The Chinese are famous for various forms of holistic health practices, such as acupuncture, massage, and herbalism, all of which are used widely throughout the world as an alternative means of improving quality of life and alleviating sickness. My personal experience with Chinese therapy came in the form of practicing Tai Chi, or Tai Chi Chuan or Quan (太极拳); a meditative sport based on martial arts techniques that were developed in China in the 16th Century A.D.
The name Tai Chi in its self is self-explanatory. Tai Chi (太极) means balance, and Quan (拳) meaning fist denotes martial arts discipline or style. Qi or Chi means the life energy that runs through all living things, and it is believed in Chinese medicine that the imbalance in Qi force is what brings about illness and disease. Tai Chi has been reported to have numerous benefits such as improved muscular strength, flexibility, fitness, enhance immunity, relieve pain and improve quality of life through reduced stress and anxiety.
Before starting my journey with Tai Chi, I read a lot about it online, and I found that indeed it has many documented health benefits published in well – respected scientific journals. An article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a study which analyzed the results of 33 experiments involving 1584 participants. The most important findings of this article were that Tai Chi showed favorable effects on walking, knee extension strength and quality of life in most or all of the four chronic conditions under study, which were cancer, osteoarthritis, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Another article published in JAMA Internal Medicine demonstrated the effectiveness of Tai Chi on health outcomes in older patients with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory issues. The article reported that Tai Chi had a positive impact on patients who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery as well as in patients with heart failure, hypertension, acute myocardial infarction, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
For me personally, Tai Chi helped me immensely in overcoming a severe condition of vertigo (dizziness), that had left me on bed rest for almost three months. At the beginning of my illness, when I was still undiagnosed and so was not on any proper medication, the sport offered a gentle form of movement that did not overly tax my sensitive system.
Tai Chi allowed me to gradually regain my sense of balance, at a time when even yoga was too much for me (since yoga involved a lot of bending, which is impossible with severe vertigo). Moreover, Tai Chi kept me at a constant state of calmness and relaxation, which was a much-needed relief for someone who suffers from Meniere’s Disease. As someone who also finds it extremely difficult to actually sit still and meditate, Tai Chi was a perfect alternative, as it involved a balanced combination of movement and stillness that effectively calms nerves and quietens the senses.
“The philosophy of Tai Chi is that, if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certainly to be injured. Students are taught not to directly fight an incoming force, but to meet it in softness while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin.Lao Tzŭ provided the archetype for this in the Tao Te Ching when he wrote, “The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong.”Wikipedia.com
The story of Tai Chi started with a Taoist philosopher named Zhang Sanfeng while mediating in the mountains on the philosophy behind yin and yang. Zhang Sanfeng was inspired by a fight between a snake and a bird to create one of the earliest forms of defensive martial arts. However, it was not until the 16th Century that Tai Chi began taking its modern outlook. Tai Chi’s earliest form is known as the Chen tradition (陳氏). This form is credited to a mixture between Chen Boxing, which was characterized by intense bursts of movements, and the additions which Chen Wangting brought to the discipline, introducing elements of yin/yang theory of movement and chi philosophy.
Sanfeng was inspired by a fight between a snake and a bird to create one of the earliest forms of defensive martial arts. However, it was not until the 16th Century that Tai Chi began taking its modern outlook. Tai Chi’s earliest form is known as the Chen tradition (陳氏). This form is credited to a mixture between Chen Boxing, which was characterized by intense bursts of movements, and the additions which Chen Wangting brought to the discipline, introducing elements of yin/yang theory of movement and chi philosophy.
At that time, knowledge of Tai Chi was limited to members of the Chen family, until the 19th Century when an outsider named Yang Luchan was allowed to learn Tai Chi. He later on devised his own form of the sport called Yang Style, which is characterized by slower, and more rounded looking movement. The Yang style is what eventually took off in the whole world, and that is the style most commonly practiced today.
The Yang style (楊氏) fundamentally changed Tai Chi into a meditative sport that is no longer a hard-core martial art. As it exists today, Tai Chi has become a gentle practice that everyone can pursue regardless of their physical attributes. The most commonly practiced form is the 24 movement routine, dubbed as the “short form.” The “long form” consists of 48 movements, which build upon the short form. There are three other significant forms in Tai Chi, the Wu Hao style (武氏), the Wu style (吳氏), and the Sun style (孫氏).
Traditional weapons used in some forms of Tai Chi
Tai Chi has made a significant and fundamental effect in my health, as it helped me to gradually “reteach” my self how to walk, after months of violent vertigo episodes that had previously left me completely motionless. I hope for everyone out there who suffers from any rare or chronic disease to give alternative medicine a chance. Who knows, maybe it will surprise you!
P.S. Resources for learners: YouTube has a ton of free video’s for anyone curious about Tai Chi, but my personal favorite training guide was this paid course.