Mistique of Tai Chi Ch'uan
by Lim Sek Yang
Throughout history, the ancient art of Tai Chi has always inspired people’s imagination. It has fanciful names for its movements, ‘grasp bird’s tail’, ‘white crane spread its wings’, ‘carry tiger to the mountain’ and ‘step back to repulse monkey’. This art form is difficult to follow for beginners. Through constant practice, which can take more than a year, the exponent could perform a decent set of movements. Like ballet and gymnastics, it is only through constant practice of these slow, gentle and graceful movements can one achieve success.
Tai Chi is a form of meditation in motion. The practitioner must always focus on the flow of the movements in order not to have disrupted steps. The body has to maintain constant balance from the feet up to the hands. This meditative concentration of the mind helps to improve the mental health in addition to a healthy body. The legs form the foundation for the hip to distribute the energy flow towards the hands. The pelvic is thus the center of balance. Practitioners become more stable and sure-footed. When a movement is being made, the energy force starts from the feet and gradually flows up through the hips, the back, the shoulder, arms and then the hand.
Scientific research in muscle strength of body builders has produced interesting results. Although not conducted in relation to Tai Chi, the test results have shown that slower exercises create stronger muscle. Gym users build higher muscle strength if they carry weights at a slower pace. Tai Chi proponents do not carry heavy weights but nonetheless carry their body, arms and legs slowly through their movements. This, slowly but surely, build up body internal strength.
Many studies of Tai Chi have found health benefits ranging from better balance and prevention of falls to reduced blood pressure, relief of pain and improved immunity. Tai Chi reduced pain and fatigue and improved the patients’ ability to move physically and sleep well. Scientists have come to better understand and appreciate the mind-body connection and most doctors are now more willing to accept the possibility that stress-reducing activities of Tai Chi can have a profound effect on health. Thus, it can be a useful aid in treating conditions common among older people who may be unable to benefit from more physically demanding exercise. Regular practitioners of Tai Chi report that they sleep better, feel healthier and experience less pain and stiffness.