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You started life with a natural condition of suppleness and flexibility. A baby does not have sore knees, a bad back or arthritis.
The limbs can move comfortably within their natural range of motion. There is no stiffness in the muscles.
As people get older they lose the ability to move freely and easily. This reduces our quality of life. Tai chi was designed to off-set the stiffness commonly associated with aging.
Our aim is to regain the degree of mobility we started life with.
The main culprit for loss of mobility in most adults is sitting on their backsides too much.
• Strained neck
• Sore shoulders
• Upper back pain
• Lower back pain
• Loss of circulation
• Joint compression
• Swollen legs
• Heart disease
The solution is easy. Switch off the PC, the TV and walk whenever possible rather than drive.
Over-use and wrong use of the hands can cause immobility and arthritis.
• Computer mouse
• Mobile phone
• Tapping a touch screen
• Unnecessary application of force
• Gripping too hard
• Repetitive activity
• Using a keyboard
• Playing video games
It is common for people to seek to improve their fitness by body building, attending the gym, running or playing a sport.
Whilst the intention is good, the approach is often dubious.
Will larger muscles necessarily improve mobility? Cross-training is essential but it must be done properly.
Many forms of exercise actively reduce mobility. People strain themselves lifting heavy weights and working out at the gym. The muscles shorten.
Joint mobility becomes limited.
Most runners run with extremely bad posture:
• Elbows are stiff and locked (often raised)
• The body is leaning forwards or stooping; either at the neck or collapsing at the bottom of the rib cage
• Shoulders are lifted; often one higher than the other
• Considerable tension in the upper body
• Frozen sacroiliac; immobile
• Knees twisted (the foot flicks out sideways)
• Weight is bearing heavily down into the knees
• The skeleton is not moving freely, naturally or comfortably
Running with bad posture causes serious fatigue and adverse wear and tear on the body. It limits joint mobility and damages the skeleton.
The high degree of physical tension in the body uses energy and tires the runner out. As the runner tires, the quality deteriorates further.
Sport was not necessarily designed with health in mind. The aim is typically to compete, to win. Good body usage is not the goal. Mobility is only considered relative to the needs of the sporting activity.
External martial arts
The external martial arts are normally very effective in combat. But they seldom train in a healthy manner. A lifetime of practice is not always possible.
Often skill diminishes with age; strength decreases and mobility is lost. People compensate by pumping-up the muscles.
Tai chi poise is healthy. The body is used naturally and comfortably. The mind is quiet. We listen to what the body is telling us rather than push and punish ourselves.
A gentle art
In tai chi we seek a condition of pliability. We use the least amount of muscular strength at all times. Only by being extremely gentle in our physical contact can we use our nervous system skilfully.
Flow and change like water. Hardness in our bodies will impede smooth movement.
A tai chi exponent seeks to have the supple, soft body they once had as a child. The joints are mobile and flexible, and the muscles move smoothly and easily.
Constructive rest helps us to release tension, lengthen the muscles and free the joints without effort.
Qigong training involves strength building and increasing the range of joint movement. Students who train at home become stronger and more flexible in a short space of time.
The key factor is to maintain the habit of daily practice.
The whole-body self-massage routine is intuitive and easy to perform. It helps eliminate stored muscular tension and frees the joints.
Parts of the body neglected by conventional exercise are given necessary attention.
As a supplement to qigong, Taoist Yoga is excellent. It enables the student to relax into deeper stretches and encourages the joints to become more supple.
Rather than shorten, muscles lengthen. The tactile skills of self-massage are applied during the postures to help tight muscles soften and relax.
The tai chi form(s), pushing hands training and martial practice all encourage (and require) an agile, nimble body.
From the onset, students are required to release tension and move freely.
As the student advances through the taijiquan martial syllabus, the need for mobility increases significantly.
Advanced practice cannot be undertaken by a stiff, immobile student.
Weapons practice significantly improves mobility in the wrists, shoulders and hips. The student patiently increases their range of motion.
Demanding and uncompromising, chin na necessitates free movement of the joints along with a notable degree of strength.
Muscular strength is not needed to apply chin na. Strength is required to practice receiving it.
There is a strong risk of injury for any student who fails to invest in the appropriate level of conditioning.
In some ways, shuai jiao is even more challenging than chin na. Students need a strong body in order to handle the abrupt throws and sudden loss of balance.
A lack of mobility is very dangerous in shuai jiao. We require students to undertake and pass a mobility assessment before learning shuai jiao.
At the pinnacle of the syllabus there is the Art of baguazhang.
Physically more demanding than taijiquan, this second art requires a particularly high level of balance, suppleness and flexibility.
The applications and combat methodology utilise evasion, deception and fast changes of direction. A lack of mobility would immediately result in injury.
In order to increase mobility the emphasis needs to be upon working the body both in class and at home between lessons.
Adopt a multi-faceted approach:
• Strengthen your muscles
• Align your skeleton better
• Sit less
• Stand less
• Stretch more
• Improve balance
• Gain coordination
• Increase bodily awareness
• Be mindful of how you use your body
18 March 1997
Last updated 15 February 2018