These suggestions come from the booklet ‘An Introduction to Tai Chi’ by the Harvard Medical School. I have edited and condensed the material here. For the full text, I recommend you harass the Longmont Public Library into providing you a free copy. Failing that, it is available for purchase at:
$20 for the print version
$18 for the downloadable PDF version.
To tap the full potential of Tai Chi, you need to approach it as a holistic practice. It isn’t something you do like weight lifting where you go to the gym, put in a good sweaty workout, take a shower and you’re done. Tai Chi stays with you throughout the day. It it an attitude.
This is a life changing challenge. Tai Chi, well done will make you think, act, and perceive differently. All for the better.
Awareness: This is essential. You need acute self-awareness. Awareness of your breathing, the sensations of your body as you move, the proportions of your weight on each leg, and the position of your arms in relation to the rest of your body.
Intention: Through visualization and imagery, you alter your intention, beliefs, and expectations. This has real world effects. The report tells of recovering stroke victims who visualized movements of paralyzed limbs and subsequently recovered motor function.
Structural Integration: Tai Chi looks at the body as a whole. It is an interconnected system, not an amalgamation of independent parts. You use your whole body for every movement. This translates to your everyday life. You start to find alignments and assume a posture that is unrestrained and safe. Better posture creates other benefits including larger breaths, and an upright stance. Studies have proven that better posture leads to a better mental attitude.
Active Relaxation: Relaxation in Tai Chi is an active concept. Muscles that are relaxed using the Tai Chi principles have a greater range of motion and move more efficiently. What’s more, by using all the muscles in a coordinated fashion, no muscle is overworked or strained. And the meditative motions of Tai Chi help shift the mind into a deeper state of relaxation. Relaxed bodies have reduced inflammation. Tense bodies have increased pain.
Strength and Flexibility: Tai Chi’s slow and moderate approach to building up strength and flexibility avoids injuries. Other exercise regimens can lead to problems when you overexert yourself by pushing too far too fast. The dynamic stretching and movements build your strength over time, giving your body the time to adjust to your new capabilities.
Natural Freer Breathing: As you learn to breathe deeper, and take in more air, your system becomes flooded with oxygen, which in turn improves your performance both mentally and physically.
Social Support: Tai Chi classes create community. The sense of belonging creates strong motivations to stick with your practice. You contribute to this when you interact with your fellow students. Observe them, help them, praise them when you see improvement.
Embodied Spirituality: Tai Chi creates a framework for integrating body, mind, and spirit for a more holistic life. This is a philosophy, not a religion. No one is asking you to change your beliefs. When you start seeing things from your new Tai Chi point of view, you become more aware, more sensitive, and more balanced. Tai Chi’s philosophy teaches you to “go with the flow”. This adaptability and resilience enables you to better manage stress and bounce back from adversity and trauma. Tai Chi is an emotional form of self-defense.
Our current culture and society can contribute to an ambience of continual stress. We are bombarded with tales of catastrophic events, fearful warnings, and worrying predictions. Commercials tell us that without this product, your life is miserable, or worse yet, you will be subjected to pain, sleepless nights, and social exclusion. Continual stress takes a toll on your body. Chemically it increases your hormonal propensity for inflammation, tightens up muscles, and causes secretions that contribute to high blood pressure, too much acid in the stomach and a host of other symptoms I’d rather not get in to.
A relaxed body eliminates all these problems and opens you up to experiences that contribute to a more enjoyable life. Choose to live a life of joy and be amazed at the world we live in.