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Tai Chi – “The Supreme Ultimate”
by tommy kirchhoff
You only possess two things in this life: your mind and your body. While the body is a feast for the senses, and can perform such feats as downhill ski racing and the 100mph fastball—the body is worthless without the mind. This is why we can say they are two things instead of one. Though we consider mind and body different, they are connected with the most amazing hardware. We call this the central nervous system. Learning to relax this component/wiring system is the key to optimization of both mind and body. Stress is the very real opponent of our nervous system. Stress attacks both mind and body like a virus, and it uses our nervous system as its own conduit. Finding ways to fight stress can be a long and winding path; the only way to beat stress is with relaxation. But how often can we really relax? Vacation is a great way to relax, but you can’t do it very often without ending up in the poor house. Sure, alcohol can relax you, but it’s temporary and many people drink too much to make it beneficial. But if one considers practicing Tai Chi, stress can be warded off quite easily. Tai Chi is one of the few things you can do to relax and alleviate stress every single day. What is Tai Chi? The question is so much deeper than most casual readers would be prepared for. But in a nutshell, Tai Chi is good medicine, alchemed in ancient China and proven effective for hundreds and hundreds of years. While Western medicine focuses on “fixin’ it once it’s broke,” Chinese medicine focuses on preventative maintenance. The four pillars of Chinese medicine are exercise, massage, herbs and acupuncture. Qigong (pronounced “chee-gung”) is the chosen exercise for the body and the mind. It is an art form cultivated over thousands of years, and practiced by over 500 million people around the world. And as any Western doctor will “recommend” exercise, the Chinese are hard wired to keep their bodies healthy through QiGong. It can be said that the number one exercise practiced on planet Earth is Qigong. Qigong encompasses thousands of different forms, which usually utilize natural movement coordinated with breathing. Tai Chi is one of its better-known and more-practiced forms. Tai Chi is a martial art, which moves the body in strong and natural ways—all the while relaxing both the mind and the body. Of the 500 million people worldwide practicing Qigong, 200 million practice Tai Chi. These awesome numbers make Tai Chi and Qigong the most popular exercises in the world. (Yoga could also be considered Qigong, and although it’s numbers are fewer, many would argue that Qigong is a style of “Taoist Yoga”) In the West, we generally consider exercise to be impulsive movements which strengthen the body, reduce body fat (providing “fitness”) and require a great deal of energy; in fact, when Westerners finish an exercise routine, they are most often panting, exhausted and in dire need of a shower. In Asia, this type of exercise is viewed as stressful and damaging. It’s true that if you are training to be a performance athlete, you need to train hard: jogging, lifting weights and working out like a horse plowing a field. But there is a line to be drawn between exercising for “health” or merely “fitness.” Body builders do not diet and lift weights for health. Marathon runners are often over training, leaving their immune systems beat down to nothing, which can easily allow the entrance of sickness. Because Tai Chi is slow and relaxing, over training is not an issue. The immune system reaches its peak performance through this kind of exercise. But why do Westerners exercise? To look good, to look fit. If you look at most Tai Chi masters (and even yoga and pilates instructors), there is no question as to whether or not they are fit. Many have incredible bodies. Most are not out jogging or lifting weights to look this way. They are exercising with relaxed energy—this is the most efficient use of the body. In China, this energy is called chi; in Japan, ki; in India, it’s called prana. Tai Chi, Qigong and Yoga are incredible art forms practiced by more people on this earth than any other exercise. The reason is because they are the optimum way to keep FIT AND HEALTHY. If you’ve seen Tai Chi before, you know the rehearsed movements are slow and beautiful. Practice of these “forms” cultivates the student’s internal energy, or chi. On a performance level, this chi can be applied to just about everything else you do. Your balance will get better (whether on stable ground, a slippery surface, or even a moving platform like skis or a snowboard), you’ll walk better, swing a golf club better, and have a greater understanding of efficiency and the utilization of your own personal energy. How can Tai Chi do all this, you ask? First, the slow movements really tone and relax the muscles. Toned, relaxed muscles are more efficient and coordinated. The nerve signals that move the muscles become more intense, causing the muscles to move faster and more powerfully when called upon. And because you are relaxed, only the muscles needed for a movement are called to action; the so-called “antagonistic” muscles (the ones that work against the “protagonistic” muscles you need to perform any body movement) are held loose and relaxed so that the body movement is optimally efficient. This is why Tai Chi has become the most widely-practiced martial art; it allows the practitioner to move very fast against an aggressive opponent. Both Utah State Governor Olene Walker and Park City Mayor Dana Williams have declared the week of April 19th to the 25th as “Tai Chi & Qigong Week in Utah” and “Tai Chi & Qigong Week in Park City” respectively. They have done so in conjunction with the international celebration of “International Tai Chi Day” and the United Nations’ World Health Day. Throughout the week, there are various events and free lessons offered from the different Tai Chi schools in Utah. Park City’s main event is on April 24th from 2 to 4 p.m. in the McPollin Elementary gymnasium. All are welcome to this “Tai Chi Open House” to come see the legendary Master Fu Sheng Long demonstrate Tai Chi with the Fu School based here in Park City; visitors can also learn more about Tai Chi and even learn some of the basic movements. There is no admission fee, and those interested are encouraged to sign up for the Park City Community Education Tai Chi class which will be held on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the McPollin Elementary gymnasium (the space is gigantic, so there is no class size restriction). The class is six weeks long beginning on April 28th; the cost is $75.00. For more information, please call Tommy Kirchhoff at 435.901.2546 or visit WWW.FUSTYLE.ORG.