SCIENCE and SPIRITUALITY
 
Tai Chi: In Harmony With Science      
Hallo, wise viewers, and welcome to Science and Spirituality on Supreme Master Television. This week we’ll examine the ancient Chinese martial arts form known as Tai Chi and the modern scientific research that reveals its numerous health benefits. In ancient times, many systems of movement influenced by philosophy and spirituality were practiced in China to enhance health and increase longevity.

The roots of Tai Chi may be traced back more than 5,000 years to these ancient systems and the profound philosophies of the sages who assisted in their evolution. Taoist and Confucian ideas played a major role in the development of Tai Chi, with the basic Taoist concept being that behind all material phenomena and change lies a single, unifying principle, known as the Tao. The founding father of Taoism was the great Master Lao Tzu, author of the mystical text the Tao Te Ching. This classic book has many stanzas that form the basic philosophy of Tai Chi, including the following:

Chapter 22
Yield and overcome; Bend and be straight.

Chapter 40
Returning is the motion of the Tao. Yielding is the way of the Tao.

Chapter 8
The highest motive is to be like water: Water is essential to all life, yet it does not demand a fee or proclaim its importance. Rather, it flows humbly to the lowest level, and in so doing it is much like Tao.

Chapter 78
Nothing in the world is weaker or more yielding than water; yet nothing is its equal in wearing away the hard and the strong. There is nothing quite like it. Thus, the weak can overpower the strong; the flexible can overcome the rigid. The whole world can perceive this, but does not put it into practice.

Tai Chi, which may be considered a physical expression of these verses, can raise vital energy or “chi” and expand consciousness. Moreover, the symbolism of Tai Chi borrows much from that of Taoism, such as the honored yin-yang symbol and represents the dual forces of nature unified into a single absolute. But being more than just an image, the yin-yang symbol in Tai Chi provides certain lessons to practitioners of the art such as, “Everything is part of a whole. Everything contains yin, yang and chi. The only constant is change. Let things occur naturally without force. Yin and yang are constantly changing. Gentleness develops strength.”

In fact, the Taoist principles of softness, yielding and humility can even be seen in the names of Tai Chi forms such as “wind rolls the lotus leaves” or “push the boat with the current.” In addition, the legendary Yellow Emperor Huang Ti, known as the father of Traditional Chinese Medicine is said to have developed exercises similar to Tai Chi movements and breathing techniques to improve the health and well-being of practitioners. Other great influences on the formation of Tai Chi include the Taoist sage and philosopher Chuang-Tze and Bodhidharma, the 6th-century Indian monk who brought Buddhism to China.

Upon arriving at the Shaolin Temple in Henan province, Bodhidharma taught the monks natural movements that formed the basis of modern Kung Fu and greatly influenced the growth of Tai Chi. However, the current form of Tai Chi is believed to have been developed by the monk Chang San Feng, who was born in 1247 and studied at the Shaolin Temple. Chang travelled through the mountains learning secret Taoist techniques including breathing exercises that may have allowed him to reach the age of 200.

Through observing nature, Chang learned how the soft can overcome the hard and also recognized the value of circular movement. Indeed, Tai Chi incorporates gentle, circular movements that transition smoothly from one to the next. Thus Tai Chi was born. Since then the practice has spread around the world as a form of exercise to enhance mind, body and spirit. Due to its immense popularity and health benefits, many scientific studies have been conducted on how Tai Chi enhances human health.

Let’s now look at some of this research. The symptoms of osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that causes pain and discomfort in sufferers, include stiffness, tenderness and the locking of joints. If the pain in a joint becomes too severe, a patient may be given an artificial replacement. The elderly, especially women, are most susceptible to this condition. In one study conducted at the Health Sciences Center of Texas Tech University, USA, 41 elderly individuals suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee were taught Tai Chi for six weeks, three times a week followed by another six weeks of home-based Tai Chi training.

The researchers noted that after 12 weeks of practicing Tai Chi, the group experienced decreased knee pain and stiffness and increased knee functioning, and that these benefits disappeared once the Tai Chi was stopped. Also, in a review of 33 studies conducted to determine if Tai Chi reduces pain in those with lower limb osteoarthritis, it was found that Tai Chi was significantly better at reducing pain in patients than other exercise programs. The elderly also tend to suffer from falls, and due to weakened bones may experience fractures that severely reduce quality of life and may cause death.

