The Tai Chi principle

‘Master Chang San Feng has a thorough mastery of Taoist methods and unparalleled martial skills’

Hanlin Academy Records 600 years ago.

The art of Tai Chi Chuan has been handed down, through the efforts and dedication of masters ever since it’s creation by Chang San Feng. Being an expert in both martial skills and Taoist methods of self cultivation, Chang combined his knowledge, creating the art now know as Tai Chi Chuan.

The main features of the art of Tai Chi Chuan:

Tai Chi Chuan strengthens the body. Regular practice strengthens the bones, muscles, tendons and sinews of the body. Its practice strengthens the functioning of the circulatory system, both centrally and peripherally, bringing vitality to all cells of the body. The lymphatic system is stimulated through the movement during practice and the deep diaphragmatic breathing used in practice. The nervous system is stimulated, to help improve functioning of all the major organs of the body, as well as improving the strength of the muscular system. Tai Chi Chuan not only prevents disease and illness, but is also an effective treatment for existing illness. Tai Chi Chuan nourishes vitality.

Tai Chi Chuan cultivates natural, effective self defence skills. The methodology of Tai Chi Chuan follows the changes of stillness and motion and the effective use of softness and hardness. The application of Tai Chi Chuan is entirely based on a thorough understanding of the Yin and Yang principles, both physically and psychologically. The Tai Chi Chuan practitioner seeks to overcome hardness with softness and to seek opportunity to apply effective technique at the opponents weakest point. These are subtle and refined martial skills, which require consistent training under an experienced master.  We learn to out-wit an opponent rather than out-muscle them.

Tai Chi Chuan is a Taoist practice, which seeks to cultivate not only health and martial skill, but also the character of the practitioner. Fundamentally, in Taoist cultivation the practitioner seeks to develop personal tranquility, calming their Shen (spirit/mind). The second stage is to nurture Qi (energetic vitality). The third stage is to enhance Jing (primordial essence). Beyond this a sense of Unity with Heaven (spirit), Man (society) and Earth (nature) is advocated.

Tai Chi Chuan should be practiced regularly for best results. Training will enable you to refine the subtle skills of the art, learning to sublime levels of skill and ability, where mind and body act as one. Tai Chi Chuan does not contain techniques at higher levels of achievement. Only the principle of Tai Chi is needed once we have transcended the fundamental training stages. Tai Chi Chuan can be learned and practiced by anybody, with profound benefits coming from regular long term practice.

Chang San Feng created five different parts to the art. Each one cultivates specific skills, abilities or qualities within your practice. Some parts of the practice focus more on coordination, movement skill or technique, whilst other parts will wok more on the physical aspects of the body or the mind of the practitioner.

The Tai Chi principle

In the Taoist I Ching: Book of Changes it is said that all change, creation and destruction in the universe and on earth is governed by the Great Polarity (Tai Chi). In turn the Tai Chi gives both to the two qualities, yin and yang. These produce the Four Secondary Trigrams which in turn give birth to the Eight Trigrams.

The state of No Polarity exists before the state of Tai Chi. This is the state of emptiness, before things and thoughts manifest.

Tai Chi is the principle before distinct manifestations of shape, form, sound or movement. It is the potential beyond these tangible qualities.

In the classical literature of Tai chi Chuan it is said ‘ Emerging from No Polarity, Tai Chi is the pivot of movement and stillness, the parent of Yin and Yang. Movement brings separation and stillness converges’.

The state of Tai Chi requires that stillness and motion, opening and closing are distinguished but not separate. Yin and Yang are always present.

The concept of Tai Chi governs the waxing and waning of sun and moon, the changing of the seasons and all the dynamic processes of existence. Heaven and Earth and everything within them are constantly changing, coming and going. The is the essence of the Tai Chi principle.

Tai Chi Chuan is the martial art created by Chang San Feng, who having a thorough understanding of the principles of Tai Chi, fused Taoist health and self cultivation with practical martial arts skills. All elements of the martial art of Tai Chi Chuan are governed by the principle of Tai Chi.

The objective of Tai Chi Chuan

Tai Chi Chuan is an art of self improvement, self defence and a method of improving one’s overall vitality. In olden times the self defence aspects were far more important, particularly in the days when the art was mainly taught to the elite military personnel tasked with protecting the Manchu Royal Family.

Although the self defence elements are a crucial part of authentic Tai Chi Chuan training, it’s probably safe to say that in todays world the enemy most people encounter is illness and disease due to a physically sedentary yet psychologically high stress lifestyle.

