Value of Tai Chi

Softening Exercises

Grandmaster Yeung Ma Lee created “softening exercises” in which she embedded the very essence of the tai chi principles. When she instructs the softening exercises, she starts from the neck and goes to the feet to help make it easier for students to understand the tai chi principles, especially the importance of fascia, and later, how to apply the principles to the tai chi form.

The softening exercises are therapeutic movements and are also helpful to martial movements since their principles are all connected to the tai chi chuan form. The exercises start at the neck and work downward towards the feet with the idea of teaching one how to separate and manipulate the body’s various parts: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum and coccyx. In so doing, one is able to utilize integral force. The exercises also teach one how to use internal force governed by the navel psychic center (navel psychic center here refers to the conglomeration of nerve endings in the upper, lower and middle dan tien for the purpose of body movement memory.) Thus, by using integral and internal forces, one cultivates energy force (chi).

Through these exercises, one softens the connecting tissues to all the bone joints, beginning with the spinal column, for the purpose of increasing the range of motion, promoting the unimpaired circulation of nutrient-rich oxygenated blood, developing unhindered movement of energy, and permitting unimpaired messages from the nervous systems. Consequently, the health of the mind, the body and the nervous systems can improve. The exercises are also valuable because they function as a personal tool box to address particular, individual problem areas so that overall health can be brought back into balance.

I, John Conroy, continue to learn these softening exercises from Grandmaster Yeung Ma Lee. They have allowed me to understand tai chi’s principles and to improve the way I stand, correctly aligning my skeletal muscles in order to use my mind to direct the movement of energy. I also understand how to employ that energy to move my body. This is the fundamental concept of tai chi — the use of yin/yang or positive/negative or opposing forces.