Tai chi is often described as a moving meditation or a form of low-impact exercise that lowers stress and reduces symptoms of aging. The practice, that began as a Chinese martial art, focuses on allowing the chi -- or energy force -- to flow freely through the body. Unlike many other martial arts practices, tai chi doesn't mark progress through external signs, such as belts. Instead, practitioners advance slowly and mindfully through a series of levels.
Basic Movements, Form and Posture
The first level of tai chi involves gaining competency in the practice's basic movements, postures, forms, alignments and stances. It may take 6 months or more to simply learn the correct posture for tai chi. Until a student can achieve a posture consisting of a straight body, bent knees and relaxed upper body, chi doesn't flow properly. A majority of students, and even tai chi instructors, are at this primary level.
At the second level of tai chi, students spend at least 5 years studying and training with a master; at least a decade must be devoted to active practice. During this stage, students become proficient in form and can start focusing on feeling chi, though they can't yet direct it.
Training with a Master
The third stage of tai chi involves intense, one-on-one training with a master. Students train for a few days each week, or sometimes every day, for at least 10 years during this stage. Training sessions focus on aligning body and mind in order to coordinate the inner flow of chi with the outer movements of the body. At the third level, students also learn the martial applications of the tai chi movements.
Disciple with Special Knowledge
When a student advances to the fourth level, she becomes a "disciple" to a tai chi master, or a lineage holder, who has reached level five. Disciples are eligible to receive specialized training in certain areas of the practice, but aren't masters in every area. At level four, disciples focus on coordinating both the internal flow of chi, as well as external movements, posture and tai chi's martial applications.
When a tai chi lineage holder determines that a disciple is ready to advance to the fifth level, that student may also become a lineage holder. Unlike disciples -- who are trained in specialized areas -- lineage holders learn each aspect of the discipline in full. At this level, body and mind work together harmoniously and chi can be expressed through any movement. Years of dedication, practice and training lead to balance between yin and yang.
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