Tai Chi is an ancient form of exercise that at one point had more than 100 separate movements or postures. Currently there are two popular versions of 18and 37 movements respectively. In China, 10 million people practice some type of Tai Chi daily, making it one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world.
In the United States, Tai Chi is learned in classes in which students (or “players,” as they are called in China) wear loose, comfortable clothing and either go barefoot or wear only socks or soft shoes. In China, Tai Chi is almost always practised outdoors at dawn, and ideally near trees. Unlike other martial arts, Tai Chi is not competitive. Classes usually begin with a few minutes of standing meditation to calm the mind and gather energy.
Following warm-up exercises, students are taught the basics of a particular form or posture. Learning forms is not easy, and it takes some time to master what looks like a simple position. Properly-done postures are done in a relaxed way with the circular and rhythmic movements of one position flowing seamlessly into the next.
While strict attention to body position is critical, proper breathing is considered to be equally important. Just as movements are slow and continuous and without strain, breathing should be effortless yet deep. Finally, both mental and physical balance is considered essential to Tai Chi.
The experienced practitioner of Tai Chi maintains perfect body balance throughout the exercise series.
Altogether, the five essential qualities of Tai Chi are:
• Slowness (to develop awareness)
• Lightness (to make movements flow)
• Balance (to prevent body strain)
• Calmness (to maintain continuity)
• Clarity (to focus the mind)