What Is Tai Chi & Why Learn Tai Chi?

Tai Chi: The Most Popular Self-healing Exercise System On the Planet!

tai-chi-paul-cavelTai chi is a type of qi gong that links together postures into fluid movements that foster and restore balance in the body, mind and qi-energy. Tai chi offers all the potential health benefits of qi gong and nei gong, but amplifies them to greater effect. Tai chi also adds the dimension of martial applications and Taoist meditation, developing the unique characteristics of softness and yielding.

How to Learn Tai Chi

There are three primary layers beginners want to focus on when learning tai chi:

  • Formwork—the choreography of the form.
  • Nei Gong—the internal content that is, initially, derived from form movements.
  • Circularity—that which allows the full potential of nei gong to come into play within the form.

This hierarchy is important as each previous layer must be developed and stabilised in your being in order to achieve results from the next, more complex layer.

Learning a Tai Chi Form

Tai chi begins with learning a form. That is:

  • Choreography—all the stepping, turning, weights shifts and arm motions.
  • Basic principles—relaxing through movement, which, for example, is done by using the mind’s intent and moving from the kwa, as well as others.
  • Proper methodology—although there are too many to list here, some examples include keeping the shoulders down, dong open and the body sung (i.e. released, relaxed and unbound) at all times.

Paul Cavel practises Wu style tai chi

Regular and accurate practice of the form creates a shell or containment field for the internal nei gong content to come to life by allowing the basic movements to become embedded in the cellular memory of the body. This process frees the mind to focus on ever-more refined levels of detail. In time and with enough practice, you can arrive at the point where most of what you have learned becomes embodied. One way to think about embodying your form is putting your body on autopilot, leaving your mind free to focus on very specific threads of internal nei gong content.

Until you reach the point where you can go on autopilot—i.e., you don’t have to think about the movements—there’s little to gain from advancing to more complex considerations in your form because your foundation will not hold.

When you achieve the level where your form operates without a bunch of mental gymnastics, then the focus once again shifts to stretching out the body. This includes both the outer muscular frame as well as the skeletal frame, allowing you to release generalised stress and tension and long-term, bound tension localised in specific areas of your body. As this gentle, stretching, pumping action takes place, blood flow increases and the nervous system is lulled into a state of relaxation, which thereby stimulates the flow of chi.

After a tuning in period, many new tai chi students report that they experience old aches and pains vanishing, dead or numb areas waking up, and most commonly that their overall sense of well-being and energy levels begin to increase. Some students have major breakthroughs, such as the disappearance of sciatica or carpel tunnel syndrome. Although the clearing out process is highly individual and is dependent upon your state of health when you start practising, all of these benefits are made possible by practising your tai chi form consistently and accurately.

Nei Gong Content: How Tai Chi Becomes Internal

Once your skill at performing the movements of your tai chi form increases to a reasonable level, the body begins to operate as one basic unit rather than a collection of jumbled, out-of-sync and discombobulated parts. A smooth quality as you transit from one movement to the next perpetuates the flow, which reinforces autopilot mode. Again, your focus will begin to shift because less effort is required by the mind to maintain it.

Although nei gong training is not set in stone and there is no best hierarchy for learning and developing your skill in the nei gong system, two streams that commonly come into play are:

  • Opening-Closing techniques (also known as pulsing techniques)
  • Yin-Yang tissue stretches

Opening and closing is the alternating rhythm of expansion and condensing between two counterparts. In early nei gong training, opening-and-closing techniques focus on the space between the joints (e.g., hands, wrists and elbows) and cavities (e.g., armpits, kwa and backs of the knees), which facilitate relaxation in the body and mind.

Yin and yang tissue stretches allow you to divide the body so that either the yin (front, inside) or yang (back, outside) surfaces can be stretched while the other remains completely relaxed and inactive. This creates a looping of energy at the level of wei chi (in the fascia located between the skin and muscles), which thereby boosts the body’s natural defence mechanisms.

