Fist-aid for fitness

TREND People the world over are turning to Tai Chi, 
an ancient Chinese martial art form, because of its 
immense health benefits, says SHEILA KUMAR

Sifu George Thomas is the Head of
The Authentic Yang Family Tai Chi
in India, authorised by the Grand
Master and the World Yong Nian
Tai Chi Federation.

He has this to say: Tai Chi is popularly
 described as a Moving Meditation
because the movements are slow,
evenly paced and like a flowing
river. Some call it Chinese Yoga
because it is a combination of
physical exercise, breathing
 technique and meditation.

The benefits of Tai Chi are boundless. It strengthens the energy of the body and
prevents negative elements from penetrating the system. It raises awareness levels,
 controls temper and improves concentration and stamina. For people who are
already fit, it helps maintain fitness levels. It also helps strengthen the joints,
ligaments and tendons, stretch the nerves and tone up the muscles.

Regular Tai Chi practice improves blood circulation and better circulation
of chi (praana or life force); it opens up blocked areas and the naadis
(energy channels) in the body. It helps in better functioning of the central
nervous system, cardio-vascular system, respiratory system and metabolism.

What's more, it is safe for pregnant women, heart patients, people suffering
from arthritis and those who cannot perform strenuous exercise.

Veena Bopanna, 53, a housewife who has been learning Tai Chi for over two years,
sees it as ‘a wonderful alternative to other mediums of exercise,' and is clear about
 Tai Chi's health benefits. “This art brings about a state of equilibrium if practised
regularly,” says Veena.

Kaustav Guha, an instructor at the Authentic Yang Family Tai Chi, Bangalore Chapter,
 throws more light on the subject. Says Guha, “Tai Chi is the perfect cardio-workout
without shock-effects on the ankle, joints, back; people above 50 are particularly
 sensitive to these shocks.”

“Tai Chi consists of slow and graceful movements that, with diligent practice,
strengthens the thigh muscle, bones, tendons and sinews so that the legs can
absorb shock more effectively. Tai Chi exercises ensure that blood circulation
 to and from the liver, spleen, kidneys is improved and overall physical health

“The entire Tai Chi long-form routine takes 21 minutes, about the same time it
takes for the blood circulation to complete a single cycle. Hence, the Tai Chi
routine addresses the complete blood circulation of the body in its exercise,
 emphasising individual parts of the body as the exercise progresses.”

Guha concludes, “Women who are over 50 are particularly vulnerable to osteoporosis
 and unless the bones get the required exercise, they actually start wasting. Tai Chi is
 the perfect exercise for them.”

Let me confess at the very outset: I had always considered Tai Chi to be an exercise
for those who had crossed the silver threshold. As I hovered around that very threshold,
 I joined a class and discovered to my surprise that it consisted mostly of those young
in body, muscle and flexibility. Two classes down, and I was hooked.

Let's delve a little into the history of this beautiful, ancient Chinese martial art.
It is definitely a martial art but considered both hard as well as soft, and is now
practised the world over for its health benefits. Given that Tai Chi forms are performed
 almost as if in slow motion, there is absolutely no danger of any exercise-related injury.

This is no violent martial art. The philosophy behind Tai Chi is that when you meet
force with force, injuries are inevitable. So, students are taught to meet the coming
force with a certain softness which retains an unyielding strength at its core. The
incoming force will either expend itself or will be directed away by the Tai Chi
practitioner. Thus, the yin and the yang of combat are shown with direct simplicity.

Yin and yang
The full name of this form is Tai Chi Chuan and translates to ‘supreme ultimate fist.'
This meld of supreme/ultimate is basically a combine of yin and yang, the active
and  the receptive forces. The fist referred to is also force. It is also about a martial
art that summons inner power rather than relying only on external physical power.
The sequence of forms is derived from the natural movement of birds and animals.
All the forms are performed keeping the spine straight, letting the body move in a
natural manner and employing the correct abdominal breathing techniques.

In Chinese philosophy and medicine, there exists the concept of ‘chi,' a vital force
that animates the body. One of the avowed aims of Tai Chi is to foster the circulation
 of this ‘chi' within the body, the belief being that by doing so, the health and vitality
of the person are enhanced.

Every Tai Chi form is done bringing the full power of the mind into focus. Needless
to say, it immediately calms the mind. The head has to be cleared of all detritus of life
 and living, and then filled with the consideration of the forms the body is about to
undertake. Slow, repetitive, meditative, low impact… this is how Tai Chi begins.
After months, even years, of training, it morphs into realistic, active, fast, high
 impact. It is more about defence than attack, more about neutralising than attacking.

Increasingly in the West, clinics and Senior Citizen Centres have incorporated Tai Chi
classes for its health benefits. The fact that it is a low-stress form of exercise is one
of its biggest appeals. It promotes cardiovascular health and digestion, keeps the joints
limber and reduces the risk of falls in the elderly. It has been known to help people with
osteoarthritis, as well as reduce the severity of diabetes. Overall, the physical and
mental well-being it induces is the biggest benefit.

• Tai Chi is all about suppleness and elasticity. Bending back like a weed to spring
 upright again.
• Centredness. Careful attention to each and every movement.
• Alignment. Steadiness of the legs, flexibility of the torso. Smooth movements,
internal stillness.
• Tai Chi is best done in the open, never on a full stomach, at dawn but not before
daybreak, and between 11 p.m. to midnight, not later than that, either.
• So there you have it: Tai Chi will strengthen the body, making it easy to deflect attack.
 It will calm the mind and make it more reflective. It will help the body acquire flexibility.
Just go do it.
• All you require is the commitment, loose clothing and flat, comfortable shoes. Oh,
 and a good Master, of course.


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