Tai Chi has health benefits for both the body and the mind
Originally practised for its martial arts applications, Tai Chi is now used to strengthen the body and its immune system, and enhance feelings of well-being. Regular practice builds what the Chinese call "Qi" (Ch'i). Qi is often translated as "energy", though we might better understand it as "life force".
Energy = Vitality
The relaxation and flowing movements in Tai Chi improve blood circulation throughout the body, stimulate our internal organs, and reduce the amount of energy wasted in our bodies by our muscles - and in our minds by our thoughts and emotions. A feeling of vitality comes from the resulting increase in Qi.
Relaxation = Release of tension (but without collapse)
Relaxation is perhaps the primary aim of Tai Chi practice. We are intentionally releasing the many unnecessary tensions we habitually hold in the muscles of our bodies. We also seeking to let go unnecessary thoughts and negative emotions in our minds, which can make us feel more positive - you could say happier.
Strength = Resilience (derived from a strong internal structure and good connection to the earth, ie "root")
The form encourages good posture because it is practised with relaxed straightness of the spine, right from the top of the head to the tip of the tail bone. We maintain this posture by moving from our body's centre, called the Tan Tien (pronounced "Don-Tee-Enn"), while securely "held" between "heaven" and "earth".
Our body weight is constantly being shifted from 100% in one foot to 100% in the the other in slow flowing moves. This strengthens the legs and improves balance and stability. Scientific research has proved that Tai Chi can even be effective in treating conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
Flexibility = Unlocking of joints (which allows more natural movement and avoids damage, eg to knees / hips)
The slow and smooth movements in Tai Chi are gentle on body joints, yet both strengthen and relax the muscles around them. This opens the joints, greatly increasing flexibility. The exercises particularly open and restore movement to the hips, which reduces twisting of the knees - a common cause of knee damage.
Mindfulness = Present awareness (made possible by calming and quietening the busy mind)
Most of us experience stress from the business of everyday life. This stress not only impacts negatively on the body, it also makes it difficult to think clearly, or to see the whole picture - we tend to become over-focused on our worries. The practice of Tai Chi helps us to recognise when our thinking mind is over-stressed and helps us to let go of unnecessary worries. The benefits of Tai Chi in this regard are similar to those of mindfulness meditation, and many people do Tai Chi as a mindfulness practice - what mindfulness teachers and practitioners call a moving meditation.
For all these reasons we value the T'ai Chi Chuan form as a precious tool, one that restores a sense of peace and calm in our noisy and busy lifestyles.