Living in a Yang Culture Achieving Balance from Tai Chi

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When you picture Tai Chi , what do you see? A group of people enacting different movements gracefully in a park? Or a spiritual leader, guiding his pupils through ancient Chinese holistic practices meant to inspire balance of the body and mind? Well, either is true. In fact, Tai Chi can be practiced in many different ways and forms according to your fitness and spiritual needs. While it is important to keep in mind the basics of Tai Chi, sometimes modifying the traditional movements to fit your lifestyle can be helpful in achieving the desired state of balance.

Tai Chi (full name: tai chi chuan) originated in China as a “soft” martial art – one that counteracted violence with softness in order to create a balance between forces. This concept of balance has remained essential to training as well as traditional tai chi philosophy. One of the central themes of tai chi is yin and yang, which describes the relationship between opposing forces. An important thing to remember is that while yin and yang represent contradictory elements, they are balanced and dependent on one another. Tai chi embodies this equilibrium through its movements.

Many people are familiar with the traditional format of Tai Chi that leads one along on a series of postures and movements in a slow, concentrated fashion. There are over 100 possible movements and postures in tai chi, and they can be combined in any sequence that feels comfortable.

Along with its spiritual benefits, many students find that tai chi provides ample fitness and health benefits as well. Thanks to the emphasis on breathing and meditation, the exercise helps the individual focus on the movements instead of outside disturbances or distracting thoughts. This in turn will relax the body and the mind, leading to reduced stress. The movements also facilitate improved flexibility and strength, along with heightened fine motor skills and balance.

Although its benefits cannot be refuted, tai chi can seem daunting to someone unfamiliar with it. Thankfully, there are many options here in Santa Barbara that can introduce you to the basic concepts of tai chi while applying the movements in a more familiar or less challenging environment. These instructors are extremely knowledgeable about tai chi and fitness and teach a special modified version of tai chi.

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Nicky LaFleur is a certified Tai Chi Easy instructor working in the Santa Barbara area. Along with massage therapy, Nicky teaches this adjusted form of tai chi that she describes as a more fluid and less strict version of the traditional practice. Tai Chi Easy upholds the traditions and principles of the original version and is still based on movement, yet it is a simplified version, focusing more on fitness and balance.

Nicky spoke extensively concerning the benefits of practicing tai chi and integrating its principles into daily life. Both the original and modified versions help the individual to “step back and take a deep breath” – keeping a peaceful and positive attitude about life. Practicing these movements allows you to become aware of your mind and body and to stabilize yourself in the crazy world we live in. She maintains a philosophy about fitness that endorses taking ownership of your body and mind, instead of being affected by various external forces and the myriad of responsibilities imposed on us. Nicky believes that mental and physical well-being should be just as important as brushing your teeth in the morning, and practicing the principles of tai chi fits right in with that philosophy. Anyone can benefit from Tai Chi Easy classes.

Perhaps you have been interested in either Tai Chi or Yoga and want to take a class that incorporates the two to create one unique exercise. In that case, you would like to get in touch with David Benson, a Tai Chi Yoga instructor at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center. Tai Chi Yoga is a combination of Indian Yoga and Chinese Tao philosophy that incorporates the physical and spiritual aspects of both practices. He makes an analogy about a toolkit, filled with different exercises and practices that serve as “tools” to help your body and mind function at their best. In order to make your machine work at its best, you want to use all of the tools in the kit, right? Tai Chi Yoga does just that by integrating both movements and principles of Hatha yoga in order to gain a greater understanding of each. David describes his method as a “long slow conversation between two ancient methods.” For instance, David will instruct students to move into a headstand position, a Hatha yoga movement, in order to alter blood flow and provide that sense of balance that was mentioned earlier.

Tai Chi Yoga is less challenging than traditional Hatha yoga, and is great for beginners. David says that there is more “internal awareness” in his modified approach, and that can help an individual truly experience all of the benefits that both tai chi and yoga have to offer.

Probably the most important aspect that both instructors want to emphasize is the mental and spiritual benefit of practicing Tai Chi or one of its close cousins, Tai Chi Easy or Tai Chi Yoga. Both Nicky and David continue to mention the importance of balance in our bodies and minds. Even living in our beautiful and fitness-minded community, we sometimes forget how to relax and stop worrying about how and when things will get done. While Nicky describes our world as a “culture of stress,” and David says we’re in a “yang culture,” the message is clear: our lives our unnecessarily hectic and in need of a calming perspective in order to find balance. Tai Chi can provide this different perspective, or consciousness, while improving balance, mental focus and flexibility.

A billion Chinese people can’t be wrong, can they?

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