Tai chi (pronounced "TY-chee") is system of integrated, gentle movements sometimes referred to as “meditation in motion.” Also known as tai chi chuan, tai chi movements originally represented a method of self-defense developed in ancient China. Eventually, however, tai chi evolved toward a self-paced rhythm of continuous movements that enhance physical and emotional awareness and balance.
There are different styles of tai chi. The most popular are yang and wu, which are named after the respective families that developed each form. While variations exist between different styles in terms of the intensity of rhythm and pace, the common factor shared by all is deliberate and conscious breathing to restore balance between internal forces — mind, breath, organs, and life energy — with the external — skin, bones, joints, and muscles. Another common characteristic is based on the principle that running water never stagnates, which refers to the significance of coordinated, fluid movement. While there are more than 100 recognized tai chi movements, the most common number about a dozen.
As with other movement or exercise, a tai chi session should begin with warm-up exercises. Some of these exercises are geared toward loosening the muscles of the back, hips or knees. A common exercise often performed in preparation of a series of tai chi movements includes something known as The Sitting Meditation. The subject is seated with the back straight, the knees slightly apart and each palm resting on each knee. With eyes closed, the subject breathes deeply and slowly, permitting invading thoughts and images to come and go without lingering for about 10 minutes.
The first in a series of coordinated tai chi movements is often Pay Respect to Buddha, which begins with the subject standing with feet parallel and knees slightly bent and the arms relaxed at each side of the body. Several moments are spent focused on breathing and awareness of the connection to earth, then the right foot is turned out 45 degrees and the weight of the body is shifted to the right leg. The left foot is then brought forward with the heel to the floor, and the arms are raised to waist height. The arms are then raised to chest height with the left palm facing the body and the right facing left with fingers pointed toward the sky. The movement ends with the right foot extended 45 degrees with the knee bent, the left foot resting on the heel directly in front of the hip, and the arms forming a circle.
Subsequent tai chi movements often include Grasp Bird's Tail, White Crane Spreads Wings, Carry Tiger to the Mountain and Step Back to Repulse Monkey, and typically culminate in Grand T'ai Chi. Regardless of the sequence or complexity, tai chi is a physically and mentally stimulating activity that nearly anyone can do without the need for space or special equipment. In addition, there are many health benefits associated with tai chi, such as reduced stress, lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, relief of depression and increased energy and endurance.