Every morning as you make your way to work, you pass a group of people standing in one place and moving their limbs in slow movement. How is that exercise, you wonder, since nothing vigorous is happening? However, that is exactly how Tai Chi, or ‘Supreme Ultimate Force’ as the Chinese characters translate, works.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi can be described as a moving form of yoga combined with mediation. Even though many of the movements, known as forms or sets, have roots in martial arts, they are performed slowly, softly and gracefully. In the midst of much speculation of its origin, Tai Chi is said to have begun in the 12th century with the legendary Chang San-Feng.
Tai Chi theory and practice evolved with many of the principles of Chinese philosophy, including both Taoism and Confucianism.
“Stay sung (relax). When practicing the form you must keep relaxed. In time you will find that it will become part of your physical and mental state,” says Grandmaster Chen Man Ching (1947). To grasp the concept of Tai Chi, no amount of hurried attempts to grasp the art of Tai Chi will enable that. By allowing Tai Chi to empower the body and search for the inner chi requires patience and lots of practice. Once the inner chi has been located then can you begin achieving a harmony of body, mind and soul
Tai Chi has many benefits. In China, people believe that Tai Chi can prolong life, strengthen muscles and tendons, and treat heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, etc. Tai Chi also improves stamina. Jo Li, a Tai Chi enthusiast for the last 2 years, now in his twenties, realised recently that he is able to run for a longer period of time without becoming easily tired. Studies have shown that Tai Chi does have aerobic benefits and produces benefits in oxygen uptake and endurance.
If you think Tai Chi is just for old people or people who don’t want to do strenuous exercises, think again! It is now being recommended as another fitness option for pregnant women because it is gentle and slow-moving. Tai Chi is also beneficial for pregnant women who have never done any forms of exercise before as it reduces the chances of these women injuring themselves. Other exercises, even yoga, involve a certain amount of moving that could be a problem for pregnant women in later trimesters.
Coping with changes in body size, lifestyle and work can be stressful for a pregnant woman. This is where the mediation portion of Tai Chi kicks in. Deep breathing and helping the mind to focus on the slow repetitive movements of the breathing, provides relief to these external changes. Tai Chi also teaches patience and enhancing such a quality would be beneficial especially when the baby arrives. What can a woman be more concerned about then stability when she pregnant? A research conducted at Emory University in 1996 proved that practicing Tai Chi helped reduce the chances of falling by almost 50%.
Tai Chi not only helps mothers-to-be, but children as well. In England, Mrs. Anne D’Souza, 26, a teacher at Broad Town Church of England School in Wiltshire, has introduced her class to Tai Chi exercises before lessons. She has observed that the children, after the exercises, come into class calmer and prepared for their work. The children also respond better in class. The American Journal of Medicine and Sports lists a series of studies showing that tai chi can improve concentration, focus and performance. Mrs. D’Souza has even introduced the method to her fellow colleagues to use on their class children.
The growing vast number of people practicing Tai Chi shows its popularity and the belief people have in it. Tai Chi has spread all over the world that there is even an event called Tai Chi Day that is held on the last Saturday of April, annually. This event begun in 1999 and is now recognised by the United Nations World Health Organization and is acknowledged worldwide. Celebrations include mass Tai Chi workouts in most cities and free classes are also offered in certain clubs in the participating cities.
Here in Singapore, the popularity of Tai Chi has caught up with people so much that a look around a heartland estate around 7 in the morning or 7 in the evening, will guarantee a show of small groups of people gathered and enthusiastically practicing Tai Chi. Usually in June and December, when schools are out for the holidays, many children can be seen joining the neighbourhood ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ and actively participating in Tai Chi.