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The Benefits of Tai Chi by Chris DeTora

The health benefits of Tai Chi are well known—stress reduction, improvements in balance, the balancing of metabolic functions and the development of patience, concentration and focus. There are many disease specific studies, most recently for Parkinson’s disease but also for issues ranging from arthritis to bi-polar disorders, which demonstrate the benefits of Tai Chi. There seems to be no end to the ways in which a Tai Chi practice can increase our well-being.

The Interconnectedness of Yin and Yang

Tai Chi is a physical practice of yin/yang so we must first develop an understanding of the concept of yin/yang. Yin is receptive. It is passive. Yin is empty, open, female and seed. Yang is abounding. It is active. Yang is full, closed, male and fruit. But this is merely a definition or a description of opposites that leads to the idea of yin or yang. It the most basic understanding but gives us only part of the picture. It ignores the connection between the two.

Yin/yang are not independent. They cannot exist without each other. They define one another. Yin/yang are interconnected. They describe the extremes of a relationship. Where yin is empty, yang is full. So when we extrapolate this to our Tai Chi practice, when left is full, right is empty. And this is the beginning—the first connection. In Tai Chi, yin/yang is expressed through the physical practice of movement or the form.

Once this connection is made it can be explored. Rather than on/off or two connected and discrete values, the connection itself becomes more significant. It is similar to a cup. The cup doesn’t exist in either the emptiness or fullness—it is in a constant state of change. There is a flow between empty and full or a cycle of filling and emptying. When the cup is full it has to empty. This is natural and inevitable. Yin and yang create one another.

The interplay between yin/yang states becomes the focus of Tai Chi practice. Observing the transition from yin to yang to yin again as the movement progresses through the body is what creates the gentle flow in the movements. It begins to open the door to all the seemingly mystical or esoteric aspects of practice which are a natural extension of the exploration of yin/yang.

A Yin/Yang Exercise

This is all just talk without a practical application, so here’s something to try. It is the most basic experience of yin/yang we can have.

1. Sit or stand somewhere.

2. Be comfortable.

3. Relax. (No pressure. No force.)

4. Breathe naturally. (Do not force the breath. Do not hold the breath.)

5. Observe.

Feel the expansion and contraction of the abdomen or the chest. Notice what happens as you breathe. This is yin/yang. It is a cycle. No beginning and no end. Just exchange. Observe the natural transition from empty and full.

The yin/yang relationship is natural and inherent in people. Most of the challenge in practice is getting out of the way. The above practice gives real experience of yin/yang in the body. It helps develop the patience required of practice and the observational skill to practice with the correct mindset. It is the foundation of the mental and emotional benefits as well. By allowing the breath to be natural, we release tension. With increased patience, stress is reduced. As we strengthen our observation of the self, we increase our peace of mind and dissolve self-criticism. And then we heal, grow and prosper.

Chris DeTora has been practicing and teaching Chinese martial arts and health exercises since 1994. From his experience and exploration of these arts he has developed a number of programs for mental health, addiction treatment, counselors, at risk youth and businesses. He is the founder of Zhen Xun Kung Fu which offers regular Kung Fu and Tai Chi classes in Nyack. For more information, call 642-8796 or visit ZhenXunKungFu.com.

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