Tai Chi is mostly known to people as a slow moving, low-impact, meditative form of exercise. However, they may not be aware that Tai Chi also teaches people how to cultivate their personal energy (chi or qi: pronounced “chee”).
This component of Tai Chi is actually its precursor; Qi Gong (also called Tai Chi Qi Gong). The two are distinct in form and purpose, but appear similar in action.
Tai Chi builds the external body and generates energy through action (yang)–strengthening the musculoskeletal system. Qi Gong cultivates existing energy with breath work and mental focus directing it internally to facilitate organ health and healthy body systems (yin). Tai Chi and Qi Gong are sometimes practiced during the same session.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong consist of a specific series of exercises or forms performed in a specific order. Tai Chi forms tend to be longer and more precise than Qi Gong forms. Several components of the practice need to be performed well to successfully calm the mind when practicing Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
Focus On The Breath
Tai Chi and Qi Gong practitioners employ a deep and expansive breathing style. The abdomen is unrestricted and the breath flows freely in and out of the body through the nostrils. It is steady and smooth not forceful. This breathing style enhances oxygen levels, encourages a quiet mind, and facilitates emotional balance.
Preparation For The Forms
Perform warm-up exercises and Qi Gong exercises to prepare for your Tai Chi practice. For example, the session can begin with the Ball of Energy exercise. The practitioner first rubs their hands together to generate heat then alternately draws the hands apart and back together without touching.
They visualize a ball of energy ebbing and growing between their hands. The exercise ends by drawing the hands completely apart and bringing them to rest by the sides. The warm-up begins the process of creating a state of mental calm and concentration.
Move With Focus And Alignment
In order to properly build, direct, and retain energy, the prescribed application of focus and alignment needs to be followed. Tai Chi and Qi Gong teach specific forms with the purpose of building physical and energetic health. The emphasis on alignment, breath, and which part of the exercise receives your mental focus may change, but the forms and their order do not.
At this point, the practitioner may actually move into meditation. By continually applying the forms, practitioners eventually reach a level where the movements simply flow without them having to actively name and direct each movement.
When this occurs, they enjoy the moving meditation aspects of Tai Chi and Qi Gong as well as the accompanying benefits, a calm mind and general sense of well-being.
Close Your Practice Well
In Tai Chi and Qi Gong, the method used to close the practice is as important as the rest of the practice. The energy cultivated during the practice must be appropriately settled, dispersed, and stored. If not done correctly, the practitioner will experience the opposite of the intended effect of the practice.
A practice needs to end as instructed by a qualified teacher in accordance with the Tai Chi or Qi Gong form being used. The close requires drawing the chi into one or more of the body’s energy centers and refocusing on the present. Completing the practice in this manner allows participants to retain and integrate the calming effects of the practice into their daily activities.
An Activity For All Ages
Tai Chi and Qi Gong may be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels. It effectively calms the mind while increasing focus and awareness making it beneficial for people seeking improved mental health and stress relief.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong may be learned through a variety of media, books, videos and audio recording, however most sources recommend learning the practice in a class setting or via private instruction first.