An Overview of Tai Chi

Tai chi, pronounced “tie chee”, is a mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art. A person doing tai chi moves his body slowly and gently, while breathing deeply and meditating (tai chi is sometimes called “moving meditation”). Many practitioners believe that tai chi helps the flow throughout the body of a proposed vital energy called Qi (pronounced “chee,” it means “air” or “power”).
Tai Chi is also known by other spellings, such as TaiChiChuan, T’ai Chi, Taiji, etc.

A Brief History of Tai Chi

Tai chi developed in China in about the 12th century A.D. It started as a martial art, or a practice for fighting or self-defense, usually without weapons. Over time, people began to use tai chi for health purposes as well. Many different styles of tai chi, and variations of each style, developed. The term “tai chi” has been translated in various ways, such as “internal martial art,” “supreme ultimate boxing,” “boundless fist,” and “balance of the opposing forces of nature.” While accounts of tai chi’s history often differ, the most consistently important figure is a Taoist monk (and semi legendary figure) in 12th-century China named Chang San-Feng (or Zan Sanfeng). Chang is said to have observed five animals–tiger, dragon, leopard, snake, and crane–and to have concluded that the snake and the crane, through their movements, were the ones most able to overcome strong, unyielding opponents. Chang developed an initial set of exercises that imitated the movements of animals. He also brought flexibility and suppleness in place of strength to the martial arts, as well as some key philosophical concepts.

The Three Basic Components of Tai Chi

When Tai chi is performed, three major components are working together –

  • Movement: When doing Tai Chi, individuals feel the ground with their feet, sink their weight to the ground, and maintain good body alignment to promote stability and balance. Movements flow from one to another, with body weight shifting from the right leg to left leg to balance the empty and full feeling. The simplest style of tai chi uses 13 movements; more complex styles can have dozens.
  • Meditation: While performing the gentle and slow Tai Chi movements, individuals keep their mind calm and alert, concentrating on the inner self.
  • Deep Breathing: With the flow of the movements, individuals exhale stale air and toxins from the lungs, inhale a plentitude of fresh air , stretches the muscles involved in breathing, and releases tension. This way, the entire body is supplied with fresh oxygen and nutrients.