What is Tai Chi?
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What is Tai Chi?

An overview of the meaning, purpose and benefits of tai chi and chi gung.

What is tai chi?

Tai Chi Ch’uan (usually shortened to Tai Chi or Taiji) is an ancient Chinese system that uses movement to gather, store and use energy. This energy the Chinese call chi.


Tai Chi is an ancient practice thought to date back more than 700 years to China. It is said to have begun in monasteries and to incorporate Taoist philosophy that is based on living in harmony with nature. Taoist monks found that Tai Chi was in keeping with their meditative practices and helped to keep them healthy and more able to defend themselves.

The Form

Tai Chi consists of a sequence of slow movements- this is called the ‘Form'. The Form is the graceful, flowing movements most people associate with Tai Chi. There are several differtent Forms that differ slightly from one another, but the main principles of balance, flowing and relaxed movement and mental focus are the same. The various Forms are named after families that devised or modified a Form. Therefore we have for example, Sun, Lee, Chen and Yang styles.

Chi Gung

Integral to Tai Chi are energy exercises called Chi Kung (or Qi Gong). . Chi Kung means energy work that consists of static and moving exercises to gather, balance and direct energy (chi). Whilst Tai Chi has its origins in the martial arts, the goal of Chi Kung is to stimulate internal energy flow to promote health and healing.


When watching an acomplished practitioner of a Tai Chi Form one is aware of the relaxed, graceful and flowing movements. The face has a calm concentrated look, but this belies the fact that the person is working on an internal level - not only are the internal organs said to be receiving a massage, but the whole body is being bathed in life-giving chi.

Chi is a concept fundamental to the understanding and practice of Tai Chi. It is life-giving energy or ‘the breath of life’ that pervades everything. The Chinese believe that ill health comes from disturbances in the flow of chi which may be blocked, deficient or in excess.


Performing the moves of the Form in a relaxed way evens out and balances energy flow which assists in promoting health and preventing illness. It is said that where the mind goes chi follows, therefore knowledge of the purpose of each move enhances the correct flow of Chi. Therefore each move must be performed with intention, otherwise the Form becomes limp and lifeless.

In a Tai Chi class students may be shown how they can use and direct Chi. They are often surprised at what they are able to do when focused. Being able to direct Chi builds up students’ confidence which helps to promote further relaxation.


With practise, and over time, internal body and mental habits are formed resulting in chi being used in a positive, balanced and intentional manner. This balanced way of being is spills over into everyday life, enhancing the practitioner's quality of life and health.

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