What is Tai Chi Chuan?
What is the essence of Tai Chi Chuan? Regarding the short form, which many have witnessed practiced in public spaces, people are engaged in what appears to be a repetitive exercise. But why repeat those movements, day by day, year after year?
There must be essential elements that are stimulated or uncovered through this concentrated practice, or millions of individuals would not be continuing this practice. I would like to share with you the important essence behind the practice of Tai Chi Chuan, and how that essence benefits mental and physical well-being and health.
In this and subsequent articles, I plan to discuss these essential elements with you, the reader, based on my lifetime practice of meditation and Tai Chi Chuan. And if you are already familiar with these essential elements, I hope to support and share understanding and insight, for mutual benefit.
At nearly 70 years old, I am healthy and active, don’t need medication, and am in a good, positive state of mind. I attribute that good overall state to practicing meditation and Tai Chi Chuan, and trying to incorporate their principles of nondualism into daily life. Of course, given the nature of life, that good health could change at any time, but for now, it is something for which I am grateful.
Starting at the beginning, what does the name “Tai Chi Chuan” mean? Two translations you may encounter are “Grand Ultimate Fist” and “Great Polarity Boxing.” The two translations are pointing to the same transcendent understanding. Of course, words are always pointers; it is up to our selves to explore and experience the important meanings of the words.
It is our human nature, to contain and live with both passive, or yin, and active, or yang. These are the seeming “utimates” or “polarities”. And when we see and express both clearly, we can understand a truth which is beyond those opposites. “Fist” and “boxing” refer to the efforts for insight, as well as the efforts for the wise action of martial arts. Insight and action cannot be separated except as a convenience for discussion.
For me, Tai Chi Chuan is study of how our mind and body harmonize at a deep level, which results in a more meaningful experience of the world. Our clear mind and flowing energy, developed through practice, are experienced as spaciousness and true freedom.
Tai Chi Chuan practice is a way to turn our human potential into reality. I find that Tai Chi Chuan practice helps mind and body be more grounded, helps release tensions that would otherwise accumulate, and fosters that sense of spaciousness and true freedom.
So, with a topic as important as experiencing your best self day by day, let’s discuss the nature of this practice. In following articles, we will also discuss more specific principles, and ultimately look at the details of brain and body connection and movement that make this practice meaningful and impactful in everyday life.
Because it supports expression of the “grand polarities” of letting go and engaging energetically, Tai Chi Chuan is a practice of both mind and body. Human nature cannot live with fulfillment with only the physical, nor for that matter with only the mental; insight and expression go hand-in-hand and cannot truly be separated.
Without a good practice of presence, such as meditation or Tai Chi Chuan, we are liable to become wrapped up in inner and outer stresses. If we live with excessive passive, or yin, we will experience disruptive sadness and lack of energy, and not be able to release those. If we live with excessive active, or yang, we will experience anxiety and tension, and not be able to release those.
Conversely, letting go of opposites, letting go of tension based in worry for the past or future, and instead living peacefully in the present, with the flowing changes moment to moment, is like taking the best imaginable vacation, where well-being takes over—and there are no hotel or flight reservations needed!
Tai Chi Chuan is a practice of moving freely between our passive and active, and thereby uncovering and enabling the nondualistic fundamental nature that we all have as human beings. That is good for health as well as mental well-being. Nondualism means peacefulness, a non-conflicting mind, and freedom to express fully and with empathy, in each moment.
As practitioners of Tai Chi Chuan, we are walking on a path to greater understanding and expression of our essence, the best of our capacity as human beings. I believe that path is a foundation for living in the best way, moment by moment.
When the mind and body are harmonized, our actions become helpful and authentically compassionate, while our mind is able to find peacefulness, with reduced inner and outer conflict, and with more energy available for important activities.
That is the essence of Tai Chi Chuan, if we want to understand and experience its value. Although at the beginning these principles are not very clear, through practice and over time we can unfold a growing awareness of these important principles, express more meaning in our daily lives, and be more effective in accomplishing our important goals in life.