The ancient art of Tai Chi is a path to holistic well being, but it requires patience and dedication, says Fabien Bastin.

“Tai Chi Chuan, the great ultimate, strengthens the weak, raises the sick, invigorates the debilitated, and encourages the timid.”

Cheng Man Ching, Master of Five Excellences.

Literally translated, tai chi chuan means “Supreme Ultimate Fist”. This Chinese martial art is practiced not only for defence but also for health. However, a student who wishes to use this form for defence requires a lot of understanding since it is not so much using force to fight that matters as being able to estimate the opponent's force. This requires a lot of training.

Connected to Nature

Characterised by slow dance-like movements with graceful steps and gently swinging hands, tai chi is beautiful to watch. The names of the forms are all connected to nature; so you have names like ‘wave hands like moving clouds', ‘parting the wild horse's mane', ‘grasping the peacock's tail' and so on. At the end of the session, the practitioner feels rejuvenated, energised and at peace with oneself. Practising tai chi is a spiritual journey, transporting one to a different plane.

Fabien Bastin, a teacher with the Inner Way School based in Provence, France, recently demonstrated the power of this ancient art at a workshop organised by Prakriti Foundation, Chennai. The School was founded in 1988 by Vlady Stevanovitch, a Master of Chi. In India, the centre is located in Auroville, Puducherry.

A practitioner for 23 years, Bastin says, “Tai chi is working with the chi. It is an inner way to increase the flow of chi in the body. When the chi in the body is blocked, then you begin to feel uncomfortable or even ill. By practising tai chi the chi begins to flow. Well being is one of the by products of the art.”

In tai chi, the chi or prana is the energy principle. So you will find that the movements are not forced by the muscles but activated by the chi. Thus, the chi moves through the body relaxing your muscles and joints and helping your breathing. A deep sense of peace pervades your body and mind. This is because all the vital functions are being subtly activated. It is a meditation in motion. But, though you are meditating, you are continuously aware of the present; the here and now.

Tai chi is not only about balancing the yin and the yang but also the fusion of the two. The art is said to have evolved from the many Chinese philosophical principles; Taoism and Confucianism among them. Tai chi movements or the forms can be either defence techniques or response moves.

Health benefits

Tai chi movements can also be done with weapons: sword or sabre. There are also exercises, known as ‘push hands', where two people work together. This is to increase sensitivity and awareness among the practitioners. The more you do this, the more tuned you are with the other person's energy and can slowly begin to anticipate their moves.

People the world over have acknowledged the health benefits offered by the regular practise of tai chi. Besides the benefits to health that it offers, tai chi is a great way to bust stress.

Since tai chi is easy to learn and practice, anyone can learn this martial art. A person who is highly stressed may find it difficult to concentrate and relax initially. But as you keep practising, you will find your muscles beginning to relax and the level of stress decreasing.

Tai chi, though a martial art, is also a meditation. It is through the meditation that one develops calmness.

Regular practice of tai chi also ensures that your posture is good at all times, your balance is better and your overall awareness of being in the present is very high. As a form of defence it uses the opponent's movements and centre of gravity to guide your own moves. In tai chi force is never used. It is this gentleness that helps you calm yourself.

At the Inner Way School, they have a short session of preparing oneself. Bastin says that people in most European countries have a low capacity of feeling. Despite doing tai chi for many years they still do not feel the chi. So the Inner Way School has devised a short meditation before the practise to awaken the chi.

Tai chi is a long process. It requires patience and dedication. It is an effective path to meditation and regulating the flow of chi, ultimately leading to holistic well being. The ultimate secret to reap the benefits of tai chi is to practise…practise and practise.

Quick facts

Bust stress. A highly stressed person may find it difficult initially. But keep practicing and slowly your muscles relax and your stress levels decrease.

Regular practice also ensures that your posture is good at all times and your balance is better.

Your overall awareness of being in the present is very high.

The gentleness that helps you calm yourself.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012