With origins dating back some 4,000 years in China, Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung (or Qigong) are based around the concept of Chi (sometimes spelled as Qi), the vital life energy which circulates through the body in channels called meridians. The healing arts of acupuncture and acupressure are based on the same system.
Both Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Gung are slow-moving physical exercises that focus the mind while stimulating the flow of Chi though the body, thus benefitting mind and body simultaneously. Each is taught separately, although some teachers combine elements of both.
In Chi Gung classes, the teacher typically leads students through a series of simple, gentle, repetitive physical exercises. In a common one, for example, students shift their weight from one leg to the other with knees bent, while the arms move in a large circle in front of the torso as if tracing the outline of a big bass drum worn on the chest. The hands are held about 12 inches apart.
The breath is coordinated with the movements, and the exercise becomes very meditative. If it’s done right, after a while you can palpably feel the Chi energy between your hands. Chi Gung is a good form of meditation for people who find sitting meditation difficult to do.
Both Chi Gung and Tai Chi Chuan are based on the martial arts, but the link can perhaps be more clearly felt in Tai Chi Chuan. There are a number of different forms, but all of them are basically combative martial arts moves performed sequentially, in slow motion. Teachers place differing amounts of emphasis on the martial arts side of Tai Chi Chuan, but you can find instructors who teach it primarily as a form of meditation in motion.
Poetic names for the movements, such as “Wave Hands Like Clouds” and “Grasping the Bird’s Tail,” further distance them from associations with combat. Tai Chi Chuan focuses on developing a powerful energy core in the lower abdomen called the dantian, with a view toward balancing the circulation of Chi in the entire body.
Mastering the movements and sequences is an absorbing pursuit that you can spend a lifetime perfecting and refining. But even after a basic beginners class, you’ll step out into the world more mindfully, feeling serene and balanced.