Tai Ji: Traditional Practice
in a World of Technology
by James D. Blodget
originally published in the NWMET Journal Fall 2000
When the call for NW/MET presentations went out, I asked myself, "What
has made the biggest change in my professional life since the last conference?"
The answer surprised me. It wasn't some new gadget or strategy. It was
Tai Ji - a form of meditation through movement.
What is it?
Tai Ji (pronounced "tie gee") is a form of both mental and
physical exercise which can be done in as little as 10 minutes a day.
The name Tai Ji means the study of peaceful energy. It is the foundation
for the other martial arts. It stresses flexibility and vigor, but opposes
excessive exertion. Heart rate is never accelerated. It quiets the mind.
Tai Ji was developed in the 12th an 13th centuries by temple monks in
China who sat around most of the day. They were looking for a way to
stay healthy and feel energized. There is nothing mystical, mysterious
or religious about Tai Ji. The basic movements are very practical techniques
which have been perfected over nine centuries.
The form I am studying is called Tai Ji Ch'uan Yang Style and is one
of many styles of Tai Ji. I started taking a Tai Ji class about 6 months
ago in the Fall of 1999. So. realize that I am a beginner, not an expert
and that I present this information with the zeal of a novice who has
experienced some initial success. Tai Ji has intrigued me for some time.
The slow relaxed graceful movements appealed to me and I wondered about
the health benefits of this non-aerobic exercise. I had tried other
martial arts - jujitsu, kung fu and fencing. What appeals to me about
Tai Ji is that it is not competitive. It's something I can do both in
terms of time and effort. It's enjoyable, it can be done with a group
or alone, and it's gentle. It can be done for life if you wish.
Where was I?
I went through a long bout of flu last Spring and I spent most of the
summer trying to recuperate. My energy in the Fall was low. I was sick
and tired of feeling sick and tired all the time. I was feeling old
and burned out and beginning to accept that state as the norm. I was
scattered and stressed out with a lot of neck and shoulder pain. After
about five weeks of practicing Tai Ji for an hour and a half two days
a week, I started to notice an improvement. I had more energy throughout
the day. I had fewer highs and lows. My concentration improved. I was
more alert and attended better. My sleep improved. I had less pain in
my shoulders and neck. Oddly enough I noticed that even my sense of
smell was improving. I had fewer mood swings. I was less scattered,
more balanced and centered.
How does it work?
The neat thing is, it doesn't matter. What impressed me early on about
Tai Ji is that you can be a skeptic and it still works. It is not a
placebo effect. Western doctors attribute the benefits of Tai Ji to
the fact that deep, slow breathing increases the level of oxygen in
the blood stream and improves the efficiency of how energy is produced
throughout the body. Also, slow relaxed movements help stimulate the
lymph system which helps to remove waste products stored in the muscles.
Concentrating on your breathing distracts you from other kinds of thought.
The result is a quieting of the mind. It gets rid of the noise. The
Chinese say that energy flows through the body through a network of
pathways called meridians. Tai Ji increases the flow of energy through
the meridians and helps to release any blockages much the way acupuncture
does. Also, doing Tai Ji in the morning helps you store energy in your
body for use later in the day.
How do you begin?
Start by putting your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Place the
tip behind your front teeth and lay the tongue flat against roof. Don't
press it. Just lay it there. Close your lips and relax your jaw. Your
back teeth will separate a little bit and you will do all your breathing
though your nose. Relax your shoulders and notice how your breath goes
in and out of your nose and down the air passage into your lungs and
abdomen. Try this whenever you happen to think of it throughout the
day while waiting in line or driving or reading your email or doing
the dishes. This simple technique will help you to relax and after a
while it will become a trigger for eliciting a relaxation response.
The best way to learn Tai Ji is to take a class. I encourage you to
find a teacher in your area and join a class or group. There a many
books and videos about Tai Ji. One book I like is "The Healer Within"
by Roger Jahnke.
What is it like?
The short form is done in about 10 minutes and consists of about 25
moves. A session takes about 20 minutes - 10 minutes of warm up exercises
and 10 minutes for the short form. The long form takes about 40 minutes
and has about 110 movements. The upper body is totally relaxed. The
legs do all the work. The movements are like a dance. Once you begin
you flow slowly and gracefully in one continuous movement to the end.
The essence of Tai Ji is not in the dance however. It is in the slow
controlled deep breathing and the clearing of the mind of all thought.
What have I learned?
You are never too old to feel good and have enough energy to do what
you want. You can set the pace of your own life. It helps to practice
a slow relaxed state and to have a trigger to evoke a relaxation response.
This is not about analysis. It's about learning by doing. I have become
aware of old habits - sitting, standing, what hand I use, where I hold