Slow and smooth movements are safe and beneficial for everyone. They allow people of different ages, capabilities and strength to exercise, each to their own limit, and to become stronger and healthier. It is easy to injure your body if you train fast and hard. Practising slow movements enables you to be more aware of your body and to avoid injury. For example, if you have a back problem or knee condition, with awareness you learn to adjust your body alignment. This allows your body weight to travel through to the ground, instead of being trapped in the lower back or knee, where problems may develop.
Moving slowly improves coordination and balance which helps to prevent falls. Fast movement often brings a degree of tension. When you are tense, you can no longer discern differences clearly. For example, if you are supporting a heavy object, and you add a pebble to it, you are unlikely to feel the difference.
Moving slowly induces relaxation which in turn promotes awareness. Increased sensitivity allows you to feel different parts of your body more acutely and thereby improve coordination and balance. Better balance will prevent falls.
Tai Chi walking is likened to the stepping of a cat: slow, light, relaxed and natural. Once you have achieved this, you will be able to move swiftly and accurately, and yet stay relaxed as a cat.
Coordination at first may just involve the limbs. Then it extends to the waist, the spine, the breath and ultimately, the circulation of chi [internal energy] through the body’s meridian pathways.
Tai Chi is designed to train the body thoroughly and evenly. Slow, smooth and continuous movements relieve muscle tension and train the weak areas of the body, especially the joints, tendons and ligaments.
When you train in hard exercise programs which emphasise brute force, your muscles become strong and over-protect the joints. This means that the joints are not trained. Due to the density of the joints, there is less blood circulated to these areas than to the muscles. This makes the joints more difficult to heal once damaged.
In Tai Chi, slowness, relaxation and correct alignment enable you to relieve the tension in your muscles, thus allowing the joints to be exercised thoroughly and strengthened gradually. Slow, circular and continuous exercise loosens any stiffness in the joints, resulting in greater freedom of movement. Circulation to the joints will also improve, and so hasten recovery in existing injuries.
In order to experience a deeper level of relaxation, it is necessary for you to build a strong basis. The legs are the first and most important aspect in building this foundation. Many sports people in Australia are prone to knee and ankle injuries, in spite of their physical fitness. The Academy employs a traditional training method to strengthen not only the muscles of the legs, but also the tendons and joints. This training, when it is performed properly and under expert instruction, will greatly strengthen the knee, the most vulnerable joint in the body. Stronger legs will lead to a stronger lower back which will improve your overall posture.
The following analogy illustrates this slow, smooth and continuous training method. If you have 1,000 litres of water in a container, 10 metres above a concrete slab, and you release that water in one splash, perhaps you might get a clean slab. However, if you take the same amount of water, and let it drip onto a concrete slab continuously, the water will eventually wear a hole in the slab. This same process is applied in Tai Chi training. The joints are exercised slowly and continuously until they become strong and flexible.
Slow and continuous movements stimulate circulation, which is essential in maintaining your health and vitality.
Slow, relaxed movements calm the mind. For centuries, the Chinese have realised the benefits of slow, natural movements. Practising this way has a calming effect on your mind and nervous system. As your breathing and heart rate slow down, your mind and body feel relaxed, refreshed and energised. This is quite different from hard and fast training which tends to result in tiredness and lack of energy.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, keeping the heart rate low during exercise is more beneficial than accelerating the heart rate. Warming the body while the heart rate remains low is the result of deep mental and physical relaxation.