Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 351
Article For Newspaper
Just this week I was contacted by our local newspaper, The Leader, to see if I would be interested in doing a short article for their Wellness supplement, published twice a year and coming out the end of January. I agreed and here is what I wrote. Hope you enjoy it.
What exactly is Tai Chi?
When I am asked what Tai Chi is, I am reminded of the story of three blind men who, never have encountered an elephant, are asked to describe what it is. One touches the trunk and says, “An elephant is like a large snake.” Another touches a leg, and says, “No, an elephant is like a tree.” Another, touching the flank says, “No, an elephant is like a wall.”
They are all correct, yet their individual answer is incomplete due to their not having all the information necessary to make an informed decision.
Talking about Tai Chi is much like the elephant problem. Tai Chi is a very complex art, with three main branches that go back hundreds, if not thousands of years into Chinese history. If you ask someone who is interested in martial arts, he might respond that Tai Chi is definitely an effective self-defense system. If a person is on a spiritual path, he would probably respond saying it is a mediative art. And someone who is involved with health and wellness was asked, he might answer it is a physical culture/healing practice.
All are correct, yet Tai Chi cannot and should not, be limited to to one field of study. All of the roots are of equal importance and make Tai Chi one of the most popular physical activities in the world.
The first root is Martial Arts. People have always needed to defend themselves, whether from animals or other humans. China is and was, a very crowded place. Many martial arts evolved. It wasn’t until the introduction of guns that hand to hand combat became useless and Tai Chi evolved into an exercise system.
The oldest root, going back thousands of years is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or the health and rejuvenation aspect. The Chinese have been using exercise to maintain wellness, cure disease, and strengthen the body for thousands of years.
TCM theory is based on the idea of balance. Overall fitness and well-being is not just an absence of disease. Wellness is a balance between the physical, emotional, and the mental/spiritual.
The third root is the philosophical/spiritual. The principles of Buddhism, Confucianism, and especially Daoism, all with their ideas of balance of internal energy (Yin and Yang) make Tai Chi special. More on that on another occasion.
What sort of health benefits to expect
As the body is strengthened and rooted, blood pressure is stabilized. The arteries and veins open as inner tension is reduced, improving circulation, taking much stress off of the heart. Increased circulation also improves vision and hearing. Because circulation improves, the lymph system improves, so colds, flu, and other viral and bacterial invasions are lessened or eliminated. Joints are exercised without the damaging effects of heavy impact. Bones are strengthened because the slow, relaxed movements are done in a semi-squatting stance, and the weight is placed on one leg at a time. Breathing is slow, relaxed, and controlled, so the lungs can clear and function at their maximum. The mind is focused at all times on the here and now, eliminating internal chatter and distractions. Posture is improved by strengthening and aligning the spine, thus eliminating many back problems. One becomes present and able to see the here and now.
When I first started practice I was quite depressed. I was out of balance, with most of my energy going to my head. I had no inner peace. Because Tai Chi works with balancing the energy centers (belly-physical, heart-emotions, head-mental) it wasn’t long before I started to strengthen the body, calm and relax my emotions, and find a quiet place for my mind. The more I practiced, the more I discovered my true self. And because I was feeling so much better, it made me want to practice more which made me feel better – on and on.
Michael Gilman is one of the best known and widely respected Tai Chi instructors in America. Since moving to Port Townsend in 1981, besides regular adult classes, he has been offering free classes to all high school age people. In 1991, he built a specially designed Tai Chi studio on the corner of Cherry and L St. where he conducted classes, did workshops, and did teachers training. He has certified teachers world wide including Port Townsend residents Stephanie Morrell, John Considine, Susan Leinbach, and Joyce Wilkerson.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Tai Chi group has moved outside to Chetzemoka Park. They meet four mornings a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. From 9 to 10 AM is exercise and Qigong. 10 to 11 AM is learn and practice Yang Style Tai Chi. All are welcome and there is no fee.