the back. If you can slightly round the back, then you will be able to emit strength from the spine, which others cannot oppose.
The waist is the commander of the whole body. Only after you are able to relax the waist will the Qi sink, and the two legs have strength making the lower body is stable. The alternation of empty and full all derive from the turning of the waist. Hence the saying: ‘The wellspring of destiny lies in the tiny interstice of the waist. In Chinese thought, the waist tends to be regarded as the lower back (Mingmen) rather than a circle girdling the middle of the body. Whenever there is a lack of strength in your form, you must look in the waist and legs.
5-7 Coordinating the Movements
In the art of Tai Chi Chuan, separating full and empty is the number one rule. If the whole body sits on the right leg, then the right leg is deemed ‘full’ and the left leg ‘empty.’ If the whole body sits on the left leg, then the left leg is deemed ‘full’ and the right leg ‘empty.’ Only after you are able to distinguish full and empty will turning movements be light, nimble and almost withou effort; if you can’t distinguish them, then your steps will be heavy and sluggish. You won’t be able to stand stably, and it will be easy for an opponent to control you.
In the Tai Chi Classics ‘‘synchronize upper and lower body’ is expressed as: ‘With its root in the foot, emitting from the leg, governed by the waist, manifesting in the hands and fingers – from feet to legs to waist – complete everything in one impulse.’ Literally ‘one Qi’. This could also be rendered as ‘one breath.’ When hands move, the waist moves and legs move, and the gaze moves along with them. Only then can we say the upper and the lower body are synchronized. If one part doesn’t move then it is not coordinated with the rest.
Strength in external martial arts is a kind of acquired, brute force, so it has a beginning and an end, times when it continues and times when it is cut of, such that when the old force is used up and new force hasn’t yet arisen. There is a moment when it is extremely easy for the person to be constrained by an opponent. In Tai Chi, we use intent rather than force, and from beginning to end, smoothly and ceaselessly, complete a cycle and return to the beginning, circulating endlessly. That is what the Tai Chi Classics mean by ‘Like the Yangtze or Yellow River, endlessly flowing.’ And again: ‘Moving strength is like unreeling silk threads’. These both refer to unifying into a single impulse.
8-10 Harmonizing the Mind
When you practice Tai Chi Chuan, let the entire body relax and extend. Don’t employ even the tiniest amount of coarse strength, which would cause musculoskeletal or circulatory blockage with the result that you restrain or inhibit yourself. Only then will you be able to lightly and nimbly change and transform, circling naturally. The net of acupuncture meridians and channels throughout the body are like the waterways on top of the earth. If the waterways are not blocked, the water circulates; if the meridians are not impeded the Qi circulates. If you move the body about with stiff force, you swamp the meridians. Qi and blood are impeded, movements are not nimble; all someone has to do is begin to guide you and your whole body is moved. If you use intent rather than force, wherever the intent goes, so goes the Qi. In this way, because the Qi and blood are flowing and circulating every day throughout the entire body and never stagnating, you will get true internal strength after a lot of practice.
What we are practicing in Tai Chi depends on the spirit, hence the saying: ‘The spirit is the general, the body his troops.’ If you can raise your spirit, your movements will naturally be light and nimble, the form nothing more than empty and full, open and closed. When we say ‘open,’ we don’t just mean open the arms or legs; the mental intent must open along with the limbs. When we say ‘close,’ we don’t just mean close the arms or legs; the mental intent must close along with the limbs. If you can combine inner and outer into a single impulse, then they become a seamless whole.
External martial artists prize leaping and stomping, and they do this until breath (Qi) and strength are exhausted, so that after practicing they are all out of breath. In Tai Chi Chuan we use tranquility to overcome movement, and even in movement, still have tranquility. So when you practice the form, the slower the better! When you do it slowly your breath becomes deep and long, the Qi sinks to the dantien, and naturally there is no harmful constriction or enlargement of the blood vessels.