Guest Commentary: Tai Chi — how it works
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that dates back over 2,500 years. There are several styles; Yang, Wu, Sun, Chen are the most well known. There are many dialects of these styles as well, so it is very difficult to find the exact duplicate of a style that you may have previously studied. But, it doesn’t really matter – the benefits are much the same, depending more on the teacher’s knowledge and abilities.
Tai Chi has its roots in Taoism, Zen from Buddhism and the disciplined efficiency from Confucianism.
Most doctors recommend its practice and the health benefits are elaborated in many scientific studies, which can easily be found and perused on the Internet. These health benefits come from the special and unusual techniques used in Tai Chi.
This art form is performed very slowly, with emphasis on relaxation, precision and energy movement through various body parts. This energy comes from external as well as internal sources. The brain is the conductor and must guide the form performance. The mind, which is throughout the body, coordinates the performances of the body parts. This must be a highly integrated effort by all of your person, which provides the great health benefits. The brain, which we have become alarmingly aware, becomes diseased as easily as other parts of the body, especially if it is not properly challenged.
The very slow, stand-up movements of Tai Chi go in all of the directions of the compass, moving all the body parts as we do in real life. We are living an imaginary battle with continuously attacking opponents coming from all directions for 15 to 20 minutes. This is the time it takes to do the entire form. If you lose your concentration, just as in a real battle, you are lost and cannot remember where you are in the form. This challenges the entire system.
As we know from bicycle riding, it is much easier to balance at speed than at a near standstill. So, we learn balance, relaxation, precision and energy movement skills from moving slowly. Since we are relaxed, precise and in control of our focused energy, we also develop speed and power from moving slowly. Life experiences have taught us that tightness inhibits speed and power. Turning at all angles of the compass to meet the continuously attacking enemy teaches spatial concepts, coordination, balance and gracefulness. When the various body parts must do different things at the same time, we learn to be ambidextrous and graceful; otherwise, our timing and speed would be off and we would be forced to use up energy at too fast a rate to survive a 15 to 20-minute battle.
In order to learn all of these skills, the body must be prepared and repaired if necessary. We are all in different states of fitness, and our journey time through the adventure of Tai Chi depends on our level of physical, mental and spiritual state of being. The 2 hours per session class time is divided into sections devoted to internal and external preparation as well as Tai Chi form practice. We work on loosening, stretching, breathing and meditation techniques much like what is done in other recommended health enhancing studies such as yoga. We also study Eastern Philosophy during a break period, in order to better understand the foundations of Tai Chi. This includes obtaining a deeper understanding of Taoism, which leans heavily on man’s following the order of nature.
In general, the younger you are before body and brain deterioration sets in – the faster and easier it is to learn Tai Chi and maintain or recoup your health. In this best-of-health condition it may take only 6 to 10 months. Of course, if you don’t continue the Tai Chi, deterioration begins again. You can continue on your own and do the form and learned technique on a regular basis, which takes 15 to 25 minutes. However, most people, for various reasons, forget or are too busy to do this. Therefore, the best way is to continue to go to class and maybe learn weapons Tai Chi or other advanced techniques. This is the main reason I teach Tai Chi; otherwise, other things get in the way and I won’t do it enough.
If you are impaired by age, misuse or disease, the time it takes to learn the form and appropriate drills and exercises increases up to a few years. However, it is the journey that provides the health benefits not the receiving of the certificate of your Tai Chi form completion. Since the form is done slowly and only with the rigor your body is capable of, your health level when you start doesn’t matter very much. The student improvement, as noticed by an experienced instructor, becomes very obvious after a few weeks. The student’s balance, posture and confidence improvements come quickly. As we deteriorate and stop doing things as well in life, we start to lose confidence. This makes deterioration even faster as we fear doing things we used to do regularly. Seeing and feeling this confidence return is a big step. Gaining flexibility and the resulting loosening and relaxing of the body parts allows gracefulness to appear as well as more balance. As confidence continues to rise, the spirit rises and now almost anything is possible. Increasing our longevity doesn’t count for much if we can’t enjoy a certain level of quality in our lives.
For more information regarding Tai Chi, contact Frank Tuma at 283-9155. Classes are held at the Fishers of Men Lutheran Church, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.