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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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