Spirituality • 27 Mar 2021

The Moving Meditation: A Tai Chi Journey Begins with One Step

By uci_admin

The Moving Meditation: A Tai Chi Journey Begins with One Step

By Hui Hwang, L.Ac, DAOM, Dipl.OM

SSIHI Acupuncturist

What do you imagine when I speak of Tai Chi? Is it Kung Fu Panda? Is it Bruce Lee? Or is it the elderly doing some slow moves in the morning at your local park? What is Tai Chi and what is it for? How difficult is it to learn?

As an acupuncturist who is passionate about helping people heal and be well through a holistic approach, I will try to answer these questions while encouraging you to start this journey of attending to your breath, thoughts and physical movements. Especially during these challenging times, Tai Chi can be the perfect exercise to connect the mind and body – to alleviate your mental stress, body aches, and to turn dis-ease into peace and ease. As the founder of Taoism, Lao Zi, writes: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Tai Chi practice, also, begins with one step, one movement and one breath.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is a form of martial arts which originates from China with five major schools of practice. The most commonly practiced Yang-style-Tai-Chi dates back hundreds of years¹. It consists of slow sequences, gentle and flowing movements – named after animals and actions of animals. These movements or forms, such as the “White crane spreads its wings,” “Part the wild horse’s mane” and “Grasp the sparrow’s tail,” mimic the animals’ moving nature and its innate interaction with nature. By practicing these movements, one can feel the elimination of burdens and a distance from external stressors, bringing us simplicity, sensitivity, and connecting our senses to our internal mind and body.

Tai Chi is founded on a specific and remarkable tripod. According to Tai Chi teacher and writer, Arthur Rosenfeld², the legs of the tripod are: Taoist philosophy, traditional martial arts of China and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Taoist philosophy recognizes the characteristics of opposition, interchangeability and interconnectedness of our physical bodies, all animated and inanimate objects, and the whole universe. This Yin and Yang concepts represent water and fire, coldness and warmth, darkness and brightness, lows and highs, descending and ascending attributes, which comprise the world we live in. To practice Tai Chi is to practice how to be one with the environment and our surroundings.

Tai Chi started as a self-defense, to build physical endurance and to preserve longevity. It developed into its own unique flavors of profound meditative nature, rather than its martial arts counterparts’ fast and aggressive nature, such as Taekwondo in Korea and Karate in Japan.

What is the difference between Tai Chi and Qigong?

To understand Tai Chi and Qigong, we need to start by clarifying the methods of translation of Chinese Characters into English. The term “Taiji” is the literal phonetic translation according to the Pinyin system, yet “Tai Chi” in Wade-Giles translation is widely recognized in the west. We respect the recognition and continue to use the term “Tai Chi” referring to the practice of Tai Chi martial art.

“Qi“ means energy, “Qigong” means the work of energy and the practice to cultivate and balance life energy. Qigong includes moving meditation, deep rhythmic breathing and a meditative state of mind. We can say Tai Chi is a form of Qigong but we cannot say Qigong is a form of Tai Chi.

What are the benefits of Tai Chi?

Numerous studies and research have shown the benefits of regular Tai Chi practice. Systematic reviews³ and randomized controlled clinical trials⁴ on Tai Chi for specific conditions, indicate evidence of benefits for:

  • Preventing falls
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Parkinson disease
  • Rehabilitation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Improving cognitive capacity in older adults
  • Weight loss and reduced waist circumference and body fat percentage
  • Improving balance and aerobic capacity in those with poor fitness
  • Depression
  • Cardiac and stroke rehabilitation
  • Dementia
  • Increased strength in the lower limbs
  • Improving quality of life for cancer patients
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hypertension
  • Osteoporosis
  • Increased well-being
  • Improved sleep

A recent systematic review on the safety of tai chi found adverse events were typically minor and primarily musculoskeletal; no intervention-related serious adverse events have been reported. These evidence-based research encourages our medical providers, recommend to their patients the practice of Tai Chi for various health benefits.

Is it difficult to learn?

As the title says, a journey of Tai Chi begins with one step and one step at a time. I would recommend you to drop your goals, plans or expectations; feel your body’s movements and be aware of your breath and the connection between your breath and your movements. The forms are not important. What is important is that you give yourself the time and space to practice. Let’s start with separating your feet to shoulder distance apart. Raise both arms to shoulder height. Then, lower your hands to your waist and breathe. See! Isn’t it easy? You, already, embarked on the first step of this Tai Chi journey.

Who can benefit from Tai Chi?

The answer is everyone. Yes. You do not have to have a fitness level of an athlete to practice Tai Chi. It does not matter whether or not you are obese or that you had an injury or a stroke or that you are asthmatic. It does not matter if you are bedridden or you are sitting on a chair. Indeed, Tai Chi embraces you when you are bearing physical pain. Tai Chi welcomes you when you are going through mental turmoil. Tai Chi awaits you when your mind is wandering. Tai Chi begins to heal you when you start with one step.

Summary

Tai Chi is a martial art that combines physical exercise, breathing meditation, lifestyle change and philosophical awareness of the world. It is available to you here and now. There is no equipment needed, no fitness level required and there are no limitations or restrictions. All you need is an aspiration of attending to your health, your mind, and your practice and let’s begin with one step, one breath, and let’s get on this Tai Chi journey!

  1. Wile, Douglas (2007). “Taijiquan and Taoism from Religion to Martial Art and Martial Art to Religion”. Journal of Asian Martial Arts. Via Media Publishing. 16 (4).
  2. Arthur Rosenfeld. “Tai Chi, the perfect exercise finding health, happiness, balance and strength”.2013.Published by Da Capo Press.
  3. Patricia Huston and Bruce McFarlane. “Healthy benefits of tai chi. What is the evidence?” Canadian Family Physician November 2016, 62 (11) 881-890.
  4. Stanley Sai-Chuen Hui , Yao Jie Xie , Jean Woo , Timothy Chi-Yui Kwok .Effects of Tai Chi and Walking Exercises on Weight Loss, Metabolic Syndrome Parameters, and Bone Mineral Density: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.2015.976123.
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