The Internal Power Of Tai Chi



We know that cardio or aerobic exercise is essential and good for your health. Your heart rate increases, and it makes your blood pump faster. This delivers more oxygen throughout your body, which keeps your heart and lungs healthy.

Cardio can do other things like help you to lose weight, and get better sleep. It also reduces your risk of chronic disease. You can do many cardio exercises and all these exercises are advertised as being effective for your health and longevity. It seems you could do any number of cardio exercises these days to stay healthy and strong, including squat jumps, jumping jacks, or butt kicks.

What is so important and different about Tai Chi and why do it?

Is it because it’s considered to be a modern form of aerobic exercise? Or do people do Tai Chi so that they don’t have to sweat profusely and breathe hard as they would when doing a more conventional cardio exercise?

Tai Chi is an effective exercise for your health and longevity. 

A major difference between Tai Chi and aerobic exercise is in how you train to acquire your power and strength to stay healthy. Cardio exercise movements look, feel, and are different from Tai Chi movements. Cardio movements are a bit more mechanical with the emphasis on using the large muscles of your body in movement over a sustained period of time.

You might categorize Tai Chi as an internal exercise and cardio exercise as an external form of exercise. 

Internal refers to how you internally get your physical power and strength.  Having internal power is not about what your body outwardly looks like. Instead, Tai Chi movements are imbued with the knowledge of Chi energy, and how your Chi energy can be incorporated into the exercise.  Activating the chi in your body is part of the exercise and it shows you how to make the movements come alive. The internal Chi energy techniques of Tai Chi can make your muscles relaxed, strong, fast, sensitive, and extremely responsive to your environment.

External exercises, such as jogging, sprinting, and push-ups, generate powerful movements from using a level of intensity that could stiffen your muscles.  You build on your muscular strength, use bursts of physical energy, and sometimes use overt aggression that comes from the release of adrenaline. These exercises or movements have a sense of hardness, force or strain behind them. By contrast, the internal movements of Tai Chi are slow, soft and effortless and they come out more fluidly.

Make no mistake, by doing Tai Chi, you are generating strength and power to stay healthy.

Tai Chi’s a good complementary practice to your regular workout.


The source of the power of Tai Chi is in this mysterious life force energy called Chi. You can do the same movement or exercise externally or internally. The difference lies in exactly how you use your mind, body, and energy to make the movement happen. For example, one essential component when doing Tai Chi is to use breathing methods which can range from the very simple to complex.

In normal breathing, your belly expands when you inhale and your belly shrinks when you exhale. In reverse breathing, you do the opposite. You shrink the belly when you inhale, and expand the belly when you exhale.  Tai Chi practice is used to cultivate internally-oriented attention to your body’s sensations.  This in turn improves your health by calming the mind and signals your body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Take a simple squat. When you do a simple squat, you lower your body, bend the knees, bring your arms back, and get into a squat. Then you come right back up, swinging your arms forward. You then bend your knees again, go down to get into a squat. Then you come right back up with your arms.  This is the mechanical way of doing a squat. It’s a very simple and practical exercise. 

Now, take the same movements, but add breathwork to it.

Let’s try it with reverse abdominal breathing (follow me on the video):

1. Exhale, lunge forward, releasing your stomach and belly.

2. Continue to sink down with your breath and bend your knees to get into a squat.

3. Then inhale, energize, shrink the belly and come right back up with your arms.


Exhale, relax, expand and drop your belly. Go down and lunge forward, bend the knees, and get into a squat. Then energize, come up, inhale. Shrink your belly by pulling up your arms. Relax back down and settle into your feet.

Feel the difference?

Every part and energetic function within your body will get larger and smaller in coordination with the expansion and contraction of your belly.  By using this procedure consciously, you activate the Chi or the body’s intelligence to grow and regrow in a healthy manner.

This happens when you add breathing to your technique.

Let’s do some Tai Chi and explore how we can use breathing to bring the movements to life (with normal abdominal breathing).

1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart.  Release the hips, bend the knees, shrink your body.

2. Sink into your feet, exhale all the way.

3. Energize. Expand the belly out.

4. Exhale, relax, and sink back down.

5. Energize, expand the belly.

6. Exhale, sink back down. 

7. Energize, and turn.

8. Shift the weight. Step, exhale. Then expand out.

9. Sink back down, turn, exhale all the way.

10. Energize, expand out to make your shape.

When you do Tai Chi, your movements follow your breath. When you exhale, your body shrinks. When you inhale your body expands. This expansion and contraction in coordination with your breathing magnifies the results of your movements.

How? The air you breathe in is not just the oxygen coming from the environment, but it’s also the energy you’re taking in from the environment.  The energy that surrounds you is in your body and you are incorporating it for your body’s use, filling your body up with energy.

What if through breathing, you coordinate your mind, body, and energy and move as one unit? Wouldn’t that be healthy for your body, and therefore powerful?

What are some other components or energy techniques used in Tai Chi which make it an internal art?

Stay tuned and follow me on Twitter to find out.

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