Tai Chi Practice for Modern Man
Modern day living can sometimes have a dramatic effect on our health and wellbeing. Men and women are working harder than ever, taking less exercise and under increasing stress levels. About half a million people in the U.K experience work related stress, which they attribute to having a detrimental effect on their health.
Younger males often take part in recreational fitness and competitive sport such as football, rugby, combat sports etc. which have fantastic benefits for overall fitness and stress reduction, but as life and age move forward, active participation levels off, often due to lifestyle and commitment changes. Thus the outlet for stress reduction is dramatically reduced as well as a tapering off on overall fitness levels.
Many males from the age of 30 + find themselves looking for an activity / exercise routine which can offer strength and fitness training, at the same time as stimulating the mind and neurology and reducing stress levels. Often people are looking to find an exercise routine which can complement existing sporting activities, allowing them to prolong their competitive career, thus utilising a smarter exercise regime can help to reduce and prevent sports injury.
It may be surprising to many, that one of the fastest growing exercise practices for young to middle aged men in the West is Tai Chi Chuan.
Tai Chi – An Exercise for the old?
To many Tai Chi Chuan (Taiji Chuan) represents an image of elderly people practicing slow dance like movements in parks in China. Yes many old people do practice this art, However increasingly larger numbers of younger people are benefiting from the increased health and fitness gained from regular Taiji Chuan practice.
Tai Chi Chuan is in fact a Chinese martial art, based on the Taoist concepts of nature and balance. Most people in the West practice Tai Chi Chuan for its health promoting functions, rather than its martial applications.
The under lying concept of this fascinating art is the development and regulation of ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’) meaning ‘Vital energy’. The regulation of ‘Qi’ is also the root of Traditional Chinese Medicine, including Acupuncture and Tui Na. The Chinese see ‘Qi’ as the manifestation of all living things, the flow of your energy can be influenced and reduced by physical exhaustion, emotional stress and inactivity. To some this concept of ‘Qi’ can seem esoteric and mystical but in fact it is simple theory based on fluidity and movement. Just like water flowing through a river, if there is a blockage the water becomes rough and rapid, or blocked and stagnated, take away this barrier and the flow becomes more regular. Thus Tai Chi Chuan aims to reduce the physical and emotional blockages within oneself, leading to greater circulation of blood and Qi.
Excessive negative emotional stress can have a cumulative and detrimental effect on one’s health, it is impossible to remove all stress from life; in fact there can be many benefits of certain forms of stress. An analogy could be, if we look at stress as if it were a rock, the stress (the rock) effects negatively on your health, represented as the shadow cast from the rock on your overall wellbeing. Most people want to remove the stress (the rock) in one motion; this is difficult and unrealistic in many cases. Therefore removing stress (the rock) by slowly chipping away at it is a slower but more realistic approach. To some this task may seem an impossible and tiresome task dependant on your rock size (stress), the mere thought may cause more stress!
However by relaxed regular practise of mindfulness exercises including Tai Chi Chuan, where we learn to dissolve urgency or time constraints, slowly the rock will be reduced and the shadow that stress cast on your life will be reduced.
Regulation your Mind and Breathing
The first step in Tai Chi Chuan is too practice with the body and mind, smooth, fluid, circular continuous movements, with no sudden stops. This approach combined with physical twining and turning of the waist helps to promote smooth blood flow and stimulation of internal organs, as well as improvement of coordination, flexibility and mobility. The aim of Tai chi Chuan is to unify breathing, mind body movements and consciousness, therefore creating a moving meditation of which the regular practice of this art will reduce stress levels by stimulating the Parasympathetic nervous system, which has many benefits including;
- Reduction in heart rate and high blood pressure
- Reduces inflammation throughout the body
- Increased Gastro intestinal function
- Raises levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness
- Improved immune system function
Modern day life can seem overloaded and full of work, study and consumption, this can sometimes lead to a un- balanced life structure. Even in the West we all know the saying “a health body is a healthy mind and happiness is the key to long life, therefore maintaining balance and harmony in our daily lives is a function that we all have in common.
Somewhere along the journey in life, people can become disconnected with the real importance of just relaxing and being in the moment. Often the result of less space in our lives and minds can lead to a deep dissatisfied feeling you just can’t put your finger on? An extreme manifestation of this common trait associated with midlife crisis, where one is always looking for an external pursuit often feeding adrenal cravings.
Luckily most people only experience the milder side effects of this lifestyle imbalance. However many of us build up tensions and stress throughout the year waiting for a single holiday ( if we are lucky enough) or more often than not finding outlets for negative stress which is detrimental to health ! You may need just to reconnect with the regular practice of “conscious relaxation and letting go” this statement could be dismissed as new age or hippy which is a shame as it is often the first stumbling point stopping people making positive change with minimal effort.
Everybody likes to relax, when we listen to a certain piece of music it can resonates with your inner self , making your hairs stand up on the back of your neck, it is a direct route into your emotional frequency or Qi. Many of us like to be outside in the fresh air in natural surroundings, away from work, you feel “a sense of enormous well being!” – To borrow a phrase (Parklife, blur) Sorry bad joke! Your energy or Qi is re balanced and you feel full of energy and vibrant again. If we are honest with ourselves we all know deep inside what is natural and good for us, we just become conditioned into patterns of negative behaviour, you could compare our minds to washing machines – once we are on a cycle we tend to complete the negative cycle before we start again.
Tai Chi principles teach the individual to be in the moment when practicing, with regular practice you will be able to hold true unbroken consciousness, “externally silent internally awake” – this is the true meaning of any form of meditation “to awaken the Mind”. Through regular training the mind recognises this pattern and changes its habits. This ability to fundamentally change people’s state of mind is real magic, which can benefit the modern day man.
Taoist noticed certain patterns in life which complement health and encourage longevity, over the course of time Taoist masters formulated daily life practice centred on physical and emotional exercise including , Martial Arts (Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua Zhang etc.), Nei Gong, Shen Gong, music, Painting and calligraphy, laughter, love and relaxation.
“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.” Lao Tsu
The practice of Tai Chi Chuan can help to develop martial skill, part of this process is to overcome our fears anxieties and limitations, to truly do this we must look inward. There is a Chinese saying “we must conquer ourselves before we conquer others” .Tai Chi Chuan can help us reconnect with relaxation, like all things in life, it is the regular practice that creates long lasting results, My teacher used to say “as we clean our teeth daily for their long term health, we use Tai Chi Chuan to clean and regulate the mind and body” (Wudang Grandmaster Long Jin Ju) a simple but effect analogy.
How many of us take even 10 minutes a day just to relax and be in our own company? The greatest gift I was ever given was to be reminded of this! Soon I came to appreciate the real benefits of space and relaxation.
The practice Tai Chi Chuan can give you this; you do not need a flash gym, fancy equipment, special clothing etc. It can be practiced anywhere, any time and once learnt it will stay with you forever, to take and use in a positive way through out your life.
This is a living treasure given from China and is the greatest gift you will ever give yourself.