TL;DR: Tai chi is the means of meditation, rehabilitation, and recreation that you need, all in one.
For just under five weeks last winter, my mother dragged me to a nearby university every Saturday at the crack of dawn to attend a free tai chi class for middle aged adults and physical therapy clients. I always went, albeit unwillingly. My resigned attendance was a direct avoidance of two kinds of guilt — that of declining to learn something new about my heritage, and the other of refusing to spend time with my mom as a full grown adult.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art, stemming from the Confucius principle of “meditation in motion.” The art form, based on the Chinese characters taiji, explores the cosmological fluctuation between yin and yang forces of the universe through centering mind, body, and soul as one. For centuries, Chinese culture has valued the art of tai chi for its spiritual healing properties — in many ways it’s one of the longest standing disciplines of meditation.
It’s important to note that tai chi is for everyone; there are no requirements on skill, body type, age, flexibility, or otherwise. To my surprise, there were athleisure-clad millennials and sixty year old aunties practicing side by side under the east-rising sun every Saturday. Rather, the only essential ingredient to mastering tai chi is a willingness to leave your day’s burdens at the door.
You may recognize a few signature movements from tai chi already — many of them have been incorporated into what’s known as modern day yoga. Tai chi, which has been around since 13th century China, mirrors the tranquil activity found in parts of nature and highly esteemed mantles of society. Poses like the white crane, horse mane, warrior, and scholar are practiced rotationally to become one fluid cycle of motion. Together, they form a peaceful dance of the mind and body.
Combined with qigong, intentional breathing work that’s set to particular body motions, tai chi is sacred for its seemingly magical abilities to alleviate stress and tension from the body and, subsequently, the mind and soul. While it may seem like a breezy, snail-paced assortment of random motions and the occasional “ha!”, the art of slowing down is actually a stimulating exercise of self-control and composure.
There’s that old fable about the tortoise and the hare — a story that has direct applications from tai chi’s learnings. Slow and steady wins some races, if not many. In the same vein, amidst the day to day angst we feel to reach a balanced state of being, tai chi teaches us that it’s not a race at all.
Written by Joanne Xu