Section II The Health Benefits of the Exercises
1. Enhancing the health of the nervous system and conditioning the reflex reactions
All of the bodily functions in your daily life are guided by the nervous system. In particular, co-ordination of the body muscles and regulation and control of the internal organs. Most Taijiquan exercises require a focused and relaxed mind during practice. As a result, the exercises stimulate and enhance energy flow within the body, which in turn reinforces the ability of the nervous system to concentrate and focus more easily. In addition, as the nervous system improves, the peripheral nervous system is enhanced, as is the sensitivity of sensory organs such as the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, etc. This makes your reflexes and reactions noticeably faster, and can also help improve your ability to learn new skills. Regular practitioners of Taijiquan find that they feel more energized and fresh, thinking more clearly and feeling happier and more motivated.
Normally, peoples' emotions are linked to the state of their health. Positive motivation and healthy ambition are important factors for good health. An excess of the emotions, such as happiness, anger, worry, thinking, sadness, paranoia or depression and fear, can cause health problems which can often appear as physical symptoms of illness. In China, these are called the "seven emotions." According to ancient Chinese medical philosophy, the seven emotions are considered as the root cause of illness. They are connected to the six internal organs of the human body. If you are too happy, it can cause heart problems. However if you are too angry, it can cause liver problems. Too much worry and thinking can cause spleen problems while too much sadness can cause lung problems. Excess paranoia or depression can cause kidney damage and excessive fear can damage your gallbladder. There are also six external physical conditions that can contribute to sickness; they include excesses of wind, cold, heat, dampness, dryness and fire. Normally, the six external causes are not strong enough to create illness, but when one or more of the seven emotions are out of balance, the body's defence is weakened against the six external influences entering the body and causing illness. This is why the ancient Chinese medical book Neijing (Yellow Emperor's Internal Canon of Medicine) places emphasis on keeping quiet and calm and ignore any external interruptions, clearing your mind and focusing on your internal feeling when you are practicing Qigong, which is also a key requirement for Taijiquan.
Stressful, busy, fast and intensive modern city life causes people many problems, such as stress, short temper, anxiety, inefficiency and poor sleep patterns. Taiji for Health exercises utilize the "Neijing" principle of using your own mind to relax your body and spirit, relieve stress, and calm the seven emotions. This reduces the chances of becoming ill, and improves overall health.
2. Improving the Condition of Bones, Joints and Muscles and the Ability to Exercise
Taiji for Health exercises are based on turning, spiraling and twisting movements. These types of movement co-ordinate the bones, joints and muscles, increasing the density, thickness and strength of the bones, the muscles also becoming stronger. In turn, this makes bones harder and more resistant to being injured or broken. The joints and the tendons around them also become more flexible and elastic. This is good for the well-being of the joints and muscles, improving the practice of Taijiquan and significantly increasing your ability to apply or defeat a lock movement. Beyond that, the sensitivity gained from practicing these exercises both relaxes the mind and body as well as enhances the ability to react to external stimuli.
All of these twisting and spiraling movements are controlled by the mind, based on the relaxation of the body. The whole body co-operates with itself, with muscle fibre becoming longer (because of the twisting movements), more elastic and stronger. One of the benefits of this kind of exercise is its ability to reduce the amount of fat around the muscles and open the pores of your skin, resulting in the skin looking and feeling smoother, softer and healthier. A further benefit is that slim people are able to put more muscle on, and overweight people are able to get rid of excess fat, aiding weight loss.
3.Strengthening the Digestive System and Improving the Respiratory Functions
The basic functions of the digestive system are to ingest food, absorb nutrients and expel waste. In Chinese medicine, the digestive system and a person's state of health is closely connected to the ability of the six internal organs to function correctly. Taiji for Health exercises are smooth, gentle and slow. The breath naturally follows the body movements, which in turn allows internal energyto
circulate more freely inside the body, flowing through all of the internal organs. The long, deep breaths taken during Taiji exercises greatly benefit the muscles that aid digestion, producing a gentle massage for the stomach and intestines.
This in turn stimulates secretions from the digestive glands, reducing digestion time and improving the assimilation of food and therefore nutrition. Thus, practicing Taiji for Health exercises improves appetite, cures dyspepsia, gastrointestinal neurosis, gastric ulcers, anorexia, bulimia and other eating
Taiji for Health exercises coordinate body movements and breathing allowing Qi energy to flow to the four extremities (the tips of fingers and toes), resulting in the breath becoming slower, deeper and longer. During this process, the contraction and expansion of the abdominal muscles is improved, and the traction force between the lungs is increased. The contact area between capillary vessels
and alveoli enlarges, improving lung capacity and efficiency. A benefit of this is being able to maintain your concentration for longer without getting tired and improving your working efficiency.
