By Jenny Burns
(Originally published in Herald Sun, 13th December, 1993)
Tai Chi classes continue to spring up all over the country as more and more people discover its benefits.
Although originally developed (and still practiced) as a martial arts system, Tai Chi has been used to keep fit and prevent and cure diseases amongst the Chinese people since the 16th century.
'Today, it's principally a tranquil, gentle and pleasurable means of attaining and maintaining health and harmony in mind and body, mobility, suppleness and mental alertness,' Tai Chi Australia's founder and Chief Instructor, Mr Han Jin Song, said. One of the main reasons for Tai Chi's growing popularity is its therapeutic benefits.
Good health depends on harmony and balance, which is what Tai Chi does by balancing Yin and Yang in the human body.
Tai Chi also cultivates and stimulates the internal energy Chi circulation within the body system, which keeps you rejuvenated, refreshed, fit and healthy.
To be healthy and free of tensions the Chi must be plentiful and circulate smoothly along the meridians. If the Chi is weak or becomes blocked, certain problems will arise.
Therefore, to be constantly healthy and free of tension, diseases and illnesses, one should strengthen the Chi and work on improving its circulation through physical and mental exercise.
This is one of the main reasons people with medical conditions are turning to Tai Chi. Many are not satisfied with Western Medicine and have either heard of Tai Chi as an alternative or have been recommended to classes by their doctor or physiotherapist.
The benefits of Tai Chi are recognized by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who are often Tai Chi instructors.
'From a psychological point of view, Tai Chi helps release emotional tensions, increases concentration and awareness and decreases stressful psychological and physiological reactions,' Mr Han said.
'One becomes more centred, more at peace with oneself and less subject to outside influences.
This is another reason Tai Chi has become so popular, it's a great way to relax and can help people learn to deal with stress.'
Another great advantage of Tai Chi is that anyone, regardless of age or level of fitness, can do it. Early morning is the time you're likely to see most real devotees in action.
'After a night's sleep we believe the body is sluggish and needs to be woken up so it is ready for the day ahead. Tai Chi does this,' Mr Han said.
And while you'll find most real devotees performing Tai Chi in the park it's not essential to go outdoors.
'In China it's performed outdoors purely due to lack of space. There's nothing significant about where it's done, as long as it is quiet, even though it is much nicer outside in the fresh air surrounded by nature,' he said.
Many variations of Tai Chi are practiced, the principle styles being Yang, Chen, Sun, Wu and Woo. While each style has its own characteristics, the principles involved remain the same.
According to Mr Han, it's the Yang style that has been responsible for the spread in popularity of the practice of Tai Chi for health and relaxation.
When undertaking Tai Chi movements, muscles and joints should be relaxed to such a degree that all rigidity disappears.
Your mind should be tranquil but at the same time it also must be alert with consciousness commanding the body.
A high degree of concentration is important to ensure the movements are performed correctly.
All routines should be performed slowly and smoothly as the movements are in accord with the natural motions of the human body.
Body movements are also well coordinated. The legs act as a base, the waist as an axis and the hands, eyes, bodies and limbs as a whole throughout the exercise. Though the movements are slow, each part of the body is in constant motion.
Imagery plays an important part in Tai Chi. Names are given to movements which evoke mental images to assist in the learning process.
Relaxation is all-important.
'After exercise one should feel relaxed and refreshed rather than exerted,' Mr Han said.
Qigong increases vitality, impacts positively to improve medical conditions and in this way will improve and prolong the quality of life. Health Qigong is taught at Tai Chi Australia and you can read more about it here or contact Tai Chi Australia.