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Tai Chi Illustrated

Tai Chi Illustrated Book Review

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Updated December 22, 2012

Tai Chi Illustrated

Tai Chi Illustrated


Tai Chi Illustrated, written by Master Pixiang Quiu and Welmo Zhu and published by Human Kinetics in Champaign, Illinois, is a well-organized hand book suitable for beginning, intermediate and advanced practitioners. Despite its comprehensive coverage on the topic, Tai Chi Illustrated provides excellent detail on the stances, forms and routines, as well as the history and philosophy of this popular movement activity.

Tai Chi History and Philosophy Revealed

I love this book!

I have personally tried tai chi a number of times, and am familiar with the Chinese Medicine philosophy (of which tai chi is a part). Just the same, I picked up a few tidbits from reading this book.

Tibit #1. Did you know tai chi got its start in the 1600s? I always thought it was few thousand years old. The book distinguishes between the roots of Taoism (a philosophy from which tai chi originated) and the beginning of the tai chi movement form. The codified version of tai chi (i.e. the “form”) began when a retired military official named Chen moved to the countryside so that he and his family could live in harmony with nature. Tai chi was his daily exercise. Chen remains a popular school of tai chi today.

Tai Chi Illustrated describes several popular schools, for your reference. The schools vary by such things as the softness, relaxation and range of motion with which the moves are performed. I find this to be very clarifying, especially for those times when a decision as to what type of tai chi to study needs to be made.

The book also points out that In 3rd century BC, a Taoist text called the I Ching (meaning “Book of Changes”) set forth the basic philosophy of yan and yang - that the world contains many contrasts and conflicts, but harmony is attainable if we balance those opposing forces.

This philosophy represents the beginning of Taoism, from which tai chi was born. Tai chi is a physical representation of the act of balancing the opposing forces of life. The book also discusses the 5 element theory.

Tai Chi and Spinal Health

The authors talk a lot about the application of this philosophy to health. Ever respectful of western medicine, they offer the reader a look into the Asian perspective of energy flow through the body (via “meridians”), and how the moves of tai chi are designed to stimulate that flow. The authors say that energy flow is one reason why tai chi is associated with health improvement.

The 2nd section of the book covers 3 tai chi forms you can do that are specifically meant for back wellness. That section also contains forms for several other common lifestyle based health concerns, namely cardiovascular health, balance (a great training for fall prevention by the way) and coordination.

The prelude to the section on tai chi for back pain disappointed me. It’s heavy on the usual informational fare about spinal conditions, but sparse on tai chi specific ideas for back wellness. (And most of what they report are the same facts you’ve likely already accessed on the Back and Neck Pain site – things like incidence and prevalence of back pain, common causes and more.)

Related: Back Pain Statistics

The authors shed very little light on the way in which tai chi actually works to benefit spines. I would have like to have heard more about this.

Related: Take the What To Do When You Have Back Pain Quiz

Tai Chi Moves Communicated

Tid Bit #2. Now, I’ve long known that tai chi involves side to side weight shifting while in the standing position. I can still hear my teachers’ voices saying “you’re right leg should have weight and you should be able to lift - or even float – your left leg up”, and vice versa.

But Tai Chi Illustrated helped me understand this idea on a deeper level. So Tidbit #2 is: Tai chi is about modulating movement between the extremes of firm and empty. According to the authors, the firm to empty principle goes beyond which leg is bearing weight and which is not. It’s a constantly changing dynamic that is at work in all areas of the body at any given time. And it’s about qualities of movement you should pay attention to as you practice.

Tidbit #3 is something I think you should experience for yourself. It’s the form quick check opportunity afforded to the reader via the presentation of some of the graphics.

In some instances, photos are stamped diagonally across with either the word “incorrect”. These images show clearly the most common posture and position mistakes students tend to make. Use them as tools for taking an honest look at your posture in the form. You can also use these images to correct your form, according to the authors’ instructions, of course.

All in all, the moves depicted in Tai Chi Illustrated are easy to follow as they are well illustrated with photos. The sequenced photos are organized for maximal access of the key points you need to be working correctly. For each practice, form and routine (a practice is a position to take in order to build initial strength, a form is a sequence of simple movements that have a purpose, and a routine is a multi-form sequence), structured images/text units let you exactly where you need to be at any given point in your tai chi practice session.

Each photo is numbered. Photos are accompanied with a paragraph labeled with a corresponding number. The paragraph describes how to get into the position shown in the photo. The photo also shows short excerpts from the paragraph – like key points, if you prefer to follow along visually. At the end of each chapter the photos are presented again, but in a succession, all on one page, so you can get a stronger sense of the movement or flow of that particular form or routine.

A Great Book For Nearly Everyone Interested In Tai Chi

From basic practices for developing strength and calmness of mind to advanced improvisational tai chi push hands technique this book has it all.

I respect the authors well executed attempt at addressing the book to nearly every person who might wish to practice tai chi - including people with back pain. Ongoing students can benefit from reviewing their basics, as well as picking up new moves to do. Beginners get a firm foundation in the art of this healing movement form. And wellness seekers are given a number of targeted sequences to try.

Publication Information

  • (c) 2013
  • Authors: Master Pixiang Qui and Weimo Zhu
  • Publisher: Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois
  • ISBN Number: 10: 1-4505-0160-0
  • ISBN Number: 13 1-4505-0160-9
  • 231 pages.

More Info on Tai Chi and Natural Remedies for Back Pain

If you'd like more information about using tai chi and/or other types of complementary or alternative medicine as a way of managing back pain, check out the following list:

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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