The fast pace of modern life brings its fair share of challenges. Keeping up with everyday pressures can be a great source of anxiety and stress for most individuals. Finding your balance in the midst of the chaos may be as simple as looking at the tried and true practices that have spanned generations. Activities like yoga and meditation have ancient origins, yet have found relevancy and popularity in today’s culture. Another ancient Chinese martial art practice, often referred to as “meditation in motion” is the practice of Tai Chi, where practitioners learn how to balance their energy through exercise.
History of Tai Chi
The origins of Tai Chi are interlaced between thousands of years of legend and the philosophies of Taoism. One early account of Tai Chi in practice dated back to the 1600’s to Chen Wangting. Chen was influenced heavily by Taoism, boxing, and military training. The style he created, “Chen” style, was later given immortality by generations of his family who carried on the practice. This style is most ideal for younger and agile practitioners, as it is focused heavily on explosive combat techniques and low stances.
The most popular style in modern times, Yang style, utilizes slower and more graceful movements by contrast. Yang Lu-chan was an accomplished martial artist who found Tai Chi in the 1800’s after being defeated by a member of the Chen family. He was so enamored with the art form that he purposefully became enslaved to the family for a time in order to covertly learn the techniques. Later in life, he was able to travel and teach the style, coined now as “Yang” style.
One of the most recent styles, “Sun” style, was developed by Sun Lu-tang in the 1900’s. Previous to his Tai Chi training, Sun had already learned two internal martial arts, which influenced his art form. What this style lacks in agility and explosiveness, it makes up for with internal depth to the practice.
Tai Chi has now spread throughout the world, with reportedly over 300 million people currently practicing the art form. Different styles and techniques have been developed over the years with various focuses, and many cultures have adapted the art form in unique ways as well.
Balancing Your Yin and Yang
Each of the above styles of Tai Chi are based on the principles developed from Taoism. One of the most fundamental philosophies of these art forms is the concept of Yin and Yang. Every aspect of life is seen as a balancing act between these two opposing forces. Tension is a result of an imbalance, with the body leaning too far into the Yang state. Relaxation on the other hand is an imbalance of Yin, and you are unable to maintain rigorous exercise in a state of relaxation.
Finding your inner balance between the forces of Yin and Yang allows the mind to relax and find a stillness that is present when both of these are engaged in harmony. Practitioners are taught about this philosophy as an intellectual exercise, but can soon learn to translate this to the physical form. This is how the term “meditation in motion” was coined. While meditation focuses solely on the mind, Tai Chi forms take the stillness you achieve mentally through meditation and allows you to carry it through your exercises. As long as you achieve this harmony of balance, you are able to practice any Tai Chi form, no matter how strenuous.
Benefits of Practice
While Tai Chi has recently been seen as an ideal exercise for an older generation due to its options for low-impact exercise, the benefits of practice extend much farther, with several promising studies showing a variety of health benefits for people of any age range and physical ability. A 2014 meta-analysis looked at studies that included over 6,000 participants, and the researchers concluded there was strong evidence supporting the health benefits of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi participants showed improvement in a variety of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, as well as elevating general mood. Participants also found improvements in physical conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic lower back pain. One study in particular showed better results for people with Parkinson’s symptoms who practiced Tai Chi over resistance training. Participants with dementia and cognitive issues also showed improvements with Tai Chi, as well as participants with sleep disturbances.
Bringing Tai Chi to You
Tai Chi has a rich history and tradition, with much more depth and styles than listed in this article alone. If this style of martial art and exercise appeals to you, online resources are abundant with historical information and instructional videos. There are also local classes like taichimontreal.com and international resources like us.taichiproductions.com that can bring Tai Chi wherever you would like to practice.