Tai Chi Philosophy and Practice:
As we know, the evidence that exercise is essential for health and life is phenomenal. We know how good it makes us feel, physically and mentally after we exercise no matter what type of exercise activity we undertake. Thousands of studies have proven the great benefits of exercise to the psych and the soma. From more alertness, stronger heart, organs, bones, circulation, relaxation, better sleep, increased oxygenation of cells and tissues, stronger resistance to disease. The benefits are so vast we could write thousands of pages to describe them. We also know from life and the scientific evidence that exercise has an anti-ageing effect. It keeps you younger and alive longer. Any exercise is better than no exercise. However, few systems are as integrated and synchronistic as Tai Chi.
Most people in the West are not really familiar with Tai Chi. Most who know a little about it think that it is only a very slow form of movement. They are correct, but it can also be explosive. Many also think that Tai Chi does not stimulate endurance. That it can’t build muscle and tendon strength and that it is not good for loosing weight and getting fit. This is where they are incorrect. A Tai Chi class done properly not only strengthens all the organs, but also builds stronger muscles, tendons and bones. Tai Chi also builds significant endurance. And a full class can run you into 400-600 calories. Yes it is true, if the aged and ill are taking the class, then it will be extremely slow and soft. The primary focus of this situation is to balance the mind-spirit and flow more Chi. On the other hand, for people who are fit and in good shape, the slow and soft is combined with the low positions and their transitions, as well as weapons training, and this my friends develops major endurance. Let’s not forget that Tai Chi provides an interesting paradox: the duality of a system that increases spiritual-energy connection (Shen-Chi) and also is a martial art with a significant weapons component. A good practice sword can weight 10-15 pounds for example. Executing a form with lower positions with a sword like this (or with a 7-foot spear with sword head) requires major focus and strength. The movements of Tai Chi are specialized in the sense that they are designed to exercise and balance both: the external aspects (bones, muscles and tendons); and the internal ones: the mind-spirit-energy continum (Shen-Chi). Tai Chi purifies emotional energy.
Tai Chi is a system of synchronicity. A tuning system for the flow of Shen, Chi, blood and fluid (interstitial) through the organism. Humans are the most spiritual among creatures. This and intellect are the primary difference between humans and the rest of the animal world. Physics has elucidated the existence of four major energies so far (Gravity, Electro-magnetic, strong and weak nuclear energy.) However, it does not know how to understand Shen-Chi energy (Spiritual-vital energy) which is the fundamental root of the Chinese Tai Chi system. So still the search for a Unified Energy Field is going to have to continue until modern physics finds a way to understand the other energy: Shen-Chi.
At the physical energy level, Tai Chi’s philosophy on exercise is a little different than the Wests’ as well. According to Tai Chi philosophy then, why is physical exercise so important and beneficial? For maintaining proper circulation of blood, fluids and other vital substances that permeate the organs. Stagnation is man’s greatest enemy.
The great Tai Chi master, Cheng Man-Ch’ing described it this way: The difference from other animals is that we hold ourselves erect. We are bi-pedal. We are different from all other animals in this sense and this is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the sense that standing erect makes us more able to navigate the world and command it. We are able to seat at a desk, build things with our intellect and hands, rather than having two frontal legs. We are taller, can see above, reach higher, etc. But being bi-pedal is a curse because in order to have these advantages we have to accept being much less sturdy, strong and healthy as compared to our more fierce, four legged companions. They are not as intelligent as we are and they (except for birds) can not hold themselves erect. But comparatively speaking, four legged animals enjoy better longevity than humans. See, a tiger that lives 18 human years dies at roughly 126 human years. Few humans have attained this longevity. This is one, if not the main, reason why Tai Chi movements copy many of the movements of four legged animals. But what is then the four legged advantage over humans in this sense as it relates to health and longevity?
According to Tai Chi philosophy, the reason that four legged animals are stronger, more fierce and sturdy than humans is due partly to the fact that their internal organs are suspended from a horizontal spine. In other words, they hang from the “chords” of the nervous system that connect to the spine and are contained or encased by a different anatomical organization of the suspension muscles. Therefore, the constant movement and vibrancy of a four legged animal and the hanging position of their internal organs protects them from stagnation of the interstitial fluid (that bathe the organs) and other vital substances. In comparison, “both the spine and the internal organs of a human are vertically emplaced within a crowded space. The surfaces of the organs are contiguous.’ Therefore without movement (exercise or physical labor) the interstitial fluid and other vital substances of the internal organs become stagnated and the spine weakens. Generally speaking, the first organs to deteriorate are the pancreas and stomach. The next to weaken are the lungs and intestines: “The weakening of the organs and their suspension muscles eventually weaken the spine itself.” The remedy to this cycle of deterioration towards ill health is movement.
Bottom line: Exercise in general is of great importance to maintain overall health and avoid creeping stagnation. Tai Chi can also develop endurance and muscular fitness but in particular provides and energetic dimension of flow which is very unique to this system and much more synchronistic.
On the next blog I will discuss the scientific and energetic understanding of how synchronicity and Shen-Chi work in bringing us towards balance, health and vitality.