Yang Style Tai Chi and Tai Chi Fundamentals

Tai Chi Chuan or taijiquan (太极拳) or, simply, Tai Chi or taiji is a slow, graceful exercise that enhances relaxation skills, mental focus, physical alignment, leg strength, endurance, balance, stability, flexibility, and coordination. The origins of Tai Chi lie in a combination of ancient Chinese philosophy and the “soft” or internal martial arts developed based on the philosophy. Modern practice mostly emphasizes its many health benefits.

The Yang style of Tai Chi originated with Yang Luchan in the second half of the 19th century as a variation on the Chen family style Tai Chi taught by Chen Changxing, the 14th generation master of the Chen style founded three centuries earlier. Yang Luchan’s grandson Yang Chengfu modified and popularized the style through his teaching in Beijing and his book. Yang Chengfu’s student Cheng Man Ch’ing simplified Yang Chengfu’s long form to a 37 posture short form in order to make the art more widely accessible. Tricia Yu studied with and was certfied by two of Cheng Man Ch’ing’s senior students (Ben Lo and William C.C. Chen) and later developed the Tai Chi Fundamentals® program in cooperation with physical and occupational therapists to further expand the accessibility of Yang style Tai Chi. She founded the Madison Tai Chi Center in Madison Wisconsin in 1974 and she is currently the Director of Tai Chi Health.

Tai Chi Fundamentals (TCF) provides both an introduction to Yang style Tai Chi and a focus on the details of basic movements found in the traditional form and qigong. TCF is taught in a way that incorporates both the basic principles of the Tai Chi classics and the functional interpretations of Western medical practitioners.

TCF has three components: 1) A set of movement patterns or basic movements, a collection of exercises designed to capture the essence of the basic moves of Tai Chi through simplifications that preserve the principles of the traditional movements. 2) The fundamentals form, which is a choreographed combination of simplified movements and postures. 3) Mind/body principles which underlie most Tai Chi styles. These principles derive from the Tai Chi Classics and emphasize slow, relaxed, natural, and circular movements performed in a mindful way.

The primary rationale for the development of TCF is to make the fundamental principles and patterns of Tai Chi accessible to a wide audience, including beginners, elder adults, people with mild physical constraints, people recovering from injuries, and patients and clients of medical practitioners. The primary application is a to provide a simple and effective means of improving health through a gentle and systematic program of physical exercise.

The Tai Chi Fundamentals Adapted Program was developed in 2014 by Tricia Yu and colleagues in order to provide variations of the basic movements and form suitable for use by people who may require external support such as stationary chairs, walkers, and wheel chairs. Adaptations modify the movements and provide a short version of the Tai Chi Fundamentals form suitable for each form of support. The program is so new that the description and available program materials are not yet available at the Tai Chi Health website, but they will be available soon along with books and DVDs. The adapted program will be used in spring 2016 in a National Institutes of Health/State of Wisconsin six week long research study of the efficacy of Tai Chi in reducing the fear and risk of falling as measured by standard metrics. If there is interest, an informal class based on the same protocol could be organized in Rockport. Let me know if you are interested.

Extensive research suggests that Tai Chi practice can have a beneficial impact on static and dynamic balance, musculoskeletal strength and flexibility, and cardiovascular and respiratory function. It can promote emotional health, improve sleep and immune response, and reduce the fear and risk of falls. See, for example, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heard, and Sharp Mind, by Peter Wayne, and https://nccih.nih.gov/health/taichi.

Last modified 15 September 2015