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IHT: Tai chi: Old energy for a new age

World Tai Chi and Qigong Day has recently come and gone, with thousands of participants in 34 countries giving free tai chi demonstrations and classes. Now in its seventh year, the event aims to send a "positive wave of energy" around the world and draw attention to the benefits of this ancient Chinese form of exercise which is steadily establishing itself in the West.

The early morning practice of tai chi, which can be seen in city parks throughout China, is now an increasingly common sight in Europe and America, too, where it is hailed as the new yoga. Its benefits have been validated by recent studies indicating that regular practice contributes to better balance, flexibility and mobility, can reduce cardiovascular stress, and can help with symptoms of arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Tai chi could well join a growing list of "alternative" therapies invoked by Western health authorities to counter the stress and strain of modern living.

Tai chi was originally developed as a discipline for Taoist monks and hermits who fled the restlessness of the cities to find quiet in remote and mountainous regions. Those places had their dangers, from poor climatic conditions to wild animals, bandits and other aggressors. How was the poor hermit to protect himself against all those threats? The answer, supposedly devised by a 12th-century monk of the Wu Tang monastery, Zhang Sanfeng, was a progressive series of exercises, based on Taoist observation of nature, which would become known later as tai chi chuan, meaning "supreme ultimate fist."

The name reveals it to be a combative art, but much practice and guidance with a master are required to be able to draw on tai chi in a situation of real conflict. Many will not get past first principles, but as the first stage is to make yourself mentally and physically fit and healthy, that is already well worth attaining.

by Fran on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 12:58:21 AM EST
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What do you think about Tai Chi, Fran?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 03:52:14 AM EST
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When I think of Tai Chi first thing that comes into my mind, is a documentary about Vietnam I have seen a long time ago. I missed the beginning, and went right to the scene were they showed a Rikshadriver jumping and I mean jumping and laughing on his bike, speeding around in Saigon. They also showed him doing Tai Chi. I was wondering way they showed him for such a long time. Well, it turns out he was 95 years old, with black hair and really fit. He did Tai Chi everyday for over 50 years.

However, I am biased as I found my home in Yoga and I have no personal experience with Tai Chi. From observation and listening to people who do it, I would say it teaches  concentration and focuses the mind, it relaxes and probably also improves flexibility and stamina. However, in Yoga there is also the often underestimated aspect of weight training, which I consider important, especially for women, as it has been shown that it can be a helpful factor in osteoporosis prevention. Also, I have had clients who do Tai Chi and still do not breathe properly. With Yoga I have seen the right breathing to generalise more easily into everyday living. But, I would say doing Tai Chi is better than not doing anything.

My guess it has the same challenge like Yoga. To really make a difference you should be doing it every day. Once a week feels nice, but doesn't really change anything. I go with motto, which I also preach to my Yoga student: "a little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing". So a daily small program can make a big difference over time, also with Tai Chi.

by Fran on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 08:55:50 AM EST
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