Summary and excerpts from:
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi
"12 Weeks to A Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind"
by Peter Wayne, PhD, with Mark L. Fuerst
At the most obvious, physical level, Tai Chi is an exercise that aims to strengthen, stretch, balance, coordinate and integrate the left and right halves of the body, the upper and lower halves of the body, and the extremities of the body with the inside or core. At a more subtle level, Tai Chi integrates body and mind. Body movements are coordinated with rhythmic, conscious breathing and multiple cognitive and emotional components – including focused attention, heightened self-awareness, visualization, imagery, and intention.
Tai Chi practice can be of great benefit for:
Sports & Athletes
Most people who succeed as an athlete cross-train – that is, participate in a variety of activities in addition to their chosen sport. Cross-training helps prevent you from suffering overuse injuries. Alternating activities also relieves the monotony of repeating the same training program over and over again. You can choose the best qualities of other sports to enhance your overall physical and mental skills.
Tai Chi provides flexibility, balance, and strength, as well as gentle conditioning. Tai Chi can also help improve your focus and reflexes, enhance your range of motion, and open up new neuromuscular pathways. For some athletes, Tai Chi becomes a lifetime sport.
Tai Chi training can help you develop the physical attributes and inner strength that you can apply to sports. Athletes can benefit from applying many of the ingredients of Tai Chi, including intention, deep breathing, integrated movement, and moderation. Visualization and motor imagery are widely used to enhance sports performance. Tai Chi's use of visualization can train your mind as you would train a muscle. The deepened mind-body connection and practice of visualization will help you carry out those movements during an actual performance.
Tai Chi breathing can be used as a tool for relaxation; a relaxed athlete is a more efficient, better coordinated athlete. Relaxation can eliminate tension, stress, and anxiety that can impede your performance.
Musculoskeletal strength, flexibility, and neuromuscular coordination and reflexes are all integral parts of Tai Chi. Tai Chi training also helps you balance out both sides of the body. You are always ready to go left or right, and so never get stuck in an unbalanced position.
Dance & Other Moving Arts
The practice of Tai Chi has much to teach any student of dance. There are obvious things- balance, centeredness, and continuity of motion. The slowness of the motion of Tai Chi, moving as if under water, heightens the body's consciousness of space. The air around the body takes on a viscous quality. Space, the dancer's medium, becomes real and substantial.
- TEM HOROWITZ AND SUSAN KIMMELMAN, Tai Chi Ch'uan
Modern dance and ballet are based on similar principles of body alignment as Tai Chi. The joints are relaxed and the body "hangs" from the crown of the head as if suspended from above. The arms rarely move in isolation from the rest of the body. All movement begins in the center as the waist swings with no strain.
As in Tai Chi, a dancer integrates the torso with legs. Both dancers and Tai Chi practitioners cultivate the skill of balancing on one leg. The "empty" leg is freed to extend and rotate at the hip.
The Tai Chi 70/30 percent principle is also very helpful for dancers, who tend to suffer injuries through overexertion and overstretching. In working to stretch their muscles even further, they may go beyond their body's natural ability to compensate. Tai Chi can help soften muscles and connective tissues so they can stretch further without using as much force. Tai Chi also offers some rest and protection against injury for the hard-working dancer. Therefore, the healing, stress-relieving, and meditative qualities of Tai Chi may be especially appealing to dancers.
Tai Chi may also help improve a dancer's performance. Tai Chi relaxes and opens the joints and ligaments, allowing movements that are more fluid. It strongly develops whole-body coordination through the integration of the upper and lower body. Tai Chi increases leg strength, reflexes, and lightness, all valuable for dancers.
If you like music, you will probably like Tai Chi. You can learn to tune into your body and know what that means. When you learn to do Tai Chi well and correct your form, your whole body resonates. You can feel your body in tune, opening, and the Qi flowing. This dynamic expression of the moment is also what musicians strive to achieve.
The right-brain, nonverbal, sensing patterns and the forms of expression are similar in both. Both involve fluidity within structure. The more fluid you become, the better you can sense the vibrational qualities. Musicians are tuned in to a kinesthetic style of learning, and they are familiar with the complex and dynamic process of learning new skills./p>
Many similarities exist between music and Tai Chi. Both need a body that is full of energy and yet soft. A musician must let go of tension to play well, just as Tai Chi will not flow with tension. Both music and Tai Chi require physical, mental, and emotional balance, as well as centeredness and focus. A musician strings together motifs and phrases, just as a Tai Chi practitioner links movements in the form. Proper posture and body alignment are important for both.
Painting & Writing
A painter strives for vigorous, rhythmic brush-strokes, flowing lines, and spirited projection of his or her thoughts onto the canvas. The positive energy and concentration accumulated in Tai Chi training may enable a painter to create with greater ease. Similarly, mobilizing and maintaining energy plays a vital part in a writer's success. The process of writing takes tremendous concentration and perseverance. Tai Chi exercises can enhance energy while inducing a pleasant state of relaxation and help you develop your ability to let your thoughts flow naturally. Relaxation means slowing down the mind so that Qi can move smoothly.
Just as the learning process for Tai Chi takes place on various levels – physical, emotional, and cognitive – so the writing process flows through physical, emotional, and cognitive phases. Tai Chi movements can help you slow down or quiet your mind, relax into the process, and dissolve psychological blockages, such as writer's block. A writer often sits for long hours without moving. Simple Qigong or Tai Chi exercises can help move Qi after hours of sitting. Energy gained from Tai Chi's graceful movements not only helps focus the mind, but also can energize one's writing.