Many studies have shown that regular exercise can improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. Of these exercises Tai Chi is particularly effective. In a study conducted at Chang Gung University in Formosa (Taiwan), the balance and hand-eye coordination of 32 participants who had practiced Tai Chi for at least three years was compared to a group of swimmers and a control group.

The results showed that the balance and hand-eye coordination of the Tai Chi group was significantly better than that of the other two groups. In another study, researchers at the University of Oregon, USA found that Tai Chi improves balance and also that the underlying neural mechanism that leads to the improvement is a neuromuscular response controlling the ankle.

Other studies conducted in Hong Kong have shown that the elderly have better balance and increased confidence after practicing Tai Chi. Moreover, researchers at the Washington School of Medicine, USA found that patients suffering from the neurodegenerative condition Parkinson’s disease had improved balance after practicing Tai Chi for 10 to 13 weeks and also reported increased overall well-being. A healthy immune system is important in maintaining health and resisting diseases caused by pathogens and viruses. Studies have shown that even moderate amounts of Tai Chi positively affect immune-system functioning.

In a study conducted at the Chang Gung Institute of Technology in Formosa (Taiwan), 37 volunteers who undertook a 12-week Tai Chi training course had enhanced T-cell functioning. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that play an essential role in the immune system. Other studies performed at the University of California - Irvine, USA and the University of Illinois, USA showed that practicing Tai Chi enhances the immune system’s response to certain vaccines including one for shingles.

Furthermore, research at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey showed that AIDS patients who did Tai Chi twice a week showed improvements in physiological outcomes and quality of life. Besides benefitting the body, the practice of Tai Chi also enhances the mind and makes one more emotionally balanced by reducing stress and improving one’s mood and sense of happiness.

A review of 40 studies involving 3,817 subjects by the Tufts University School of Medicine, USA confirmed what the ancients knew long ago; that is, Tai Chi improves psychological well-being by reducing anxiety and depression and increasing self-esteem. People who suffer from brain injuries during an accident often have serious after-effects including depressed mood, confusion and frustration.

A study conducted at New Zealand’s Massey University found that after a six-week Tai Chi course, 18 individuals with brain injuries showed significant decreases in sadness, confusion, anger, tension and fear as well as increases in energy and happiness. A similar study at Nottingham University in the UK supported these findings and showed that brain-injury patients had improved mood after studying Tai Chi for eight weeks. Supreme Master Ching Hai has spoken on occasion about the power of Tai Chi and its spiritual meaning as in this lecture given in Hsihu, Formosa (Taiwan) in August 1991.

Take the example of a martial arts (tai chi) expert, a brother initiate. He doesn't have to lift his finger, yet anyone who touches him falls down. This is only when people touch him; he doesn't touch them! Anyone who touches him accidentally falls down by himself. Some people have practiced martial arts to such a superior level that they don't have to move their hands.

They're different than those who use a lot of force, kick fiercely and look rather brutal. When such people encounter someone more powerful, they're brought down. For martial arts experts who use very little force, an opponent cannot bring them down. This is the theory of "softness subduing sheer strength." In the universe, softness always subdues sheer strength. Anything that has lesser strength but is more intangible, more formless and more pliable is more powerful.

You see, air is vital to us, and dripping water can penetrate rocks. The longer the water drips, the deeper it penetrates. "Chi" – the vital life force – can sustain the body and even the whole universe. This invisible vital force – the vibration of Sound meditation -- is even more inconceivable. Nothing is better because It is the Mother of the universe and gives birth to all forms of creation. When we get hold of It, we'll have all the secrets of the universe in our hands. Getting hold of the mother means getting hold of the children, and we'll know where the whole family is. This is simple logic.

In summary Tai Chi offers practitioners many physical, mental and spiritual benefits, is suitable for all ages and body types and has been scientifically demonstrated to optimize health and happiness. Renowned all over the world today, truly Tai Chi can be counted as one of China’s many great gifts to the world.

Wonderful viewers, thank you for your presence today on Science and Spirituality. May all beings live in everlasting peace and joy through God’s abundant love.

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