All of us want to understand what we are going to get out of something that we are investing time, money, or energy into. Does a new hobby or activity align with changes that we want to make in our life? Will it add fun or opportunities to meet other people? Will it help us get back to feeling great or break us out of a dull routine? Tai chi is no different and new students always ask about the purpose of tai chi to make sure it’s going to be a good use of their time. It’s an easy explanation because tai chi benefits us in four primary ways:
The purpose of tai chi is to add a practice to people’s lives that promotes health, mental well-being, community, and an increase in self-awareness. It has evolved over the centuries to focus less on self-defense and more on healing, longevity, and applying philosophical ideas to life.
This basic understanding doesn’t get to the heart of the matter though. What has led millions of practitioners to learn a sequence of movements that have been passed down for hundreds of years? What has caused tens-of-thousands of individuals to teach, largely voluntarily? How has a non-religious philosophy crossed all political, cultural, and linguistic barriers? To understand this is to truly understand the purpose of tai chi.
The Purpose of Tai Chi Told From Four Unique Angles
Hopefully it’s clear that trying to identify a single purpose of tai chi is not really possible. Seeing the multitude of reasons why people do tai chi and then continue to practice makes the discussion easier. This also explains why so many people, from so many walks of life, do tai chi. Each of us prioritizes something unique. For you, it might be your health or socializing with good people. For me it’s health but also well-being and awareness. We can all come from these different directions and arrive at the same place which is one of tai chi’s greatest lessons.
Whether your primary goal is health, mental well-being, community, or an increase in self-awareness, you achieve any one of these by focusing on everything simultaneously because they are all intertwined.
1. The Positive Effects on Your Health From Doing Tai Chi
Improving one’s health is the greatest purpose of tai chi because the state of the body, number of years we experience youth, and the amount of energy we have to dedicate to other people and our passions is all dictated by our level of health. It’s also true that a healthy person typically has a happier disposition allowing us to wring more joy out of our time on earth. There are too many health benefits to mention but I organized 31 tai chi health studies here.
2. Experiencing Contentment, Happiness, and Joy
Why would we do anything that does not lead to contentment or make us happy? This sounds like an easy question on the surface. The truth is that all of us are prone to be mired in relationships that aren’t good for us, working jobs we hate for some distant goal, and undertaking self-sabotaging behaviors to avoid, hide from, or check out from our reality. Part of the purpose of tai chi is to get us to experience true joy again. It is a calming, fun, activity that we perform with other like-minded people. It gives us the opportunity to participate in something that might be diametrically opposed to our daily life. I have had this experience so many times. I’ve gone to class in a really bad place. There are times when I am still highly caffeinated at 6PM, carrying the weight of some workday failure, and moving at a near sprint from having crammed in a few errands between work and practice.
Then practice starts and there are others in a calmer place than I am and their goodwill starts to rub off. I move slowly and breath deeply for 90 minutes and am left with a comparison of who I was at 7:30 and who I am at 9PM. I am forced to question the insanity that I let overtake me. I go to bed and wake up to try to do better the next day. I believe that depression, sadness, or even just being in a funk are typically the result of many small decisions. We need to get shaken out of it by talking to a friend that knows us well or maybe a therapist. However, tai chi is just as powerful in showing us who we are and who we have the potential of being. And, we just need to practice the form to experience it.
3. Connecting to Your Community and Society
It takes effort to remain socially connected. The ease with which we participate in massive friend groups during school shrinks to work groups, sports groups, or parent groups as young adults. We have to actively seek out congregations, hobbies, or volunteer opportunities in order to stay engaged. Social media was poised as a way to make this easier. Data on cognitive studies indicates that it doesn’t fully satisfy our need for social connection and worse yet, in recent years it has been shown to divide us further.
The communal purpose of tai chi is not just to socialize. You get the rare opportunity to participate in something that began hundreds of years ago and has been passed down to your teacher and now to you. It is wonderful to feel the connection to a group of people who are all in tai chi class to have fun, get out of the house, and meet new people. But it is also humbling to see videos of people from every country and every walk of life performing the same movements you know. Even more important is knowing that this has been shared for centuries which connects you not just to people who are living but to humans who have long-since passed away.
4. Self Awareness is the Ultimate Purpose of Tai Chi
I think it’s interesting that so much talk about being checked out, zoning out, and being distracted are attributed to modern technology and a recent plague on our psyche and children. Central to all ancient texts is the very same goals we seek by “disconnecting.” We are looking for tools to be aware and appreciative of our current situation and surroundings. We seek mental health, mental clarity, and the chance to put all of our attention towards something that is meaningful to us. We crave a reduction in stress and anxiety that is clearly linked to an unaware state.
Tai chi as a physical activity can deliver us into an aware state. It’s a boon to those of us that struggle with sitting meditation because it reintroduces us to clear, aware, present thinking and reminds us of what good actually feels like. Most of us have to go on vacation for a solid week to be able to experience this. With tai chi, you can enter a classroom or even your backyard and experience it on a daily or weekly basis.
Like every good Chinese riddle the purpose of tai chi is both very simple and complex. If you seek health, happiness, connection, or awareness, tai chi can provide this for you. However, each is achieved individually by giving attention to the whole. You can accomplish all of this simultaneously by joining the global community and learning the tai chi form.