Tai Chi Chuan, also known simply as Tai Chi, is an ancient Chinese "internal" martial art that is characterized by sets of movements that are performed slowly, either solo or with a partner. Many of the internal martial arts, including tai chi, are considered moving meditations and are used not only for training the body, but for stilling the mind. Recently, Tai Chi Chuan has been found by the scientific community to impart a variety of health benefits on its practitioners and the popularity of the practice is growing worldwide.
Tai Chi Chuan is a gentle and restorative exercise that improves flexibility, circulation, posture and balance. Like most Qigong exercises, it is also believed to increase longevity. According to Dr. Richard Lefroy of the Department of Public Health at the University of Western Australia, it not only has the potential to improve joint flexibility, spinal stability, bone formation and lymph circulation, but also may benefit concentration and memory recall. The slow and determined movements of Tai Chi Chuan can be of special benefit to the elderly, as they can be practiced by almost anyone of any age and seem to specifically help mediate many of the common conditions of old age, such as poor balance and muscle frailty.
Many of the movements and postures that make up the sequences of Tai Chi Chuan are based on animals and other forms found in nature. Coordinated movements seek to harmonize the forces of the universe within the human body and free up any energy blockages that the practitioner may have. Negative emotions and cravings can disturb this energy flow and cause unbalance to the practitioner, making mental concentration an essential part of the practice of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi classes are offered at many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) schools as well as at many modern gyms and centers for senior citizens. In many Chinese neighborhoods, Tai Chi Chuan is practiced in the park early in the morning on a daily basis, which provides a convenient way to learn the art for free. Classic martial arts schools often incorporate Tai Chi Chuan forms and combinations such as Kung Fu Tai Chi and Sword Tai Chi into their curriculum.
The origins of Tai Chi are steeped in legend and are closely tied to the practices developed by Taoist monks to increase vital energy forces, or chi, in the human body. Classic Tai Chi is one of these exercises, which are generally known as Qigong, that became popular in the 17th century in China as a form of martial arts that did not seek to contend with an opponent, but to exercise the mind and body.