Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art originally employed as self defense that is practiced today primarily as a form of spiritual development and for its potential health benefits. Although Tai Chi practice is divided into several styles, training consists of slowly completing a flowing series of movements called forms. Mastering the techniques of the forms is not as important as internalizing the Tai Chi principles behind them. These principles are meant to cultivate a connection between the mind and body and help the practitioner live in harmony with world.
One of the most difficult Tai Chi principles to master is that of relaxing the mind and body by letting go of all the distracting and unneeded tensions of life. In Tai Chi practice, the body should not be limp and the practitioner must remain aware of his or her movements and surroundings. The mind leads and the body movement follows. A relaxed body and mind are best able to facilitate energy circulation throughout the physical self.
Proper body alignment and positioning is another important principle of Tai Chi practice. All joints should be loose and flexible while the spine is straight and the tailbone tucked under. Tai Chi practitioners keep their heads and necks aligned by envisioning that their heads are hanging from a string attached to the ceiling. Their jaws are also slightly tucked. Keeping the body in proper alignment allows for optimal relaxation and flowing movement while practicing Tai Chi forms.
A Tai Chi practitioner’s body moves as a complete unit. Either the entire body is moving or all body parts are absolutely still. Movements should be continuous, smooth and completed at a constant pace so that one form will flow easily into the next. All weight is borne by only one leg at a time, allowing the body to move quickly if necessary. The separation of weight or the distinction between the insubstantial and the substantial is a central principal of Tai Chi practice.
In Tai Chi practice, an additional principal is that the feet act like roots that anchor the body into the ground. Energy from the earth travels up through the feet and legs to the waist and then up into the back, arms and fingers. The waist guides and controls each movement in a form so that the body itself does not twist around. By distributing energy into the upper body and leading all movements, the waist becomes crucial to proper Tai Chi practice.