Extracted from The Back Pain Sourcebook by Stephanie Levin-Gervasi
Many years ago, I watched an elderly Chinese man perform a cross
between a graceful dance and a martial art. Fascinated with the
slow, meditative movement, I approached the unassuming gentleman
and asked what he was practicing. He said Tai chi. I learned that
he was an ancient master, and taught a class on Saturday morning
in the park. I joined the class, and later studied privately with
him. Although I admired the beauty of the movements, I couldn't
seem to concentrate and found my mind soaring above the trees. I
quit, and through the years, as tai chi's popularity grew, I noticed
individuals practicing tai chi on the beach or in parks, and hoped
that at another time I might be a more subtle student of tai chi.
Twenty years later, in another time and place, tai chi reappeared.
Authoring a book stress is stressful. Sitting at a computer screen
or in the library challenges ones backs, eye sight and head. Half
way through this book, I realized I badly needed to balance my stress
and confinement at the computer. I returned to the graceful martial
art of my youth, and began tai chi class one night a week. I marveled
at how relaxed I felt after the first few sessions.
The oldest of tall the martial arts, tai chi is "the mother of
the martial arts. Tai chi was designed to make manifest the I-Ching,
or Book of Changes. No one knows who wrote the I Ching, but the
ancient book declares that everything in nature houses a yin and
yang These two energies are found everywhere in the universe. Originally,
the book was used as a meditation tool and to predict the future,
but the philosophy was later developed into movement, or tai chi.
Tai chaicharges that everything in nature shows the balance of two
energies. Tai chi uses the names of animals to describe the movements
and their relationship to the universe. A movement like " the crane"
reflects the yin, or retreating, or less substantial energy, while
"carry the tiger to the mountain" reflects the yang, or strong forceful
forward energy. Both nature and the self , like a life force, consist
of both energies. Tai chi postures that bringing these two energies
in harmony benefits one's health both mentally and physically.
Tai chi originated centuries ago in China to improve endurance,
flexibility and balance. The tai chi practitioner understands that
human beings are constantly changing and always working through
inner conflict. Change is a given in life, tai chi helps you find
a balance in that change. It does so by reducing stress, preserving
youth and enhancing good health.
Tai chi is an internal martial art, internal because it is based
on working inside one's system, the mind and body. With the mind,
tai chi controls our thoughts-inside the body it works to control
our energy or chi. Tai chi is a top down method. It connects the
mind at the top to the body at the bottom. It works simultaneously
on the mind, body, thoughts and chi. To practice tai chi, you must
become aware of your body or how you move. For someone with a back
problem, tai chi helps you, via the postures, to move your body
correctly. You cannot practice tai chi without first becoming conscientious
of your physical presence. Because most of us use our body incorrectly,
tai chi works with warm up exercises to acquaint one with how the
body should function in movement. Hip rotation, waist and arm rotations
warm the body. Tai chi rotates all the joints in the body. Chinese
medicine believes that if the energy is static or blocked in the
joints, aging ensues. When the joints open, one feels better, and
the aging process is slowed. The tai chi postures rotate all the
joints in the body. Tai chi is gentle martial art, and you must
practice tai chi to learn it. It is a slow, but a very effective
process. Every tai chi move contains elements of yin and yang.
This graceful discipline is as much reflective as vigorous. The
effect is one of relaxation and pleasure. I think of tai chi as
the universe in harmony. As we constantly change and shift, we must
learn to balance life-tai chi is the guardian of that balance. It
is also a good exercise for the back in that it requires a therapeutic
routine, in which the mind and body must move together to maintain
that fragile balancing we all strive for. There is little risk involved
with tai chi. Cost varies, but classes range from $8.00 to $10.00,
perhaps higher in some cities. Group sessions may be cheaper as
private may be more expensive. Tai chi can be practiced anywhere,
inside or outside.