4.Strengthening the Functions of the Heart, Improving the Condition of the Blood Vessels
Taiji for Health exercises can make the cardiac muscle fibre wider and stronger, the wall of the heart thicker, the contracting ability better and blood circulation easier. In addition, it can improve the flexibility and fortitude of the arterial wall, making the diameter of coronary arteries wider. These changes improve the functioning of the blood vessel system which in turn assists the absorption of nutrition by the digestive organs, improves oxygen absorption into the lungs and assists the secretion of hormones by internal glands to organs and tissues. Regular practice of Taijiquan can greatly help in improving all of the functions of the heart. The heart rate when you are quiet is lower than usual, slightly increasing when you are moving normally, and greatly increasing when exercising vigorously, but resuming its slow rate faster than usual. Overall, Taijiquan is beneficial to homeostasis, metabolism and the stability of the internal organs.
5. Stimulating the Internal Energy, Smoothing the Jingluo
Jingluo (acupuncture meridians, or channels) are the main blood and Qi energy channels and are directly related to the body and mind's state of health. If the channels are free of blockages health will be good. If the channels are blocked sickness can occur. According to philosophy included in the ancient Chinese medical classic, Yellow Emperor's Internal Canon of Medicine Lingshu, "Those 12 channels are the source of people's living, as well as people's sickness. To find out and cure the sickness you have to check the 12 channels and their conditions." Essentially, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a lifetime of continuously studying the 12 channels.
Maintaining the channels by keeping them unblocked helps to prevent illness and maintains the body's natural balance and harmony.
Taijiquan and Qigong exercises have many different methods of practice. Whichever method you choose, the final goal and fundamental purpose is to increase the level of Qi energy within the body and drive it through the 12 main channels, producing a half-body energy circle (Xiaozhoutian) or a full-body energy circle (Dazhoutian). The benefits of this can vary from the prevention of sickness to maintaining a good level of fitness, helping to keep the mind sharp and keen while enjoying a long and healthy life.
Internal energy (Qi) is the vital living force existing within every human body. The flow of internal energy is integral to the health of the individual. This internal energy is present from birth but how it develops and strengthens depends upon the level of practice and training that is undertaken by each individual. As long as you practice with a reasonable method, the internal energy will begin to increase in power and become a uniting force within the body. The outcome is that one can use this enhanced energy for self-defence, maintaining a healthy life, enhancing the ability to rid oneself of sickness and preventing diseases from entering the body in the first place.
The Taiji for Health method of exercising requires a relaxed body, a calm mind and a quiet environment. Using the mind in combination with correct body posture and movements to direct internal energy increases Qi circulation within the body. Once the internal energy starts to get more powerful, Qi energy will flow with greater ease through the 12 main energy channels and spread throughout the whole body. Under your control and direction, the internal energy moves through your heart, maintaining it in a good state by relaxing it and making it more flexible, thus helping to prevent heart attacks. If moved through the kidneys, the internal energy makes them stronger, making you feel more energized and revitalized. When the energy moves through the lungs it makes your breathing much longer and deeper, moving oxygen to the brain more efficiently. Also, because the breathing goes up and down to your Dantian (lower abdomen), it results in shortening the length of time in which you are out of breath after exercising or undertaking strenuous activity. Once the energy passes through the liver it helps to cool it down, relieving it from any "anger-heat." Then, if it is directed through the spleen, it improves its ability to work with the stomach which, in turn, helps the digestive system as well as the absorption of nutrition. Direct the energy up to the head and it brings a calmer and more refreshed feeling. As the blood supply increases and the brain gets more oxygen, the optical nerves relax, making your eyesight sharper. It also helps to keep them in good working order.
Once the energy passes through your skin, it can make it look smoother, more shiny and softer to the touch. When the energy travels through your blood vessels, it helps the blood to circulate more freely, preventing any blockage of the arteries, therefore helping to prevent heart attacks. When it travels through your hair, it makes the hair very sensitive, and the scalp more efficient in getting rid of all the waste fluids when you perspire. An ancient Chinese medical health expert once said, "Use your mind to direct your Qi energy according to your own body's requirements and, in this way, rid the body of any sickness. Many of the internal sicknesses can thus be cured."