MoonDragon's Alternative Health Information
T'AI CHI CH'UAN
Touch & Movement Therapies
For "Informational Use Only".
For more detailed information, contact your health care provider
about options that may be available for your specific situation.
T'AI CHI CH'UAN DESCRIPTION
T'ai Chi Ch'uan, often known simply as T'ai Chi, is an ancient art of Chinese movement therapy reputedly practiced by Taoist monks in the 13th century, but its exact origins are difficult to trace. A dynamic form of qigong, T'ai Chi is a non-combative martial art that uses breathing techniques and sequences of slow, gentle, graceful, flowing movements to improve the flow of qi, or "life energy", calm the mind, improve stress reduction along with improvement of balance and agility, promoting self-healing (reduces the stress of today's busy lifestyles and improve health). The graceful images of people gliding through dance-like poses as they practice T'ai chi are compelling. Simply watching them is relaxing. T'ai chi is often described as "meditation in motion" because it promotes serenity through gentle movements - connecting mind and body. T'ai chi is performed daily by millions of Chinese people all over the world. In the West its popularity is rapidly increasing.
MAIN USES OF T'AI CHI
Stress-related conditions, such as anxiety & tension. Conditions of old age. Enhancing mental & physical control. Improving vitality. Calming the mind. Promoting health.
Derived from the words for "great," "ultimate," and "fist," T'ai Chi Ch'uan can be loosely translated as "supreme ultimate power." One legend says that Chang San Feng, a 13th century Taoist monk, devised the movements after dreaming about a snake and a crane engaged in a dance-like fight: the bird is said to have represented universal consciousness, the snake to have embodied nature's powers of regeneration. Chang San Feng reputedly combined these dance-like movements with traditional Taoist breathing exercises to create T'ai Chi. Another ancient legend holds that T'ai Chi was developed as a martial art by monks forbidden to carry weapons. A more modern belief is that it was created about 400 years ago by a retired Chinese general, Chen Wang Ting, from Henan province.
T'ai chi was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-69), but it has since been promoted by the Chinese government as a form of preventive health care. In the West, it is now one of the most popular movement therapies for all ages.
In China, any place of open land may be used for daily practice of T'ai Chi, and men and women of all ages participate. This group is practicing in front of the Temple of Heaven in China's capital city, Beijing. Styles of T'ai Chi vary, but grace, concentration, and control are common to all forms.
As an element of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the aim of T'ai Chi is to ensure the smooth flow of qi, or "life energy," through the body's meridians. Practitioners believe illness is caused by an imbalance of qi, although T'ai Chi is practiced more as a form of preventive health care than as a response to an ailment.
Genuine T'ai Chi involves "empty hand forms," "weapons forms" (with sword, spear, and broadsword), "pushing hands," and "standing like a tree" (zhan zhuang). As a non-combative martial art, T'ai Chi is used for spiritual and mental clarity. It should ideally be practiced outdoors, so that the universal qi of the earth can join with the body's internal qi.
This posture is from the Single Whip sequence shows the martial aspect of T'ai Chi; an imaginary sword is held in the upper right hand.
Today there are five major styles of T'ai Chi: Chen, Yang, Wu, Woo, and Sun. Yang (the most commonly practiced in the West) is a rhythmical style performed as a slow series of postures, linked into one, long, flowing exercise. The short form version consists of 24 movements and can be performed in 5 to 10 minutes, while the long form version of 108 movements takes 20 to 40 minutes. The sequence bear symbolic names like "snake creeps down to water" and "stork cools its wings." They are designed to focus body and mind in harmony to encourage an even flow of qi.
UNDERSTANDING T'AI CHI
Originally developed in China as a form of self-defense, T'ai Chi is a graceful form of exercise that has existed for some 2,000 years. Practiced regularly, T'ai Chi can help you reduce stress and enjoy other health benefits. T'ai Chi is a non-competitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. To do T'ai Chi, you perform a series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner. Each posture flows into the next without pausing. Anyone, regardless of age or physical ability, can practice T'ai Chi. It does not take physical prowess. Rather, T'ai Chi emphasizes technique over strength.
Tai chi is used to:
T'ai chi has more than 100 possible movements and positions. You can find several that you like and stick with those, or explore the full range. The intensity of T'ai Chi varies somewhat depending on the form or style practiced. Some forms of T'ai Chi are more fast-paced than others, for instance. However, most forms are gentle and suitable for everyone. And they all include rhythmic patterns of movement that are coordinated with breathing.
- Reduce stress.
- Increase flexibility.
- Improve muscle strength and definition.
- Increase energy, stamina and agility.
- Increase feelings of well-being.
Although T'ai Chi is generally safe, consider talking with your health care practitioner before starting a new program. This is particularly important if you have any problems with your joints, spine or heart.
STRESS REDUCTION & OTHER BENEFITS OF T'AI CHI
Like other practices that bring mind and body together, T'ai Chi can reduce stress. During t'ai chi, you focus on movement and breathing. This combination creates a state of relaxation and calm. Stress, anxiety and tension should melt away as you focus on the present, and the effects may last well after you stop your T'ai Chi session.
T'ai Chi may also help your overall health, although it is not a substitute for traditional medical care. T'ai Chi is generally safe for people of all ages and levels of fitness. Older adults may especially find T'ai Chi appealing because the movements are low impact and put minimal stress on muscles and joints. T'ai Chi may also be helpful if you have arthritis or are recovering from an injury.
Despite its ancient history, T'ai Chi has been studied scientifically only in recent years. And that research is suggesting that T'ai Chi may offer numerous other benefits beyond stress reduction, including:
- Reducing anxiety and depression.
