"The strength of a lumberjack, the flexibility of a child and the wisdom of a sage."
These were the promised benefits when I took up T’ai Chi 26 years ago. I can confirm that T’ai Chi keeps me strong and supple, I would not claim to be a sage, however the practise has brought a sense of calm and a clarity to my life.
Teaching T’ai Chi I see how the practise enhances peoples sense of wellbeing. Older people often take up T’ai Chi because of it’s reputation for helping with balance and muscle strength. We move slowly in T’ai Chi sinking our weight completely into one foot at a time, this works the muscles in a deep way drawing in nutrients that encourage growth and repair. The large circular movements of the arms and the constant turning of the waist opens and relaxes the body. The sinking and rising movements of the legs, the opening and closing of the arms and the constant turning of the waist all lead to an increase in flexibility.
Recent studies in physiology have shown that open expansive body postures (like those of T’ai Chi )change our physiology. These open postures cause our brains to increase the level of testosterone (empowering hormone) and decrease the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the blood. These changes allow us to feel strong and good about ourselves. This may explain why T’ai Chi has often been recommended as a therapy for those suffering from depression. When we practise T’ai Chi we move energy in our bodies releasing blocks similar to the way acupuncture needles release energy blocks. The daily practise keeps our energy moving and helps the pathways in our bodies to stay open and fluid rather than becoming stiff and ridged.
In T’ai Chi, when people begin practicing we say their movements are wooden.. As they progress, they become more fluid and finally they become light like air. The silent flowing postures are a meditation, a form of mindful movement. This way of being present in one’s body awakens us to subtle shifts in our emotional and energetic states.
When we learn to recognise our emotional states we develop the ability to respond rather than just react to life. This has a very calming effect on mind and body and leads to a sense of equanimity and acceptance. This may be one of the greatest benefits to the practise because we can then take charge of our emotions.