The fitness benefits of Tai Chi have been extensively validated through long-term and extensive practical experience, as well as research conducted by sports practitioners, medical professionals, and scientists. It has been substantiated from various aspects including traditional health preservation, traditional Chinese medicine, and modern medicine. Some of the key principles are as follows:
- Scientific breathing technique: Tai Chi emphasizes abdominal breathing, whether it is natural breathing or coordinated breathing with movements. The emphasis is on abdominal breathing, which is combined with intentions. During inhalation, internal energy rises along the spine meridian, and during exhalation, it sinks along the front chest meridian, while the lower abdomen concaves during inhalation and protrudes during exhalation. This type of breathing exercise expands lung capacity. Scientific experiments have shown that lung capacity is directly proportional to strength and life expectancy. For instance, during sleep, individuals with deep, fine, even, and long breaths are usually healthier, while individuals with short, weak, or irregular breaths are often weak or unhealthy. The length and amplitude of the breath wave serve as indicators of a person’s physical strength. Therefore, Tai Chi pays great attention to breathing in terms of fitness.
- Smooth circulation of Qi and blood, promoting blood circulation: Tai Chi exercise aims to ensure the circulation of Qi to the extremities. The nourishment and lubrication of the human body, including its external limbs, joints, muscles, organs, and vital energy, all rely on the circulation of blood. Good blood circulation and sufficient blood supply are not only the basic guarantee for the normal functioning of various bodily functions but also the fundamental factor determining life expectancy. Through Tai Chi practice, which involves movements, stances, erecting the head, sinking the shoulders, and leading Qi with intention, Qi sinks to the Dantian (lower abdomen), circulates through the meridians, and reaches all extremities. This promotes blood circulation, clears the meridians, accelerates circulation frequency, ensures unobstructed flow in major arteries, sustains healthy microcapillaries, and slows down the aging process of muscles, bones, and skin. Long-term adherence to Tai Chi exercise leads to abundant Qi and blood, promoting health and longevity.
- Smooth functioning of sweat glands, ensuring proper metabolism: Waste generated by the human body’s metabolism is primarily eliminated through the seven orifices (eyes, ears, nose, and mouth) and the excretory system. Sweat glands play a crucial role in the body’s internal secretion and natural regulation of heat preservation and dissipation. Traditional Chinese medicine states that “when sweat glands are unobstructed, diseases will not invade; when sweat glands are blocked, diseases will afflict the body.” In modern society, with improved living conditions, centralized heating in winter, and air conditioning or fans in summer, people are protected from extreme cold or heat but experience a decline in the skin’s warmth preservation and heat dissipation functions. Lazy sweat pores, clogged sweat glands, and reduced skin permeability result in the inadequate timely elimination of harmful substances such as secretions, deposits, and viruses from the internal organs. This disrupts the balance of metabolism, yin and yang, and leads to the emergence of various diseases. Tai Chi, as an internal practice, has unique characteristics in terms of skin exercise. The movements and stances in Tai Chi open and close, expand and contract the skin and regulate the opening and closing of pores. Compared to individuals who do not practice Tai Chi, practitioners better maintain the cleanliness and permeability of their skin. With unobstructed channels for internal secretions, viruses and waste are less likely to accumulate, thereby preventing minor illnesses and long-term ailments.
- Symmetrical movements compensate for the deficiencies in the body’s acquired functions. In daily life and work, people develop numerous habitual postures consciously or unconsciously. While these habitual postures improve efficiency, they also lead to imbalances in bodily movements. In other words, habitual movements often exhibit unidirectional biases. For example, in upper limb movements, actions such as holding, gripping, lifting, pinching, and grasping are predominantly performed with the right hand. In lower limb movements, activities like jumping, kicking, bouncing, and kicking off are primarily powered by the right foot. In movements involving the upper body, such as carrying and lifting, the right shoulder is often used, while left-handed individuals exhibit the opposite pattern. Whether it is the left or right side, these movements are unidirectional. Over time, these unidirectional movements weaken the brain’s central nervous system’s ability to regulate in the opposite direction, resulting in imbalances in internal bodily functions. When the right side is stronger, the left side becomes weaker, and vice versa. Strong individuals tend to become thin, while weak individuals are prone to illness. Hence, there is a saying related to illness: “men lean left, women lean right.” While this saying may not be scientifically proven, it is common to observe diseases predominantly affecting one side of the body. The structural form of Tai Chi precisely embodies the concept of “where there is up, there is down.” The techniques can be reversed, the body’s posture can complement each other, and it forms a symmetrical movement that integrates internal and external aspects. Changing techniques emphasizes starting with the right before the left, and initiating force requires coordinating the front and back, as well as the upward and downward movements. The entire body achieves a harmonious unity of opposing forces, becoming an integrated whole. Consequently, this effectively strengthens the brain’s ability to regulate in the opposite direction, maintains overall coordination and balanced development of bodily movements, and overcomes the deficiencies of unidirectional movements that may lead to illness.
