Like Yoga and so many other disciplines which combine the physical with the metaphysical, Tai Chi can be approached in many different ways. The motives for taking up the art of Tai Chi Chuan are as varied as the students who practice it.
Here is a brief Tai Chi form extract, demonstrated by Shihan Riddle and Simo Paul, founders of Do No Kai Martial Arts Temple.
Common Physical Goals for Tai Chi Practice
- Improving balance – It is easy to move through the transitions of the Tai Chi form quickly, but much more demanding to perform them very slowly. This is the correct way. Moving slowly and gracefully helps practitioners vastly improve their balance.
- Correcting back problems – In working your way through your form, no matter which style you have chosen, you will find yourself constantly torquing the entire length of the spine. Correct practice gently opens the vertebrae, reduces back pain, and encourages a healthy, more functional back.
- Easing joint pain – Just as back problems can be reduced and ultimately healed by correctly doing the Tai Chi form, joint problems can also be reduced or alleviated. This is especially true of neck, knee and shoulder blockages.
- Strengthening the legs – Tai Chi, like all martial arts, requires the strongest possible foundation. Over time, the very repetition of the slow, smooth movements through the varying positions will increase your leg strength, along with your balance.
- Better breathing habits – The correct practice of your form is intrinsically connected to your breathing. For this reason, one should study the form with a good teacher who addresses diaphragmatic breathing and teaches students when they should be breathing in and out.
Common Mental Goals for Tai Chi Practice
- Enhanced memory –Tai Chi Chuan is not for mental sissies. Even the short forms require much detailed memorization. Your memory can be improved with practice, just as your muscles can. In this case, the demands on your memory are good opportunities to keep your mind sharp.
- Mastery of martial techniques – Not everyone goes into the study of this art with the idea of using it as a martial art. Nevertheless, the meaning of “Tai Chi” is usually translated as “Grand Ultimate Fist.” This is illustrative of the power available to those who master its techniques.
- Belonging to a global community – Of all the group exercises performed the world over, Tai Chi is the most popular, by far.
- Awareness and understanding of energy – Energy, Qi, or Chi, is the force that keeps us alive. How important is it, then, to develop a sensitivity to its workings?
Common Spiritual Goals for Tai Chi Practice
- Quiets the mind – Once the form is internalized, Tai Chi is superior as a meditation. Its practice gives the body and mind something to do while the spirit occupies itself with more elevated matters.
- Opens the chakras and energy meridians – As the student moves through the gently twisting positions, the subtle energy centers of the body are massaged and opened, along with the vertebrae.
- Offers an opportunity for awakening – Well-done Tai Chi is a consummate source of awakening and union with the ineffable One. Energy flows better, health improves, and enlightenment, whatever that means to each individual, looms ever more attainable through its correct practice.
Creating Your Personalized Tai Chi Practice
Your best practice for Tai Chi depends entirely on your own particular reasons for studying it. Upon reading through the motivations outlined above, most Tai Chi practitioners will embrace a combination of goals, but there will be some that are more important to you than others.
In the future, your goals will probably change, and you will be attracted to the other layers of benefits that Tai Chi has to offer. In fact, transformation is the ultimate goal of Tai Chi, and is available to all seekers, whether they favor its physical, mental, or spiritual facets.
READ MORE: Tai Chi Ruler – The Mystery of Chi