by Alexandre Malet

We should not consider the benefits of a practice without also paying attention to the effort we must expend to achieve them.

Understand that efforts during the practice of taijichuan can lead to pain. Therefore it is important to rely on our natural common sense to feel and understand, without intellectualizing, what kind of pain we are experiencing.

Is it a dangerous pain; the kind that expresses fear, doubt, anticipation or tension, or that warns of damage to the body?

Or is it the teaching or elevating pain that leads to growth? The pain which builds patience and determination, and which later will produce a vital and powerful mind which can lead the qi or health, martial and spiritual benefits, so that a state of relaxation can be experienced during practice and in daily life.

When we are young, life's main demands take the form of basic needs of food, drink, warmth, company and love. As we grow, and integrate into the world at large, basic needs increase in complexity and tend to become responsibilities often supporting not just ourselves but also others.

We have to meet life's main demands and our responsibilities through continuous effort, which may take the form of studying, working, giving, etc.

With the practice of taijichuan, we have the chance to experience instinctively how to differentiate between beneficial efforts and consuming ones.

It is consuming efforts that create bad life habits, that transform basic needs into cravings and desires, and that transmute responsibilities into stress. The concept of moderation is lost, so that excesses become habitual, unbalancing our biorhythm to weaken the immune system and allowing disease an opening through which to attack our body.

Therefore, the most valuable benefit that taijichuan can give us is the ability to know the good efforts from the bad. This sensitivity will lead to physical and mental well-being.

How are these benefits gained?

The slow and continuous movements linked with the breath give basic physical benefits like any rehabilitation practice or soft gymnastic practice. The difference is that taiji and qigong depend on and come from an awareness of energy flow in the body.

The effect of the physical movement is amplified when the movements are effortless, well synchronized with the respiration, and performed in a relaxed, neutral and aware state of mind.

Sometimes practitioners perform the movements with great skill, but if their focus is stuck only on physical performance, it becomes too hard and suppresses the respiration. This will prevent the energy from expanding properly and from truly amplifying the benefits of the physical performance.

See these Harvard and WebMD articles on the benefits of tai chi.

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