Activating and engaging the pulse or yin-yang tissue stretches requires fine motor control through hyper focus on very specific parts of the body. This cannot be achieved if the mind must devote attention to where to step, turn, shift, or move the arms. The hyper focus on very specific areas of the body is absolutely critical at this stage because it is precisely what allows the deeper kinks and blocks to be uncovered and eventually released.

The deep relaxation gained from the pulse, along with the increase of the flow of wei qi, begins to open up the body at a more profound depth. This in turn allows you to penetrate the shell (muscular and skeletal frames), which thereby provides access to the deeply rooted condensed energy inside the body. If you have to stop and think about formwork in this process, you will severe your ability to maintain the stream of consciousness necessary to unlock that which is hiding under the level of your awareness.

Once you contact these deeper blockages, you can then tune your form, and the weave of internal nei gong content that derives it, towards that which will be most helpful in releasing them. When you do, the health and healing benefits naturally arise. There isn’t any specific outcome you can expect, but whatever restraints you become in tune with and aware of can be melted and vanished for good.

The condition and vitality of your internal organs is ultimately what makes you more or less healthy. It’s not surprising that the deeper tensions affect your organ base in some way or another. Releasing these tensions can therefore have a profound effect on your well-being. If someone uses their fingers to apply pressure on your windpipe, when they finally let go, how good is it going to feel? To start, you’ll be able to breathe more easily! The freedom many students experience internally as they let go of these bound and restricted areas in their organs is similar, and possibly even more profound.

Circularity in Tai Chi

Achieving circularity is a major goal of all movement arts because it’s an efficient method for supercharging the circulation of blood and other fluids (e.g., lymph and interstitial) and energy by creating momentum. This moves you along the continuum towards greater and stronger energy flow that in turn further stimulates production and circulation of all the other bodily fluids—that which creates incredibly efficient body function and, equally, deep and long-lasting relaxation.

This deep relaxation and cleansing the body of harmful toxins and waste by-products go hand in hand. As your nerves release and maintain a calm state, your body can operate more efficiently and thereby disperse stagnant energy. All you are left to do is feel better.

Start + Grow Your Tai Chi Practice

Each of the three layers of tai chi training require many months, even years of dedicated practice to achieve its full potential. However, the good news is that there’s no need to try to become a tai chi master to experience the tremendous and wide-ranging benefits of practising tai chi!

I offer three tracks for learning tai chi:

  • Tai Chi Circling Hands
  • Yang style tai chi
  • Wu style tai chi

Tai Chi Circling Hands: Tai Chi for Beginners

If you haven’t practised tai chi before, Tai Chi Circling Hands can be one place to start since the choreography is easier to learn. Long-term practitioners could also benefit from practice of Tai Chi Circling Hands as a means for developing more internal content (i.e., nei gong, or components of internal power). Learn more about Tai Chi Circling Hands >>

Yang Style Tai Chi

The Yang style is an excellent container for the first 12 nei gong which, when embodied, are more than sufficient for most people’s health needs and reasons for training tai chi. The Yang style is the most popular form of tai chi for both beginners and experienced stylists alike for good reason, and I highly recommend it for all beginners, existing stylist working on the first 12 nei gong and/or those with especially tight or tense bodies.
Learn more about the Yang style of tai chi >>

Wu Style Tai Chi

As a smaller frame style, the Wu methodology is particularly recommended for healing and meditation applications. Although many factors, such as the skill of the practitioner and the quality of their teacher, can heavily influence the effectiveness of any form of exercise therapy or health art. Learn more about the Wu style of tai chi >>

Wu Style Tai Chi Level 2 Instructor + Re-certifier

I hold Wu Style Long Form Level 1 and Wu Style Short Form Level 2 certifications, granted to me by my teacher, Wu and Yang Style Tai Chi Master Bruce Frantzis. I’m also  an Energy Arts recertifier for instructors holding Wu Style Tai Chi Short Form Level 1 certifications. Contact me to schedule a test.

Watch a Wu Style Tai Chi Short Form Video

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