There are many styles of Tai Chi and it is not the purpose of this text to denigrate or praise the differences that exist; all have their place. While the origins of Tai Chi are rooted in the oriental martial arts and self defence, this particular style is more interested in self preservation and emphasises a number of key elements that are useful in the west, particularly in today's hectic society.
At its core lies the gentle exercise of the spine. The spine is the major support system of the body. It is the conduit for the spinal cord, which incorporates most of our nervous system.
In Chinese medicine it is part of the micro-cosmic orbit that circulates chi throughout the body, and without it we could not survive.
Yet in western society it is the most often abused part of our body. Despite all we are taught, we constantly ignore our spine, particularly when we are young and "invincible" (or so we believe).
The spine is made up of 24 vertebrae that form a delicate set of "S" shaped curves from its seat at the sacrum, to the base of the skull. Between each of the vertebrae is an intervertebral disk which acts as a shock absorber for most of the weight applied to the spine and to give it its flexibility (allowing us to bend and twist our bodies).
One of the major medical problems facing modern western society can be traced to problems with the disks. Over-extension of the spine due to bad posture, improper methods of lifting and moving together with more and more time spent sitting for long periods (in the workplace, when studying and at home in front of the television) has led to compression of the spine, and in particular the lower back, causing the disks to prolapse or slip.
The good news is that while over-extension of the spine causes many problems, Tai Chi Bao Jian talked can help maintain, repair and prevent problems with the spine. From an eastern point of view, the spine is part of the micro-cosmic orbit. When the spine is over-extended or twisted too far the flow of Chi is interrupted and illness can result in other parts of the body (as well as the spine).
Another factor in Tai Chi is its role as a moving meditation. To some people the thought of sitting still while meditating is anathema. To others it is another dimension to existing meditation practices. To us westerners, hell bent on extracting the most out of our precious time, Tai Chi is a bonus. If you persevere, you can not only keep your body well, but your mind and spirit healthy at the same time.
Physiologically, gentle contraction and extension of the spine can act as a sort of pump to massage and keep the fluid in the intervertebral disks in optimal condition.
We in the west are a top heavy, head-oriented society. We are usually in our heads and are seldom aware of what is happening in the rest of our bodies. We are (generally) out of balance.
In Tai Chi Bao Jian we connect with our centre of balance and come down out of our heads to our centre (tan tien in Chinese, hara in Japanese). We are taught the optimal alignment of hips, spine, feet and shoulders. It is ritualised in the movements of the set so that, with practice, we can use our bodies in daily activities and avoid some of the stresses we sometimes place on it.
The movements in Tai Chi Bao Jian will enhance and improve left brain/right brain coordination. It will increase physical balance and coordination, with emphasis on strengthening the legs and opening the hip joints. Exercises and the Form will mobilise tendons and joints and free the pathways for the flow of Chi throughout the body.