Essential Principles of Tai Chi
The movements of Tai Chi are soft and fluid and follow the concepts of Yin and Yang. Most people study Tai Chi for its graceful movements, resembling a slow dance. Tai Chi is taught to other disciplines, such as dance or other forms of martial arts because practice of the movements enhances ones balance, making athletes more steady and proficient. Many students have no interest in the martial art aspects of Tai Chi. It is one of the best exercises for those suffering from arthritis, hypertension, stress related illnesses, degenerative diseases, etc. It can be practiced by anyone, male or female, young or old, short or tall, and a variety of coordination levels.
When practicing Tai Chi, the following key points must be closely observed:
RELAX. Be soft and yielding, exert no strength. Allow your body to do the moving.
BECOME ROOTED. From the earth we gain our stability. Practice growing your roots down into the earth. She will anchor you down and help you to gain balance.
MOVE AS A CYLINDER. The waist includes the entire trunk of the body.
HOLD THE BALL. Attune to the energy flowing between the palms of the hands.
HEAD HELD ERECT, as though a string is pulling it upward.
FLEX THE LEGS, while keeping the rear tucked in.
BREATHE NATURALLY, through the nose into the abdomen. Keep the tongue touching the roof of your mouth. This forms a bridge between the “jen-mo” and “thetu-mo”. With the abdomen relaxed, tranquility will prevail.
CONCENTRATE. Let the mind direct each movement.
HARMONIZE. Move all parts of the body as one, with balance and coordination.
Attune The Breath
To attune the breath is to make it smooth. After your breathing become smooth, attune to it until it becomes long, deep, even and calm. Not only does this make the mind calm, but also supplies a larger amount of oxygen to the body from the air. Chinese believe that when oxygen is taken in, universe energy, which they call the heaven chi, is also breathed in. This is important as it is works with belly breathing. The belly expands during inhalation and contracts during exhalation. It is the up and down movement of the diaphragm that makes the belly expand and contract. Our lungs cannot bring and draw our air, they need help from the muscles around them, especially the diaphragm that makes the belly expand and contract.
When we practice belly breathing, while inhaling we gently and intentionally press the diaphragm down to make room for the air coming into the lungs. While exhaling we release the pressure and let the diaphragm naturally move up and press the air out. When we move the diaphragm up and down, we actually massage our inner organs of the liver and the spleen. This massage increases the blood and chi circulation around them and greatly improves the digestion of food and the assimilation of nutrients. It also assists in the elimination of wastes.
Inhale through your nostrils. Control your breath. Make it long, thin and continuous, sometimes called a “thread breath”. Slowly, guide the breath and press it downward toward the area of the tower stomach. The stomach expands, inhaling as the air is brought into it. Wait a moment until you feel a need to exhale. Slowly contract your stomach muscles and push the air upward and out through. Imagine and visualize the air going all the way to the tan tien and then back upward when you exhale. Be careful not to force your breathing.
Practice the Tai Chi walk. Walk from right to left, back to right, left, etc. while practicing the breath. Inhale in while stepping forward with right foot. Exhale as left foot steps forward to rest beside the right foot (poised on the ball). Inhale with the step to the left, exhale as the right foot moves up to join the left. Weight is now on the Left. Step right, (continue). Repeat 8 times. (Step right, feet together; step left, feet together. Step right, feet together; Step left, feet together, etc.)
Remember, Tai Chi Chuan is like a great river, rolling on unceasingly. We may not control the river, but when we flow with it, its power becomes ours.