Tai Chi
By David-Dorian Ross



Everyone knows that dynamic good health depends in part on physical exercise. The human body was made for work - for movement. Our ancestors got their exercise from survival activities, like chasing down the woolly mammoth or plowing the lower forty.

In our modern world, however, our lives are too sedentary. Our work is in the factory rather than the field, or in the office instead of on the ocean. So we need to add exercise to keep our bodies healthy.

The question is, what kind of exercise is best for you? Weight training for strength? Pilates for six-pack abs? Yoga for flexibility? Or perhaps a mixture of several different kinds of exercise that you blend together - a format that fitness professionals call, "cross training."

But what if there were a single workout that could satisfy all your fitness needs, and more?  And what would you call it?  What would you call a workout that was simultaneously a system of self-defense, a shield against disease, a means of meditation and a beautiful dance?

What would you call a system that could possibly cure cancer and heart disease - or a sport in which one could be a serious world-class competitor at age 90?

Well, you might call it...  T'ai Chi Ch'uan - one of the world's most popular workouts. It's practiced by more than a billion people throughout Asia and around the world. T'ai Chi Ch'uan is called "the ultimate exercise" for body, mind and Spirit.

But what is it that makes T'ai Chi Ch'uan - or just T'ai Chi, as it is often called - so special? If you've ever been curious about this ancient Chinese martial art, here are just three things you ought to know.

First of all, T'ai Chi is a phenomenal physical workout. The solo forms -those slow-motion dances you see people doing in the park in the early morning - are much more strenuous than most people imagine they will be.

From a distance the forms look so gentle and relaxed. It seems certain that not much effort is required. Yet even active, athletic individuals find thatT'ai Chi Ch'uan is a challenging and fulfilling workout.

T'ai Chi hits every fitness aspect you would want from a good workout. It builds great lower body strength and flexibility, and along the way delivers a terrific cardio workout. In the beginning, the upper body doesn't seem to get much resistance training - but that changes as soon as you begin to practice the T'ai Chi sword, or include the weighted T'ai Chi ball.

The greatest workout benefit of T'ai Chi, however, is how it hones your balance and coordination, which makes it the perfect complement to any other sport or exercise. No matter what your other sport may be, T'ai Chi will make it better.

The second important benefit of T'ai Chi is how it helps you manage and relieve stress - and who couldn't benefit from that?  Good T'ai Chi practice teaches you to release the pent-up tensions in your mind and physical body, leading to what is known as the "relaxation response."

The relaxation response is a total release of the unconscious muscle tensions and a reversal of the stress hormones that have created our chronic "stress responses" (our automatic reactions to stress, like increased blood pressure and heart rate, shallow breathing and elevated cortisol levels).Relaxation responses are the antidote to stress in our lives, and T'ai Chi practice is your ticket to accumulating them on a regular basis.

Finally, T'ai Chi has a deeply metaphysical or philosophical side (some would even say Spiritual). This is the most exciting part of T'ai Chi for me. The art of T'ai Chi is based on ancient principles that not only teach you about exercise and self-defense, but about life itself.

In a world in which many are searching for clues to achieving happiness and how to follow their bliss (witness the enormous popularity of Eckhart Tolle on Oprah), T'ai Chi comes to us with a fully formed, centuries-old system.

What T'ai Chi does is teach you the principles for living in a very physical way. For example, almost all Spiritual systems talk about the importance of "balance" in your life. But what does that really mean? How are you supposed to use balance to your advantage?

Most of the time, you are left to figure that out for yourself. But T'ai Chi demands that you balance your physical body, teaches you how to do it, and shows you the consequences of not having balance (you fall down).

Although I have been teaching T'ai Chi for exercise and stress managementfor 25 years, I now use T'ai Chi primarily in my life coaching practice. I use a process called the Full Circle coaching method that combines the metaphors of the Hero's Journey with training in T'ai Chi - but more about that in my next article!

Of course, these three aspects aren't the end of the story of T'ai Chi by along shot. T'ai Chi is like a wonderful jewel with hundreds of facets. Each time you turn the jewel, you find yourself looking at a new facet, a new face of T'ai Chi. If you want to learn more about the other faces of T'aiChi, try taking a class - Autumn is the perfect time to begin learning the ultimate exercise for body, mind and Spirit!

David-Dorian Ross is the owner of Full Circle Fitness and Full Circle Coaching in Corona del Mar, CA. A seven-time U.S. National Gold Medalist in T'ai Chi, who has also won two World bronze medals and a silver medal, he is passionate about helping people champion their own lives. He is a dynamic motivational speaker with a powerful message about finding the hero within. For more info, visit www.drtaichi.com


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