- Improving balance and coordination.
- Reducing the number of falls.
- Improving sleep quality, such as staying asleep longer at night and feeling more alert during the day.
- Slowing bone loss in women after menopause.
- Lowering blood pressure.
- Improving cardiovascular fitness.
- Relieving chronic pain.
- Improving everyday physical functioning.
LEARNING TO DO T'AI CHI
If you are wondering how to get started in T'ai Chi, you do not need any special clothing or equipment to do T'ai Chi. To gain full benefits, however, it may be best to seek guidance from a qualified t'ai chi instructor.
EVIDENCE & RESEARCH
Research indicates that T'ai Chi relaxes the muscles and nervous system and benefits posture and joint flexibility. In 1996, a trial in Atlanta found T'ai Chi could help improve the health of elderly people. A study published in the UK Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1992 showed that T'ai Chi could reduce symptoms of stress. In a 1989 study, American researchers found that T'ai Chi improved breathing without straining the heart.
CONVENTIONAL MEDICAL OPINION
Many conventional health care providers might value T'ai Chi as a form of exercise and as a relaxation and breathing technique. Most would, however, be wary of the theory of qi and meridians.
CONSULTING A PRACTITIONER
Although video courses and books are available, it is better to attend classes with a teacher, who can explain the philosophy of T'ai Chi and ensure that sequences are learned correctly. A T'ai Chi instructor can teach you specific positions and how to regulate your breathing. An instructor also can teach you how to practice T'ai Chi safely, especially if you have injuries, chronic conditions, or balance or coordination problems. Although T'ai Chi is slow and gentle, with virtually no negative side effects, injuries are possible if T'ai Chi is not done properly. It is possible you could strain yourself or overdo it when first learning. Or if you have balance problems, you could fall during T'ai Chi.
T'AI CHI CLASSES
You can find T'ai Chi classes in many communities today. Contact your local senior center, YMCA or YWCA, health club, community education center or wellness facility for help finding qualified instructors.
During T'ai Chi classes, the instructor can give you personal guidance and correct any errors in your style before they become habit. Eventually, you may feel confident enough to do T'ai Chi on your own. But if you like the social element, consider sticking with group classes.
Classes range from one-to-one to groups of 15 to 30. The teacher will not take a case history, but you should tell him of any current medical condition. Loose, comfortable clothes are recommended, and flat-soled shoes (not sneakers). The teacher will begin with gentle warm-up exercises, before instructing you in T'ai Chi movements. You are advised not to overexert yourself, and T'ai Chi should not make you feel sore or stiff. Sessions will be calm and unhurried, focusing on breathing and state of mind to encourage a calm, meditative state. Daily practice is ideal, with weekly sessions considered the minimum for any noticeable benefit. Repetition and refinement of postures are the key to improvement.
PUTTING T'AI CHI INTO PRACTICE
To reap the greatest stress reduction benefits from T'ai Chi, consider practicing it regularly. Many people find it helpful to practice T'ai Chi in the same place and at the same time every day to develop a routine. But if your schedule is erratic, do T'ai Chi whenever you have a few minutes.
You can even draw on the soothing concepts of T'ai Chi without performing the actual movements if you get stuck in stressful situations - a traffic jam or a work conflict, for instance.
A FEW POSTURE EXAMPLES USED IN T'AI CHI
This sequence improves arm and leg strength and generates yang qi. Qi is generated within the dantien (in the abdomen) and the postures distribute it around the upper body.
1. Stand with your feet wide apart and knees slightly bent. Rest your left hand on your right in front of your abdomen, where your dantien is located.
2. Bend your legs a little more. Swing your hands wide, palms out, then bring them back to the center, left hand in front, right hand in a fist behind.
3. Transfer the weight of your right foot and twist your body to the left. To release the punch, pull your left hand back and send your right fist forward. Center your weight, and swing your upper body into the movement. The sequence can be performed as controlled, slow postures or as a powerful, fast action.
This gentle series of movements develops yin qi, and helps to balance qi in the body. It also strengthens the arms and legs, and can be performed repeatedly as a flowing sequence.
1. Put your weight on your right leg, slightly raising your left leg. Raise your left hand, palm out, and bring your right hand, palm up, below it.
2. Shift the weight onto the other leg; make a large counter clockwise circle with your hands so that your right hand is in the higher position.
3. Step to the right, transfer your weight to the left foot, and make a clockwise circle with your hands. This movement can be repeated many times.
MoonDragon's Alternative Health Therapy: Touch & Movement - Qigong
ALTERNATIVE THERAPY PRECAUTIONS
Consult your health care provider before embarking on any non-conventional form of treatment if you have any medical condition or symptoms of illness. Do not stop taking any prescribed medication without first consulting with your health care provider. Tell your complementary practitioner about any prescribed medication you are taking, and any other complementary treatments you are receiving. Tell your health care provider about any complementary treatments you are taking. This includes herbal remedies and nutritional supplements as well as treatments. Do not embark on vigorous exercise without first consulting with a health care provider if you have any serious medical condition, such as back pain, high blood pressure, or heart disease, or if you are pregnant. Do not begin a course of complementary therapy without first consulting with your health care provider (or midwife) if you are pregnant, or if you are trying to conceive. Advise your practitioner if you have any sexually transmitted disease. Consult your health care provider before allowing babies or infants to receive complementary treatments, since some treatments, such as enemas and certain herbal remedies, are unsuitable for small children. See your health care provider if symptoms persist or worsen.
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