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What is Tai Chi?

Kung fu is a term which refers to Chinese martial arts in general, developed in ancient times as rigorous systems of fighting. Tai chi is a particular type of kung fu using characteristically slower, softer movements that cultivate the flow of internal energy throughout the body. Because of these characteristics, tai chi has many applications beyond its originally martial intent.

Today, the vast majority of people learn tai chi for its numerous health benefits. It is a low impact exercise that can be used to reduce stress, to improve coordination and balance, and to tone all muscle groups of the body. Many Chinese people consider tai chi to be one of the best exercises to deter illnesses brought on by inactivity. Tai chi is part of the national physical fitness program in China.

Tai chi is typically practiced via a form, or a series of smoothly connected postures, each with a martial art application. The movements incorporate every part of the body and benefit all bodily systems, not just the musculo-skeletal system. The movements are designed to massage the internal organs and enhance the blood circulation.

The mental process necessary to execute the form also develops the practitioner's concentration. The practitioner learns deep and relaxed breathing methods and focuses on channelling the chi, or internal energy, throughout the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, good health is maintained as long as the flow of chi throughout the body is unobstructed. Also, the theory of the yin-yang symbol, the balance of opposites, is embodied in the postures and the form.

Tai chi can be used to develop cardiovascular fitness even though it is usually practiced more slowly than high impact sports. If the form is practiced in a low stance, great cardiovascular stimulation can occur. High impact sports have the disadvantage that they can be performed too strenuously and can typically be done only by people in top physical condition. For people with high blood pressure or people with other medical limitations, tai chi can be practiced more gently using higher stance.

Tai chi is an ideal physical exercise for people of all ages, women and men alike. The self-paced nature of tai chi allows it to be tailored to individuals at various levels of physical fitness. Its gentle, low impact movements, coupled with the development of the practitioner's internal energy, make it an activity that can enrich a person's life for many years.

-- Stirling Levine