- Using intention instead of force enhances the sensitivity of the nervous system. The aging process in the human body primarily manifests through the atrophy and decline of the nervous system. For instance, facial skin sagging, wrinkles, and forehead baldness result from decreased function of regenerative neurons; hearing loss and blurred vision are due to the aging of auditory and visual nerves; delayed reactions and decreased memory stem from the aging of discriminatory and retrieval nerves; and difficulty in leg movements is caused by the aging of central controlling nerves. All functions of the human body are dependent on the operation of tens of thousands of nerves. The atrophy of any nerve directly leads to the decline of a specific organ’s function. The most significant difference between Tai Chi and other martial arts lies in the fact that Tai Chi is a movement that emphasizes using intention instead of force, prioritizes intention over form, and uses the mind to control the body. During Tai Chi practice, practitioners focus their attention and guide Qi with intention. All external variations are a result of the mind’s instructions and signals emitted by the central nervous system. Each movement in Tai Chi begins with mental activity and is followed by physical movement, resulting in the unity of form and spirit, as commonly mentioned. Conversely, if the mind is not calm during practice, the intention is not focused, and the form is scattered and the intention is chaotic, internal and external coordination is disrupted, losing the essence of Tai Chi’s movement. Due to this characteristic of Tai Chi, even experienced practitioners in their old age often have good hearing, clear vision, and nimble feet. The sensitivity of their skin differs from that of ordinary individuals. The saying in martial arts literature, “a feather cannot land, and a fly cannot alight,” refers to not yielding to external pressure and also signifies the keen sensitivity of a martial artist’s muscles and liver. All these benefits are achieved because using intention focus in Tai Chi practice delays the aging process of the nerves.
- Moderate exercise maintains a balanced state of human vitality. Regarding the relationship between exercise and life, there have been different opinions. Some people believe that life is dependent on movement, drawing inspiration from the flowing water and the unceasing rotation of a door hinge. Others argue that life lies in tranquility, aiming to reduce wear and tear on the body and minimize functional consumption. Those who hold this view often compare longevity to that of turtles and cranes. In reality, both perspectives hold some truth, and the key lies in not neglecting either movement or stillness. It is true that life depends on exercise, but excessive and strenuous physical activity undoubtedly leads to premature fatigue of the body. On the other hand, individuals who are mostly sedentary often experience poor digestion, loss of appetite, weakness in the limbs, mental lethargy, and are more susceptible to illness, often relying on medication for prolonged periods. Therefore, excessively emphasizing either movement or stillness is detrimental to human health. Only moderate exercise, alternating between movement and stillness, is beneficial. In Tai Chi practice, the movements of performing routines and engaging in push hands involve dynamic actions such as advancing and retreating. However, it is important to emphasize using intention instead of relying solely on brute force, resulting in minimal energy expenditure. From a mental perspective, relaxation and stillness are emphasized during the practice both routines and push hands. Here, “stillness” refers to abandoning distracting thoughts during routine practice or push hands, seeking stillness amidst movement, and focusing the mind on a single point, replacing myriad thoughts with a single intention. Therefore, externally, the form appears to be still, while internally, the mind remains calm. This unique movement pattern in Tai Chi effectively maintains a balanced state of the body’s functions, thus contributing to longevity through long-term practice.
- Cultivating long-lasting vitality through deep breathing prevents the aging of bones, joints, and ligaments. Whether observed in the movements of animals and plants in nature or in the ecological development process of human beings themselves, it is evident that vibrant life forms possess good flexibility in their limbs and joints. Conversely, dying organisms become stiff and withered. In the human body, conditions such as osteoporosis, limited joint mobility, loose ligaments, and shriveled blood vessels in elderly individuals are all results of losing flexibility. To maintain a robust and unyielding body, it is necessary to ensure that the muscles, bones, and skin throughout the body maintain good elasticity. The movements in Tai Chi, including rotating fingers, wrists, arms, waist, opening the crotch, stretching tendons, elongating bones, winding, and overturning, are all executed in a circular manner. This inherent spiral movement serves to strengthen the elasticity, or rather, the flexibility, of the muscles, bones, skin, and internal organs throughout the body. Skilled practitioners of Tai Chi often exhibit large lung capacity, significant bladder expansion and contraction, long tendons, sturdy bones, supple skin, deep, smooth, and prolonged breathing, and a wide range of rotational motion in the joints. All these are manifestations of excellent flexibility in the body. Prolonging flexibility itself contributes to longevity. Conversely, if any organ within the body loses its elasticity, it signifies the end of life.
- Relaxation, stillness, emptiness, and tranquility cultivate a transcendent and detached state of mind. It is widely known that individuals who possess a calm and contented mind often have longer life. Conversely, those who go against this principle often meet an early demise. The reason is that individuals with excessive desires are constantly in pursuit, and those who seek more often indulge in excessive drinking, overeating, excessive worry, excessive thinking, excessive annoyance, excessive fear, all of which lead to various forms of harm. According to traditional Chinese medicine, excessive grief harms the spirit, anger harms the liver, worry harms the lungs, overthinking harms the spleen, excessive concern harms the heart, fear harms the kidneys, excessive eating harms the stomach, and excessive sexual activity depletes essence and energy. The process of practicing Tai Chi is a means of regulating one’s mindset. During the execution of routines and push hands, it is essential to emphasize relaxation, stillness, emptiness, and tranquility in all parts of the body and mind. Every movement and transformation of posture should be natural and effortless, resembling the flow of clouds and water. This leads to the simultaneous improvement of both physical and mental well-being.