Tai Chi Chuan is the perfect tool to combat this, with many ways of exercising the physical body and ways to achieve tranquility of mind. Practical self defence skills are of course always useful, even in todays relatively safe and civilised society. Increased self confidence and peace of mind are achieved.

Internal Chinese martial arts

What Tai Chi breathing can do for you

The key characteristics of Tai Chi breathing are depth, softness and slowness.

Tai Chi breathing is one of the subtle aspects of the art that positively impacts your health in all sorts of ways. Tai Chi is infused with many different Taoist health practices, designed to maximise our physical and mental health and efficiency.

One of the first things emphasised is correct breathing patterns. The Taoists spent huge amounts of time observing nature and trying to find the common themes that underly harmonious and healthy functioning. A lot of breathing patterns were related to the long living tortoise.

In the practice of the majority of Tai Chi exercises, we don’t direct the breathing, we simply seek to relax the abdomen, the mind and the body and breath using the nose. using the nose rather than the mouth encourages the natural expansion of the diaphragm downwards, as opposed to mouth breathing which encourages chest breathing.

By adhering to these simple rules your breathing patterns will start to become deeper, longer and softer/quieter.

In one of the neigong exercises ‘Old man puts mind and spirit in unity’, there are two breathing drills where we specifically spend time following the breath, guiding it in a gently unforced way to the ‘lower dantien’, which is the lowest part of the abdomen. The breath is trained to become almost imperceptibly soft and quiet. It also slows considerably.

Deep Tai Chi breathing relaxes and enhances your body and mind

Tai Chi’s deep breathing practices activate the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us into a relaxed state. This helps to improve your concentration, focus and general sense of wellbeing. It will also bring your hormonal system into balance.

When you’re under stress or in an uncomfortable environment, or experiencing emotions such as anger, the body tightens up, muscles contract and breathing becomes shallow. Tai Chi breathing is an excellent general counter to this, helping to keep emotional states more balanced.

The quality of your breath can help improve your memory, heighten your focus and ability to learn, concentrate and memorise. Your brain functions far better when it’s provided greater levels of oxygen, which leads to greater clarity. A properly oxygenated brain also helps reduce feeling of anxiety, stress, depression and helps people break out of negative though patterns. Proper breathing can also help to enhance and ignite natural creativity, which is useful and enjoyable in all endevours.

Your lymphatic system is helped by prolonged deeper breathing practices

Your lymphatic system plays a crucial role in keeping you functioning optimally, protecting you from bacteria, viruses and other threats to your health. This system depends heavily on gravity, movement of your muscles and the action of the breath to keep it flowing so that your body can be cleansed. By improving your breathing patterns you are going a long way to helping this crucial aspect of your bodies’ defences.

Tai Chi deep breathing can help prevent heart attacks and improve cardiovascular health.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing tones, massages and increases circulation to the heart, liver, brain and reproductive organs. In one study of heart attack patients, 100% of the patients were chest breathers whose breathing involved very little diaphragm or belly expansion. Another study found that patients who survived a heart attack and who adopted an exercise regime and breath training afterward experienced a 50% reduction in their risk factor of another heart attack over the following 5 years.

A recent study of some heart attack patients found that 100% of them were shallow chest breathers. They showed very little healthy downward expansion of their diaphragms. Another similar study discovered that by taking patients who had survived a heart attack, and teaching them deep breathing techniques, they experienced a 50% reduction in their risk factor for heart attack. The breathing action of Tai Chi encourages your diaphragm to expand downwards, which massages and improves the circulation for the heart, liver, brain and reproductive organs.

Tai Chi breathing improves your stomach functions

By practicing Tai Chi and getting the improved diaphragmatic action and deep belly breathing you will be bringing increases in blood flow to your digestive tract. this will encourage intestinal action, improve your digestion and alleviate symptoms of things like irritable bowel syndrome.

Science has proved Tai Chi keeps you looking young!

The Tai Chi classics state that beyond combat skills the deeper meaning of Tai Chi is to maintain a long life and youthful appearance. The youthful appearance part is now backed up by modern science, via the study of telomeres.

People who practice mind/body exercises such as breath or movement awareness practices have been found by the Harvard Medical school to have longer telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps found on the end of chromosomes. This is done by the secretion of anti-ageing hormones as a result of practice. Short telomeres are linked to premature cellular ageing. Long ones the opposite.

So the evidence is clear, one simple aspect of Tai Chi practice, it’s breathing methods, can provide numerous life enhancing beneifts.