Brief Talk on the Practice of Taijiquan
by Rennie Chong
Before we talk about how Taijiquan should be practised, we must first understand how movements in Taijiquan affect organ changes, which in turn result in healing and prevention of disease. During practice, if there is only imitation of movements without simultaneous focus on their inner requirements, then little is achieved. Thus, we should first discuss the role of Taijiquan in the fundamental maintenance of physical health, before we discuss its requirements during practice.
1) Fundamental Role of Taijiquan in the Maintenance of Physical Health
Among Chinese sports, Taijiquan is unique as an exercise for health. Through centuries of experimentation and evaluation, it has been proven that Taijiquan is an important strategy for promoting health and healing. Nowadays, “healing exercises” have already been recognized as a necessary link in the process of healing and role of Taijiquan in it is indisputable.
1800 years ago, Huatuo wrote the “Five Animal Play” as an exercise for health. His theory is: frequent movement can dissipate qi (from digestion) and open up the blood channels so that illness cannot arise. This explains the role of exercise in prevention and healing. In this aspect, Taijiquan stands out. It is unlike most exercise in that besides moving every muscle group and joint, the movements require accompaniment of even, well-distributed breathing and exercise of the diaphragm. Even more importantly, it requires a “serene heart and mind” and concentration of spirit. In this way, it exerts a good influence on the central nervous system so that it is able to provide a good base for organ and network function and improvement. Thus, the uniqueness and superiority of Taijiquan is that its long-term practice has a good influence on the central nervous system.
2a) How Taijiquan can Influence the Nervous System
We know that the nervous system, especially its higher level of operations, adjusts, controls and unites all other systems and activities of organs; and man depends on its activity to adapt to or change his external environment. Therefore, any method that can strengthen the function of the central nervous system will be meaningful for the maintenance of health.
We all know that we must have a calm heart and mind, as we start to practice Taijiquan. Miscellaneous thoughts should not be retained, attention must be focused, and the "will", not "strength" must be used. Furtehr, the movements must be "whole, done in one breath"; so from the eyes to the hand, waist, limbs, movements must be continuous, unbroken, even and must have good balance; and this requires the excitation of the brain and nervous system to activate other network and functions, so its role in adjustments may be strengthened.
In practice then, since the will and the movements are to be united, the cortical substances of the brain in the central nervous system are highly excited, while the other cortical areas are restrained. This allows the brain to obtain adequate rest and as a result, the body will also quickly be rid of fatigue. Therefore, perseverance in practising Taijiquan can stimulate renewal in every part of the body, so that the practitioner's qi becomes abundant, his spirit fresh, his reaction lively, thus leading to the maintenance of health and prevention of disease.
Further, when moving, the eyes follow the hands, and when pausing, the eyes look far and straight ahead. this gradually establishes a pattern of training for eye's optical as well as optical motiion nerves, which is beneficial for the protection of healthy vision.
2b) Influence of Taijiquan on the heart, arterial/venal systems and respiratory system
Taijiquan is built up through the movement of every muscle group and joint, and through regular, even breathing. Therefore, it can strengthen the blood and lymphatic circulation and decrease coagulation within. Indeed, it is a very good way to reduce thickening of the blood. As we know, the regular tensing and relxation of muscles can strengthen circulation in the veins; moving the muscles will also guarantee that the venal blood flows back to the right ventricle of the heart. In the same way too, breathing exercises will also increase its speed of return. When breathing in, the chest is expanded and negative pressure is increased within, speeding up the return of venal blood to the heart through the inferior vena cava.
This is apparent in Taijiquan practice. Taiji movements require the complete relaxation of the muscles; the chest cannot be tensed up, and with the breath matching the moviments, the breathing becomes more natural and this increases blood circulation.
