T’ai Chi Ch’uan or Tai Chi for short can be literally translated as “The Supreme Ultimate Exercise.
The oldest medical book in the world is the 5000-year-old Yellow Emperor’s Classic it states: “It is the inferior doctor who waits for the patient to become ill. The superior doctor seeks to cultivate health and prevent disease.
With over 250,000 deaths each year directly attributable to a lack of exercise, the Surgeon General’s office reports that “sedentary living habits clearly constitute a major public health problem.” In addition to deaths, the lack of physical activity causes billions of dollars in health care costs due to preventable disease, disability and loss of independence. Much of this would be entirely avoidable if more people included healthy levels of physical activity in their daily lives. The Supreme Ultimate Exercise of Tai Chi may well be the antidote for a stressful modern world.
World’s Most Popular Exercise
For centuries the ancient art of T’ai ChiCh’uan (Tai Chi) has managed to acquire and maintain some of the highest levels of physical activity compliance in the world. With an estimated 100 million practitioners in China alone, Tai Chi is currently the most popular form of organized physical activity in the world.
Origins of Tai Chi
According to legend, Tai Chi (pronounced tie-chee) was developed by an alchemist named Zhang San-feng (1249 A.D.), who had spent his life searching for the secrets of healthy longevity. Experimenting with diet, exercise, meditation and even the use of drugs, he spent ten years at the Shaolin monastery studying martial arts for the protection of life and trying to find the best methods of ensuring a long and happy life. One day, according to legend, he witnessed a crane attacking a snake. This gave Zhang insight into how conflict and stress are resolved in nature. Nature harmonizes opposing forces by blending them like two streams of water are united into one whirlpool. By adapting to the crane’s attack – twisting and turning away from its strikes – the snake prevailed even though the crane was much larger. Zhang’s insight and subsequent decades of training led to the development of Tai Chi exercises. Tai Chi practitioners learn to master life’s stresses by adapting to opposition and turning it to ones advantage. Instead of confronting life’s difficulties as problems, they are viewed as challenges to be overcome.
A Strong Mind in a Strong Body
A central concept in Tai Chi is the use of the mind as a center of command, control and coordination of the body to provide more effective responses to life’s challenges. This is an alien concept in western exercise where often the emphasis is upon the physical training and very little is taught about training the mind. According to Dr. Elaine Cress of the University of Georgia, western exercise has become an exercise in mind/body dissociation. Exercise for most people is merely mindless repetition of movements. As far back as the ancient Greeks our ancestors knew the value of a strong mind in a strong body, it is only in recent times that we have separated mind and body.
The Supreme Ultimate Exercise for A Healthy Longevity
So … how has T’ai Chi managed to acquire and maintain physical activity levels in so many individuals for over seven and a half centuries? Tai Chi is not some mysterious Oriental discipline. It is not something you learn from a master. You learn Tai Chi by paying exquisitely close attention to the body with your own mind. Learning from the wisdom of your own body teaches you T’ai Chi.
For more than six centuries the Chinese have touted Tai Chi as the supreme ultimate exercise for health and longevity. Mounting scientific evidence in recent years seems to confirm much of what millions of Chinese have claimed, that for older adults especially, it may well be “the supreme exercise” – the literal translation of T’ai Chi.
Tai Chi can be summarized as a very effective moving meditation that combines the health benefits of physical activity and “stress redirection and balance” into one neat little exercise. Performed with slow rhythmic motions, Tai Chi balances the frantic pace of modern life by giving us permission to slow down.
Tai Chi is also a moderate aerobic exercise that gently strengthens the whole body without the pounding of traditional exercise regimens. Tai Chi has been found equivalent to walking 6 Kim/hr and superior to reading in the reduction of stress and enhancement of vigor.
Tai Chi complements other workouts by stretching muscles that have been tightened, contracted, or stressed by cardiovascular or strength training. Tai Chi also improves mental alertness and powers of concentration. These are the reasons why a number of world class athletes practice Tai Chi as an adjunct to their regular sports-training regimen.
Ancient Wisdom For Living in a Stressful World
Tai Chi was developed over seven centuries ago as a response to extremely stressful times as waves of Mongol invasions swept across ancient China. Today the battles are being fought with well dressed barbarians in the business world … battles between work commitments and family commitments – conflicts between taking care of ourselves or waiting until we get sick. We sabotage our own happiness with these conflicts and meditation can be a very useful way to examine our own thoughts and gain insight into our own worst enemy — ourselves.
Tai Chi began its rise to popularity in 1991 when it was featured in Bill Moyer’s PBS series, “Healing and the Mind.” This series emphasized benefits for healing through the mind-body connection. Western science is rapidly coming to the same conclusions. Psychological characteristics such as mood, depression and anger have been shown to be important mediators in health and immune system response. Dr. Kenneth Pelltier with the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention writes in the American Journal of Health Promotion: ”there is an increasingly compelling body of evidence indicating that mind/body interactions are at the root of both health and disease.”
Zhang San-feng, the founder of T’ai Chi, said “attentively settle the mind and you will gain a little peace and relaxation. When people come to you with troubles, you ought to respond, then let the thing pass…” Scientifically, meditation is a very simple and natural process of quieting the mind by focusing on breathing, movement or rhythmic action. This allows the mind to take a brief vacation from everyday problems and normal thinking patterns that have been shown to have a devastating effect on the quality of life.
Tags: T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Tai Chi, Taiji