Essential Tai Chi Principles

By Dr. Paul Lam
Tai chi is a sophisticated art with many different styles and forms. Despite the many variations of tai chi, its immense power for improving health and inner energy derives from a set of essential principles.
Here we present the most important ones. We’ve put them into simple, easy-to-understand language. By bearing them in mind as you learn and practice, you’ll be able to do tai chi more effectively right from the beginning. To see if you’re following these principles, you can use a video camera, a mirror, or check with a friend or instructor.

1. Do your movements slowly, without stopping. Make them continuous like water flowing in a river. Don’t jerk. Maintain the same speed throughout.

2. Imagine you’re moving against resistance. That will cultivate your inner force (qi). Imagine the air around you is becoming denser and that every move you make is against a gentle resistance-almost like moving in water.

3. Be conscious of weight transference. This is important for improving mobility, coordination, and stability. Be aware when you transfer your weight and be aware of each step of your weight transference. When you move forward, for example, put your weight on one leg while maintain an upright posture, touch down gently with the other heel first, and then gradually place the entire foot on the ground and put more of your weight onto that foot, slowly and consciously transfer more of your weight forward.

4. Maintain an upright posture and body alignment. Maintain the body upright supplely and keep the body well aligned in a straight line without undue tension is important. This can be more difficult than you expected, especially when you start bending your knees. Very often when people bend their knees the body alignment become distorted. Test yourself, standing side on to a mirror, don’t look at the mirror, bend your knees and look at the mirror now. Is your back in a vertical line to the ground? A good way to keep a good alignment as you do this, imagine you’re going to sit on an empty chair, bend both your knees and hip joints. Practice it with the mirror and check yourself every now and then. We have found many people don’t keep a good body alignment, and are not aware of it. That is why we said it is more difficult than expected. However once done right, your tai chi will improve greatly because qi flows best in the aligned body. Hunching forward will hinder the qi flow, and compromise your balance and leaning backward will create extra strain to the spine.

5. Loosen or ‘Song’ the joints. You should relax when you do tai chi, but by relax we don’t mean let your muscles get floppy. Instead, consciously and gently stretch your joints from within, almost like you’re expanding your joints internally. Many people mis- translated the Chinese word ‘Song’ into relaxation, which is wrong. Song is both relaxed and loosened.
To loosen the spine, imagine it’s a string, and that you’re gently stretching it from both ends. For the lower limbs, bend your knees and stretch your hips out to form an arch as you crouched. Other lower limb joints will gently expand from within.

6. Focus on your movements. Avoid distraction. Focus on what you’re doing. Be aware of all the principles mentioned above, but think of them one at a time.

What is Qi Gong
By Lee Holden

Qi is often translated as life force energy.  To the ancient masters, energy was that elusive substance we are all seeking.   It is that vital force that makes life exciting, fun, creative, and joyful.  Instinctively we know that the more energy we have, the better we feel.

Energy is the invisible, immaterial substance that propagates life and animates our bodies with movement.  Energy is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the emotions we feel.  Energy is not just in our bodies, but permeates all of nature:  Mountains arising, forests growing, rivers flowing, and all life proliferating are expressions of this life-force energy.

Quantum physicists and mystics from all ages agree that we are literally made of and living within a limitless sea of energy.   How is it then, that we suffer chronic low energy, fatigue, or poor health?  Medical surveys show that “lack of energy” and high levels of stress are the biggest complaints in physicians" offices today.

Think about it this way: If the power lines go down or flicker on and off during a storm, everything in the house stops working or only works sporadically.   Without electricity, we have no heat, we can"t cook our food, watch TV, or use the computer.   If we apply the same principles to our minds and bodies, we see that low energy causes shortages in our overall vitality, the way we metabolize food, our stress levels, our libido, our creativity, and our enjoyment of life.

Qi means "energy" as well as "breath".   Gong (also spelled Kung) is a general term meaning "work" or "skill".   Hence the term "Qi Gong" may be translated as "breathing exercise" as well as "energy work".   In terms of the practice of qi gong exercises it signifies “an expertise at working with life force energy.”  Becoming an expert at working with our own internal energy gives us the resources to have choices and manifest the kind of day and life that we want to have.

The Chinese character for qi signifies vapor or mist rising off of rice.   Vapor or mist is a wonderful metaphor of qi because it is invisible yet tangible.   Vapor also alludes to breath or breathing.   The subtle skill of breath control is one of the keys to circulating the flow of internal energy in the body.

Qi gong is based on the premise that the human body is an energy system.   As long as it has energy, or qi, it is alive; when energy is gone, it is dead.   Based on the primordial principles of classical Taoist philosophy, qi gong is a simple and practical approach to become skilled in matters of health, happiness and spiritual attainment.   Qi gong practitioners learns how to tap into their own inner resources and become self-sufficient and skilled at working with their own internal energy.

Qi gong amplifies the internal energy of practitioners, enabling them to become full of vitality, healthy, emotionally balanced, and spiritually connected.   This creates inner balance and harmony that leads to longevity and a deep sense of purpose in life.

People watching qi gong only see slow graceful movement or simple stretches.   People often ask, “How can that get you in shape or train you to be a better martial artist?”  But, there is a lot more to qi gong than meets the eye.   Like an iceberg, what you can see and witness in a qi gong practice is only the surface of a much deeper and potent internal power.   Qi gong is simple: it requires no equipment, little space, and can be practiced in a short amount of time.   Yet simple as it seems, qi gong brings an incredible amount of healing power to the practitioner---so much so that some of the effects and cures it achieves are often discounted as "miracles," even by eye-witness observers.   Qi gong has an unseen depth that can be utilized to enhance your body's natural healing potential.   Also, it can help you tap into your own deep inner resources. From that place of power, you can bring forth whatever it is that you want to experience.

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