Tai Chi Chuan is a Chinese art whose popularity increased in recent years. It ‘a martial art, even if today is proposed and practiced in different ways and with different purposes. It’s an internal martial art, in the sense that it uses a sort of energy different from the muscular. In Chinese tradition, this kind of energy is called chi (or qi), a term whose meaning is more ample than the concept of energy as understood by the western. According to the Taoists, chi is an creative energy or, better said, the energy of creation. Allis sustained by chi,all is permeated, anything could exist without this energy.
Yin and Yang are two opposite aspects of the chi’s manifestation, main characteristics of the unknowable and indescribable Tao, infinite container of all universes and all aspects of life, and could be related with the emptiness and fullness.
The purpose of this martial art is not related with the development of aggressiveness, the attention is focused on the relaxation, the development of an inner an outer harmony. And in this field is related with the development of a different state of awareness.
The Tai Chi practice is basically focused on learning a determined sequence of movement, called “form” who differs from style to style. These movements are performed in a in a slow and continuous, smooth, soft way, so different by the other martial arts that in the eyes of an “uninitiated” it appears similar, and is often mistook, to a dance.
The degree of harmony and relaxation that can be perceived when a Tai Chi form is performed by an expert, are the result of years and years of tireless practice, and are related not only to the physical field but to the whole being of the practitioner. All is involved during the practice of the form: the ability of focus, balance,emotional and breathing dynamics. Through the development of this practice, all the human potential are gradually expressed at incredible high degrees.
What is most valuable in this discipline is that it could become a way to self-knowledge and developing a greater awareness in life. It could and couldn’t, it all depends by the way and purpose it is practiced.
Let’s ponder about that: let’s suppose that a person who approaches to this art feels awkward, weighty and limited in his movements; also, he is emotionally very shy. His joints are weak and stiff, his knees aching and the posture of his body bent, as one who carries a big weight who oppresses him. Such person is totally unaware of her body, breathing, and even the living space he occupies. Intellectually, he is full of prejudices against everything and everyone, including himself. This is the ordinary state of being of a person who doesn’t practice any kind of self development practice (at least in the western countries). This common condition is worst than it seems at a first look. Living such state of tension and closure to life, blocks any possibility of physical, emotional or intellectual expression; such man remain constrained by the results of all the external situations. Such kind of person is sick- there are no other terms to describe him-, he kills slowly will to live, and the reactions of the constrains he suffers damage his body and the whole nervous system.
Tai Chi is the opposite of this situation teaching the practitioner to be in touch with life and being “untouched”by life (don’t be touched by external constrains). It heals the body and the spirit of those who exercise it with perseverance and passion, leading the practitioner step by step toward the experience and expression of higher levels of awareness and sensitivity in a systematic way, but, to achieve these aims, it has to be practiced carefully and with dedication. It’s a way to develop what is called by the eastern a state of natural awareness, to develop the attitude of being “here and now”: presence and harmony.
On the first steps, learning how to relax the body and mind is essential. The tensions accumulated during a day of work, tiredness and the burden of tonnes of problems reflect themselves on the body. In the western society anyone teaches how to listen- feel our body, who reflects as a mirror common condition of the modern humans. Learning how to perceive contractions, physical tensions and how to release them is the best way to take care of ourselves. And Tai Chi Chuan is a precious tool to achieve this goal.
Tai Chi can’t be learned in an intellectual nor physical way, it has to be practiced and understood. It’s an integral discipline who involves body, mind, emotions, presence, all this focused at the same time, in the same moment in the same action. In such way, the practitioner learns how to develop the skill of the pure action, his essence arises more and more, his ability of capturing the different aspects of life increases. He begins to perceive, listen himself and the environment surrounding him deeply.
The focal point is the observation of the dynamics of the mind that is always focused to the lower belly (a specific place called in the Taoist tradition Dan Tien), the physical and energetic barycenter of the human structure, placed a bout two inches below the belly, between the skin and the spinal column. Focusing the attention on this place, prevents the distractions from the practice caused by the constant mechanical mind flow.
Once the practitioner is able to keep some degree of concentration during practice, he can also begin to observe the emotional flow, another crucial aspect of the existence of every human being: moods, feelings or even true and pure, unconditioned emotions. Anger, fear, dissatisfaction, a sense of inferiority and so on., Are a source of incredible energy loss. This level of the practice is very demanding, for the reason that is very difficult to remain detached from our emotional sphere: we have the tendency to deny certain feelings or indulge in other, then letting the imagination run.
Another very important aspect of the practice is the breath: almost all the ancient Taoist texts explain that the breath during the practice of Tai Chi must be natural, but there is one problem: almost all, today, have the tendency to misunderstand a “natural” way of breathing with an “habitual” one. Such as the body, even breath is harmed by tensions and constrains, anyone breaths in a natural way. Releasing the breath is far more difficult that release the constrains of the body: he is usually the contracted, the diaphragm is often blocked. With calm, diligence and patience, the practitioner learns how to balanced and release the breath, letting him functioning in a free and natural way. Breath is deeply connected with the emotional and mental sphere, and also with the intellectual: a calm, deep breath permits a thoughts slowdown.
That the reason why breathing is of crucial importance in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. Without the proper breathing, this practice is useless, it’s just a sort of gymnastics. The classics texts of Tai Chi Chuan say that he who follows the mind, the body follows the chi, that is accumulated in the Dan Tien through mental focusing and the breath. Then, in a relaxed body, thoughts and emotions are reduced to quiet the conscious mind focused in the belly; and, through an appropriate combination of physical movements and breath, this energy begins to circulate freely in the body, invigorating the whole being. At this point, the practitioner, from a state of fragmented and disharmonious being, becomes an unified field. A free man able to live harmoniously in the “here- and- now”
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