Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On Tai Ji/Tai Chi

I spotted another article advocating tai chi for the elderly as a way of improving balance in general. It is good for that, but I wonder how many in the U.S. understand that tai chi is a fairly difficult form of qigong and that easier results might be available by studying qigong first or certainly with tai chi.

My tai chi practice started over ten years ago. Over time I branched into much more giqong, then added bagua. I differ from the average tai chi practitioner in this country in that I'm very interested in the self-defense aspects of martial arts, and that interest colors what I focus in my training. But the health benefits of my practise are very evident, too. For exampe, my spine feels very elastic and I can do splits with great easiness and elegance, too. Now don't ask how a snake tail splits. That would be rude.

The health benefits from tai chi or qigong in general are not instantaneous or a replacement for getting medical treatments. That makes it hard to sell the art to people who want a pill to take for some discomfort and also explains why many of the examples I know of the healing effects of tai chi or qigong have to do with people who were offered no more working solutions by the Western medical system. They were very motivated and willing to stick to the exercises for a few months at least. But learning tai chi initially can be very hard and a simpler qigong program could make the benefits more easily available.

That, and more knowledgeable teachers. I once heard about someone watching a video course of tai chi and then starting to teach tai chi to the elderly. I could never have done that. A teacher is absolutely necessary in the early stages of learning, because what is being taught is mostly internal and not visible to an untrained eye watching a video.

The article I mentioned at the beginning of the post talks about the improvements in balance the elderly received from their practice. The next level of benefits comes from the much increased body awareness in general, the ability to listen to what is going on internally and the ability to adjust the movement to those feelings. In many ways this increased body awareness has been the greatest benefit to me, as I used to mostly ignore my body if it wasn't screaming with pain. It can be a very interesting trip to visit your body, once in a while, and to make it an equal partner with your mind in this adventure we call living.
The picture is about an applique piece I did on the yin-yang circle, with a little frivolity thrown in. It will be a pillow cover one day, perhaps.