While cooped up, like countless others, during the recent Spring Festival holiday, I actually savored the solitary time, because I could, as I have done for six years now in Beijing during this festive period, concentrate solely on a deeper study and practice of tai chi.
While most people during the coronavirus outbreak self-quarantine were inside looking out, I was inside looking inward, taking stock of activity within my body's walls.
Especially in light of the outbreak, I took heart in how tai chi, which includes self-defense among its features, offers a first line of defense against such natural onslaughts as the coronavirus.
In fact, science now bears out the age-old claims that tai chi, an intangible cultural heritage of China, offers a range of benefits.
The rewards go beyond the physical realm, touching as well on aesthetic, mental and spiritual development.
Regarding its broad scope, Chen Xin wrote, in The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taiji, published in 1932, that "the secret of Taijiquan…lies in the fact that its movements exist not of themselves, but are elements in an ancient tapestry of thought and consciousness, combining philosophy, healing and fighting into a single fabric".
And so I found myself, during the self-quarantine, conducting an inventory of the plentiful reasons for making the practice of tai chi a daily habit.
For starters, you need no equipment, no special clothing or gear, and not even a partner. As for space, the smallest area will suffice.
My shifu, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, himself a direct descendent of the creator of tai chi, once told us that if you have enough room to stand in the Single Whip posture－legs extended to the sides at about three times shoulder width, with arms likewise stretched sideward－you have enough room to practice tai chi.
You might have to adjust your steps during the practice routine, he said, but you nonetheless can still do proper tai chi in a small area.
My living room offered space aplenty, even with two cats underfoot and the various books I was reading scattered about.
While practicing Black Dragon Emerges From Water, Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg and a host of other colorfully named moves－all connected by Chenstyle tai chi's characteristic coiling and rotating motions－I was simultaneously lubricating my joints, motivating my circulatory system, strengthening my respiratory capacity, clearing my thoughts and inspiring myself to improve day by day.
Tai chi allows us to listen deeply to our inner workings as well as our muscular and skeletal networks as we slowly move through a series of postures. This reflective exercise, which engages our mental and imaginative acuity, comes as a real blessing in times of imposed idleness. It can help ward off the dreaded "cabin fever" made famous by Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining.
Similarly, the constant inventory we take of the body's alignment in each move－including proper posture, suitable distribution of weight and appropriate relaxation throughout the body－fosters the aesthetic sense needed for daily improvement.
In addition, with or without music, tai chi offers a pleasant and rewarding method of moving meditation.
But mostly, during the outbreak, I came to appreciate anew the fact that tai chi fortifies our body's immune, circulatory and respiratory systems.
Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist and pulmonary specialist who is a leading adviser in the nation's fight against the novel coronavirus, is co-author of a 2018 study, published in CHEST Journal, a publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, that touts the benefits of daily tai chi practice.
The study notes how respiratory function improved among patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who practiced the 24-movement routine of Yang-style tai chi for five hours per week for 12 weeks.
Likewise, research by Shin Lin, a fellow tai chi disciple and a professor at the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, has found that tai chi strengthens our immune system, increases the body's defenses against cancer, and generally offers the range of benefits of which Chinese lore has long boasted.
If you haven't already learned tai chi, even the basics, the coronavirus outbreak should motivate you to learn it soon. That way, the next time you find yourself with little to do but remain indoors, you'll have a wonderful way to pass the time and improve your body's defensive capabilities.
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