Animal Work and Tai Chi

By Jennifer

Tai Chi is historically a form of animal work that is based on animals in nature. As in yoga, many of the postures are based on the stances that animals take. In the twelfth century there was a master named Chang San-Feng.  Chang is said to have observed five animals that are also cornerstone animals in feng shui- the-tiger, dragon, leopard, snake, and crane–and then rated them in terms of their dominance. He concluded that the snake and the crane, who find ironic strength in their ability to yield, bend or escape through the air, were the two most powerful creatures.  This is why movements in Tai Chi have such poetic names as “White Crane Spreads Its Wings.”


The result of Chang’s meditations upon the movements of both real and archetypal animals was a set of exercises with postures that took the body of the human through a graceful series of movements that mimic everything from submission to evasion to intimidation. The aggression in some of the postures is why some people think Tai Chi is militant in origin when actually the exercises were created to add some yang (relaxation and open heart) to the yin lifestyle (rigid and restricted) of ancient Chinese shoulders.


No matter how perfectly you are accomplishing the Tai Chi movements and postures your effort is all for nothing if you are not breathing properly while doing them. In addition to moving your limbs you must also breathe out as you go into each movement.  There is no huffing and puffing allowed in Tai Chi. These are the same type of deep breaths that you were taught to do in Yoga or Meditation classes.  These deep healing breaths help calm and center you as well as massage your internal organs, help your cells get rid of toxins and calm and soothe the mind.


Of course tai chi is more than just a series of perfectly executed postures. Perfection is not the aim of Tai Chi. It is getting from posture to posture that is most important. It is more about improvement at your own pace. Each movement must be flow into the next and the movements are not to be rushed. They are to be performed at a gentle, graceful pace so that one movement flows naturally into another, like the movement of water.  Doing these movements with a crowd also helps you to connect to group mind and be in sync with others. In essence it teaches you to go with the flow!