T'ai chi is an ancient method of moving in the most relaxed and integrated manner possible. The movements of the t’ai chi form arrange our bodies for optimal mechanical advantage and energy flow. This efficiency allows us to relax out of the excess effort and tensions we may normally use. Thus, the body comes into a natural alignment and energy circulates freely. This relaxed way of moving brings all of t’ai chi’s benefits. Some have described the movements as alchemical simply because arranging our bodies well allows us to make better use of our bodies, momentum, and subtle energy. T’ai chi helps us become more balanced and centered and develops a higher level of integrity through our whole being.
One of the simplest physical forms of integrity is a balloon. When squeezed, the whole balloon immediately responds. The air in the balloon moves and the entire surface of the balloon changes. It changes from the inside out to absorb external pressure and redistribute internal pressure.
It can be difficult for us to attain such an easy state of integrity. After all we have over 200 joints and many muscles and organs. T’ai chi teaches us how to find and maintain a continual state of integrity. This process begins with understanding how to arrange our joints to move with simple mechanical advantage. As we do this, we find that no single limb is strained and we can relax deeply. As the tensions ease, we then work on deeper internal mechanics--from subtle physical adjustments to adjusting breath and energy flow. As we continue in our practice, we become more aware of our chi or energy and how to feel and direct its flow. Eventually there is an internal sense of bouyancy to our movements.
T’ai chi also teaches us how to change position without losing integrity or merely retreating. A balloon resting in water can be hard to dent with a single finger because the balloon would freely spin as well as absorb your finger. The balloon has a great deal of integrity; it never becomes divided and keeps its integrity as it changes position. T’ai chi teaches us how to move in all directions without compromising our own integrity or center.
T’ai chi developed as a martial art and this martial focus brings clarity to the movements even when practicing for health benefits. Think of the five centuries of practice as a very long series of experiments testing how forces and energies carry through the body. The clarity gleaned from the martial study actually increases the healing potential for t’ai chi.. Learn more how martial study increases healing potential.
*Note: We are much more complex than balloons resting in water; but do share some similarities. On average, we are 60% water, have about 15 psi (equivalent to atmospheric pressure), hold about 6 liters of air with our lungs, and have air in our sinuses.