Tai Chi is a health system that has stood the test of time for some decades now.
It has emerged into the mainstream as a beneficial health exercise. Tai Chi emphasizes the use of the mind and its partnership with the physical body to create awareness for health and healing. There are many possibilities for the health and healing of the body in this reliable system. Tai Chi calls attention to the importance of stretching, body alignment, breath work, and Chi energy.
Most notably, Tai Chi seeks to integrate body, mind, and energy without the use of force.
Rather than using force to stretch for example, Tai Chi emphasizes relaxation and letting go in physical terms first. Tai Chi helps you to relax so that you can stretch the body. It helps you to create some distance to help you emotionally and mentally to let go. It’s based on the Taoist philosophy of developing and using your Chi or life force energy to strengthen and heal.
I’ve said this many times, Tai Chi is the art of letting go.
So what are you letting go of?
Tai Chi teaches you to relax so that you can stretch. One of the first lessons in Tai Chi is to let go of your body. You let go physically for stretching to take place. As you know, stretching is beneficial for health and healing. You do exercises every day to stretch your body. For that purpose, stretching can help you increase your flexibility, which is an important factor in fitness. It also can improve your posture, reduce stress and body aches, and stretching increases your range of motion.
Tai Chi moves your joints through their full range of motion, as they were intended to by nature. This gives you more freedom of movement.
Stretching also helps you to prepare your muscles for activity and therefore improves your physical performance. Stretching also increases the blood flow to your muscles and organs. Finally, stretching calms your mind. It gives your mind a mental break.
How does Tai Chi help you to stretch?
When you watch someone do Tai Chi, you don’t necessarily see this person stretching. Remember Tai Chi teaches you to relax in order to stretch. It’s so different from the exercises we normally do every day.
Everyday exercises, like calisthenics and yoga, teach us to stretch so that we can relax. Some stretches hold your body in a position for a length of time. This is called static stretching. Some stretches are done actively to get your muscles ready for movement. This is called dynamic stretching.
By contrast, Tai Chi neither tells you to hold or to actively stretch.
Instead, Tai Chi emphasizes the following points:
1. Tai Chi practice involves never holding your breath. There is no “stop and go” in Tai Chi. All movements flow together. Therefore, your breathing is smooth and continuous.
2. Tai Chi does not teach you to breathe into the front of your chest. Rather it teaches you to sink and drop your chest. You do not thrust your chest forward as you do when you exert yourself. In fact, Tai Chi advocates relaxing your chest.
3. Tai Chi practice emphasizes stretching through sophisticated flowing movements. You get your muscles to stretch by getting your ligaments to release, using fluid motion, to move.
4. Tai Chi emphasizes an elongated stretching of the spine. You do this by dropping and releasing the hip. Then by dropping your tailbone, keep your head up so you establish a connection with the earth, and as well as remain connected to heaven. This gives you a nice elongated spine for moving the energy up and down your body.
5. Tai Chi practice involves letting go and getting into the flow. This is both a physical and mental exercise. When you’re able to let go of your distractions and attachments, you get into the zone where you are calm. They just melt away.
Again, Tai Chi doesn’t emphasize exerting yourself or using force to make something happen. In this case, you are not forcing yourself into a stretch.
Tai Chi doesn’t involve tensing your muscles in order to achieve a stretch afterward. It utilizes a very soft form of movements that strongly emphasizes deep relaxation so your body naturally enters into a nice stretch.
Let’s do the soft form right now, and I will demonstrate.
1. Sink into your right foot.
2. Step with the left, and shift the weight.
3. Turn in, exhale, relax, sink, and release the hips.
4. Bend the knees, drop your tailbone and keep your head up, elongating your spine for a nice stretch.
Feel the stretch in your spine:
1. Energize the fingers up in front of you. Extend them out.
2. Exhale, relax, sink back down.
3. Energize the fingers.
4. Relax back down. Feel that nice stretch of the spine.
5. Turn and energize.
6. Shift the weight.
7. Step, exhale all the way.
8. Energize one hand up one hand down.
9. One hand faces the other two.
10. Turn again, step out.
11. Exhale, drop, sink, relax.
12. Energize, and ward off.
13. Then roll back and open your arms.
14. Exhale into your right foot, press.
15. Then shift the weight back, open and shift your weight into the right foot. Exhale all the way.
16. Energize and push.
17. Shift the weight back, winding up. Feel that nice stretch along the right arm and oblique muscle.
18. Energize turn.
19. Exhale, relax, sink.
20. Turn and stretch.
So what if you don’t need to tense first to achieve a stretch afterward?
How do you practice letting go? Follow me on YouTube to find out more information about Tai Chi and its stretching capabilities.