Tai Chi for the Body, Breathing, Mind, Chi and Spirit
(this is the fifth guest blog post in a series on Tai Chi)
Unlike many popular forms of exercise Tai Chi is about much more than just training the body. In fact, we could say that Tai Chi is a holistic practice which is why so many older adults are so drawn to it. Below I explain the 5 levels of learning in Tai Chi.
Regulating the body, breathing, mind, chi and spirit
There are 5 levels of learning in Tai Chi and they progress in a ladder fashion. One cannot regulate the breathing before learning to regulate the body. The ultimate goal of regulation is no regulation. In other words, once you master regulating the breathing, you don’t actually work on your breathing as you do the form. It comes naturally and allows you to begin regulating the mind, which then allows you to begin to lead the chi. I learned these steps from an outstanding book called “Tai Chi Chuan Classical Yang Style” by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. If you are interested in learning more about Tai Chi, I highly recommend his books and other media.
#1 Regulating the body. You must first learn to coordinate the movements of your body for each posture. This is the basic level and involves learning to be rooted, balanced, centered and relaxed. Some people never really get past this level and that is okay! It is especially difficult to make your body learn new movements if you have never done a martial art before. Don’t get frustrated! You will reap many of the benefits of Tai Chi just by working on this level.
#2 Regulating breathing. Once the movements become second-nature and you no longer have to work hard at being balanced, rooted and centered, you can begin to learn how to control your breath. This breath-control starts the process of coordinating your mind with the movements in a clear and relaxed state. This level is where you will really start to realize the benefits of stress/anxiety relief, blood pressure reduction, mood enhancement and an increased overall sense of well-being.
#3 Regulating the mind. The goal of regulating the mind is actually coming to a place of no thought. You are completely “in the moment” and are experiencing calmness, peacefulness and relaxation throughout the form.
#4 Regulating the chi. When you can get to a place of regulating the mind, you can begin to “lead” the chi throughout the body. This is actually very tricky, because if you think about the chi in a certain part of your body, the chi will stagnate there and stop circulating. You want your chi to move naturally and smoothly.
#5 Regulating the spirit. This is simply explained as the Daoist idea of releasing the mind and body from any bondage of concern in this world and allowing the spirit to reach heights of enlightenment.
My goal is not to make you into a Tai Chi “guru” or a follower of the Daoist philosophy. It is important to understand these ideas and concepts, however, to make your practice of Tai Chi what you want it to be. And that idea, in the end, is what is ultimately important . . . the idea that Tai Chi will help you in your attempt to be the best person that you can be.
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Dianne Bailey is an experienced martial artist and Tai Chi instructor. She created the Open The Door to Tai Chi certification program so that more fitness professionals can quickly and easily learn how to integrate Tai Chi into their exercise programs to improve balance, strength and cognition with their older clients.