Besides this, the breathing in Taiji must be deep; in fact it must sink to the dantian. This is breathing with the diaphragm and is very useful for the maintenance of health. The expansion and closing-in of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles will continually vary the abdominal pressure. Increase in pressure will cause the venal blood in the abdominal cavity to be channeled to the right ventricle; in contrast, decrease in the abdominal pressure will cause the blood to be channeled to the abdominal cavity. Thus, breathing can improve circulation. Most important, during practice, activity of the body can expand arteries, increase capillaries, redox reactions and strengthen nutrition to the heart muscles thereby laying down positive conditions for the prevention of heart disease and hardening of the arteries.
3) Influence of Taijiquan on the digestive system
As the central nervous system improves, the other systems will also improve. Thus, Taijiquan can prevent and heal certain diseases (in particular, disfunction in digestion), which come about as a result of disfunction in the nervous system. Apart from this, breathing exercises stimulate the intestinal tract and improve blood circulation in the digestive tract thereby, improving digestion and preventing constipation. This is of special importance for the elderly.
Further, expansion and contraction of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles also massage and exrcise the liver, stomach, intestine and kidney, thereby promoting blood circulation in the liver, raising the level of movement, digestion and absorption in the stomach and intestine, and strengthening funtion of the kidney. In so doing, metabolism of various substances in the body is improved, including cholesterol. Thus, persevering with Taijiquan can lower blood cholosterol; and with the increase in protein, all this well helps in the prevention of hardening of arteries.
4) How Taijiquan strengthens the activity of muscles, bones and joints
Its spiral and bow-shaped movements can cause the whole body to be activated. Through turning repeatedly, the muscles can be lengthened, softened and made elastic over the years, so their ability to expand and contract is strengthened. This in turn can improve the blood supply and nutrition to the bones, thus bringing about positive changes to their form, structure and funtion. They would become more solid, more resistant to fracture, deformation, pressures and twists.
Further, as the muscles and bones continue to make piral and bow-shaped movements, the joints and their surrounding tissues get trained and strengthened to become more stable, pliable and tough.
Therefore, those who often practise Taijiquan would not only have solid bones, but their joints will also become particularly pliable and their muscles will be better able to adjust to situations. This is especially meaningful for the elderly, whose legs and knees are becoming weaker and more stiff and who have less strength, when they walk.
5) How Taijiquan improves the Qi flow
According to Chinese Medicine, there is a close association between the bodily health and the smooth flow of Qi. After practising Taijiquan for a while, most will experience sensations not unlike having pins and needles in their finger tips. This, according to Chinese Medicine, is a reaction that signifies the smooth flow of internal Qi.
Taijiquan's axioms "controlling from the waist", "force pushing to the top", "Qi sinking to dantian" are important strategies to train the various pulse points in the body. Dai and Cong pulse points are located at the waist; and if the is strong, the Dai pulse and hence the kidneys will be strong. When the kidneys, known as the source of life, are strong, the essence and Qi will be strong.
Other Taiji axioms, e.g. "keeping the tail bone straight and centered" will stabilize one and so increase one's ability to send out the force whether in advancing, backing, or turning left or right. To do this, pay attention to Chang Qiang cavity and keep it relaxed, sunk and upright. Pressing and squeezing this during continuous turning in Taijiquan can open the Ren Du pulse points and lift the anus. Thu Du point controls all Yang channels and can adjust the Yang Qi in the whole body, while the Ren point does the same for the Ying Qi.
Practising Taijiquan means exercising the mind, body and breath simultaneously. "Governing movement with calmness", "achieving calmness although moving", the Qi fills and mathces the pattern of regulation in our body. It is not only suitable for the young, it also is particularly good for the old, for the mentally active as well as for the physically weak. The practice must go according to the physical ability and the advance must be in gradual steps. Practise at least half and hour ddaily and more, if your body allows. It would strengthen your body, and it is beneficial for all kinds of chronic illnesses, e.g. nerve pains, mental weaknesses, high blood pressure, diseases of the heart, stomach, intestines, lungs, liver, kidneys, fatigue of waist, arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, low sperm, haemorrhoids, etc.
Brief Talk on the Practice of Taiji Quan © 2003 Rennie Chong