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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 tension.




Established: September 30, 2001
Updated: October 28, 2001


© 2001 James D. Blodget
All Rights Reserved