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The Lasting Benefits of T’ai Chi

1st February, 2005

When I first visited Bob Bacher's T'ai Chi class a decade ago, I saw students dressed casually, doing movements that looked more than just exercise. They didn't seem to possess much physical strength; yet, they moved with extraordinary co-ordination.

Captivated by their grace and composure, I asked: What is T'ai Chi and what benefits could I expect from studying it? Dr Bacher answered: "T'ai Chi is a beach to lie on, not a mountain to conquer. And the benefit is different for each person".

T'ai Chi is a form of martial art but you don't have to go harder or faster to reap fitness and health benefits. It derives its strength from the ability to yield in the face of an attack. T'ai Chi doesn't rely on brute force or speed.

Instead, it places a premium on mind control, energy, sensitivity and intention. When your body is properly aligned and relaxed, it generates an amazing amount of power with seemingly little effort. These qualities give T'ai Chi a more spiritual tone than many other martial arts.

At the physical level, T'ai Chi increases oxygen delivery to the body and brain, increasing circulation and alertness. At the mental level, it provides harmless escape from our everyday lives.

After work, doing T'ai Chi reduces the physical strain and pain acquired during the day. T'ai Chi comes as a breath of fresh air in a fast-paced world, where everyone seems to want things quickly two-minute abs, five-minute dinners, and 10-minute walks.

T'ai Chi is enlightening ; it is also great fun. The very thought of slowing down, breathing deeply, sinking lower into mother earth, grounding oneself — both physically and mentally — can set you off on a new cycle of experiences. The philosophical, spiritual, health and self-defence aspects of T'ai Chi Chuan are interconnected.

You will be surprised what something so seemingly gentle can do for you. The movements constantly rotate and twist every body part a process often invisible to the untrained eye in a variety of different ways with slow, consistent motions. Due to the constant internal activity the body is put through, the body's metabolism is kept working at a healthy level.

A simple, slow T'ai Chi walk can result in lower heart rates, reducing problems of cholesterol and blood pressure. The slow-motion movements increase your breathing capacity by getting your breath to synchronise with them. If you can get more air in and more air out, you will never suffer from asthma and other breathing ailments.

The gentle, rounded movements have also been shown to relieve arthritis and other kinds of joint pain. People suffering from arthritis, for example, tend to move less because every move can hurt. And the reduced movement causes the muscles and tendons that support their joints to get weak.

You get out of T'ai Chi what you put into it. The rate at which you progress in T'ai Chi depends on how much, at what intensity, with what seriousness, and how often you incorporate the principles into your life. Your progress in T'ai Chi will not be a constant upward curve. T'ai Chi tends to be more zigzag, with peaks, valleys, and plateaus.

Because T'ai Chi is a broad teaching that contains ancient wisdom and principles of action. As you dive into T'ai Chi, all you need to do for success in your practice is the following: Start and Continue.