The Benefits of Learning Tai Chi Chuan by Cheng Tin-Hung and Dan Docherty
Many city dwellers, owing to the pressures of work, traffic congestion and other factors do not take proper exercise. As a result, they become victims of mental strain, nervous tension and other maladies which detract from their efficiency in their daily work.
There are many sports and pastimes which cater to the desires of those amongst us who wish to acquire a fit and healthy body. However, it is difficult to find a system of exercise suitable for persons of all ages, which requires little or no special equipment, and which can be practiced in a relatively small area either indoors or outdoors.
Tai Chi Chuan is such a system of exercise. Those who practice it regularly will develop a healthy body and an alert mind. The improvement in their health will better enable them to concentrate on their routine tasks and to make effective decisions, all of which leads in turn to a greater success in their chosen career.
The Tai Chi Chuan Hand Form, with its graceful movements and alert actions, resembles a classic dance. Through the execution of complex manoeuvres in conjunction with deep regulated breathing and the contraction and expansion of the diaphragm, the Hand Form offers a balanced drill to the body's muscles and joints.
Over a period of time, the central nervous system will be stimulated by the tranquil state of mind and dedicated concentration on the movements which result from the performance of the Hand Form. This serves to increase the well-being of all the organs of the body as their efficient functioning depends very largely on a sound central nervous system.
We can look upon the practice of Tai Chi Chuan in two ways. First it is a method of physical exercise. Secondly, it acts as a catalyst in that when performed by our body it causes certain beneficial reactions to take place. As our muscles move they exert pressure on our veins, forcing our blood flow towards the heart, improving our circulation. Meanwhile, the deep breathing necessary for the performance of the Hand Form causes the diaphragm to expand outwards and downwards and contract inwards and upwards, and this movement of the diaphragm gently `massages' the liver and the intestines.
Those who suffer from indigestion will benefit from practicing Tai Chi Chuan, as the exercise which the stomach muscles receive will improve the digestion, leading to an increased appetite and the prevention of constipation. Middle-aged and elderly people will find this of particular comfort.
Since the breathing in Tai Chi Chuan is so deep that there is a greater intake of air into the lungs than usual, a greater amount of oxygen is available for consumption and this increases blood circulation. In so doing it also expands the blood vessels which serve the heart and intestines. Therefore Tai Chi Chuan helps prevent thrombosis and many other ailments of the heart and intestines.
The natural process of human life requires that we take in oxygen and all sorts of nutrients. After various transformations, these are conveyed to different parts of the body, through the medium of the bloodstream.
Once they have undergone certain physical and chemical processes, part of the materials taken in are converted to waste products and then excreted. This process is called `substitution' and without it the spark of life would be extinguished. If substitution is going on in an inefficient manner, arteriosclerosis and other complaints may result, as is often the case with the elderly.
As Tai Chi Chuan strengthens the central nervous system, improves blood circulation, stimulates the operation of the heart and intestines and promotes better digestion, it also safeguards the process of substitution and helps prevent sickness.
The graceful movements of Tai Chi Chuan flow like the running water of streams and rivers, while the tranquility of mind is that aimed for in Taoism. It is this that can lead to changes in our disposition, making us more even-tempered and slow to anger. We can go a stage further. The philosophy of our art is to concentrate on the use of the brain rather than brawn, to let thought guide our actions, and this principle we should try to apply to our daily lives.
`Mens sana in corpore sano' (a healthy mind in a healthy body) is what Tai Chi Chuan can give us, but only if we invest the necessary time and effort.