A Tai Chi Dictionary for Some Foreign Concepts

tai chi symbol and water
Sooner or later anyone practicing tai chi will stumble across words or concepts which seem quite foreign. The first is to be expected, when one hears the occasional Chinese word during tai chi instruction—par for the course, even in Western classes. But grasping some of the concepts, especially around the energy work, may require a different way of looking at things.

This section provides a brief dictinary and roadmap for navigating through the energy work of tai chi.

Qi, the Life Force . The movements of tai chi, combined with attention and intention, help to increase our qi, or life force. Those rich with this life force feel wonderfully alive and strong. A deficit of qi can lead to fatigue or disease, and ultimately, death.

Although many may not even be aware of qi, everyone can develop an awareness of qi. This may initially be an awareness of warmth or juiciness from better blood flow. However, with practice, a direct sensation of qi can be learned.

Tai chi practices allow us to directly feel, to work with, and to increase qi.

Energy Meridians . Qi flows along the main energy meridian lines—the same as those needled by acupuncturists—throughout the body. Good health requires good qi flow—strongly and smoothly circulated throughout the body.

energy meridians
Blockages from injury or tension can block qi flow. The movements of tai chi are a way to free this blocked energy. Tai chi can restore and ensure good qi flow to all parts of the body. The Lower Tantien . Qi can also flow along other major and minor energy channels. All meet meet at the Lower Tantien, an energy center located 3-4 fingerwidths below the navel in the center of one’s body.

This energy center can store and transform qi. The Lower Tantien pulls in qi from the energy channels. The Lower Tantien then cleans it by reducing stagnant qi before sending it back out to the body.

In addition to transforming qi, the Lower Tantien can also store qi for the future.

Tai chi practitioners become better able to store and to release qi from the Lower Tantien.

Kwa Movements . Close to the Lower Tantien is the kwa. This is the area near where the legs join the body. The kwa is critical for energetically joining the lower and upper body. Moving the kwa—opening and closing this area, just one can open and close the elbow joint—causes a lot of qi movement. It also enhances the movement of lymphatic fluid, important for a healthy immune system.

Tai chi also relies on proper alignments of the kwa and legs for rooting.

Proper Body Alignments . Qi flow is optimized with proper body alignments. This includes bones, joints, and internal organs.

Even seemingly tiny adjustments in body position can yield big gains in qi flow.

Tai chi teaches us how it feels to be in proper alignment—within our bodies as well as in the world.

The Hardest Concept: Relax . Proper body alignments can’t be held or achieved through tension. This last concept may be the most foreign or most difficult for many. But, just relax. When the body is relaxed, energy can flow better. Conversely, more tension translates to poorer energy flow.

To test this, make a fist. Make it as tight as possible and hold it. After awhile, the hand becomes numb and white. When you finally release the clenched fist, the fingers are stiff and curled. The tension of holding the fist blocked the normal energy flow.

In tai chi, the body and mind are relaxed. Tai chi is not about forcing results, but about being relaxed for optimal energy flow.

Why not start a mini tai chi session right now? Begin by simply taking some deep, slow breaths and relaxing…

Next: Read about Tai Chi and Qi Gong