What Are the Principles of Tai Chi?

Body, movement control, and mindfulness, are at the heart of the principles of Tai Chi.

They encourage you to seek a connection within your form.

In turn, your health, flexibility, and balance are all improved.

As an ancient practice, there are many teachings and rules relating to Tai Chi.

Some categorize the thirteen movements, others collate the principles into five.

The ten principles below are derived from the teachings of Yang Ch’eng-Fu, a highly respected practitioner of martial arts.

His system smoothed out the intense and vigorous training routines taught previously.

By emphasizing expansive and smooth movements with even pace, he introduced a new form of martial arts to public popularity.

When incorporating these ten principles into your Tai Chi, you improve form and movement.

This lessens the likelihood of injury, and allows you to connect more deeply with the practice.

Practicing Tai Chi with these principles improves the connection between mind and body.

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The 10 Principles of Tai Chi

1. Elevate the head and spirit

The head needs to be held upright, so the Shen, or spirit, can reach the top of the crown.

The movement should feel natural, and not stiff.

Picture as though a string is holding the crown up and aligning the body.

Done correctly, the top of the head should be in a line with the neck, and the vertebrae of the spine.

When your head is raised, your spirit is raised.

2. Sinking shoulders and dropping elbows

The shoulder and elbows should be relaxed, and not held tight.

Relaxed doesn’t mean limp, but instead held without strain or tension.

The relaxed position allows power to move throughout the body.

A place of tension stops free movement.

A loose body remains connected with itself, and energy can flow through.

3. Relax the chest and round the back

When done correctly, the back and chest should be held in a way that brings balance and alignment across the body.

The chest should be relaxed, and sunk inward slightly.

This allows the breath to permeate into the lower belly.

A protruding chest can lead to imbalance, and potential injury.

The upper back is uplifted slightly, as though being plucked outward.

4. Relax the waist, movement comes from the center

A relaxed waist provides power to the body.

As it sits at the center, it can take energy from the lower body and move it upwards.

The waist acts as the ruler of the body.

It distributes and releases energy.

When the waist is held too rigid, movement becomes slow and cumbersome.

A relaxed waist can quickly and directly divert energy and power.

When the waist is relaxed, balance and power can work together better.

5. Differentiate between substantial and insubstantial, empty and full

For the greatest agility, one leg must always be heavy (substantial), and one leg must always be light (insubstantial).

When weight is distributed evenly, movements become heavy and cumbersome.

When weight is separated, turns become agile.

By maintaining just one point of contact with the ground, weight can be transferred smoothly when reacting.

When the legs are viewed separately, it becomes easier to direct energy where needed.

6. Use the mind, not force

Tai Chi prizes agility and movement over force.

The mind (yi), leads the body (li).

By guiding your body with your mind, you keep control over all the aspects of the body.

With this constant awareness, you can find where energy is needed, and where it’s being stored.

The body is like a whip - it gains its power from directing energy rather than force.

This is why the body must be kept relaxed.

Tension stops energy in its tracks, leaving you weaker.

Tai Chi doesn’t value muscle as much as it values releasing force.

7. Harmony of upper and lower body

The body is a single unit, and should move as such.

When one part of the body moves, the rest should move with it.

When one part falls still, the entire body falls still.

Movement begins in the feet and travels up the legs, is directed by the waist, before passing down the shoulders and being released by the hands.

This continuous flow is directed by the mind, and facilitated by the loose, relaxed body.

Coordination and harmony are essential to Tai Chi.

8. Harmony of internal and external

While practicing Tai Chi, the mind, the body, and the breath are all in a single focus.

Movement should be in time with the breath, and in-sync with the mind.

The spirit, mind, and energy work within the movement.

When the external and internal are in harmony, directing energy and releasing force becomes effortless.

The body and the mind exist as one, and should be moved as one.

When the body moves, it responds to the mind.

Tai Chi teaches this reaction to be instantaneous and continuous.

9. Continuity and evenness throughout

Movement in Tai Chi is described as being like a spool of silk.

Pull too hard, and the silk breaks.

Pull too slow, and the silk tangles.

This is why movement needs to be steady and continuous.

There are no breaks between movements, only brief rests, and it’s important not to slow down or speed up.

Tai Chi is linked to Taoism, which stresses the important links between natural balance and the spirit.

This connection can be seen in the steady movements of Tai Chi.

We move within the patterns of nature.

10. Stillness within movement

With every movement made while practicing Tai Chi there should always be a sense of stillness.

The mind should reach for tranquility.

When this is achieved, we gain a greater control over our bodies.

The stillness teaches control and awareness.

We learn this awareness by practicing Tai Chi slowly and calmly.

Tai Chi is seen as a form of moving meditation.

The stillness of the mind is hugely beneficial for the body, as you become more present within yourself.

These ten principles of Tai Chi together form a guide to gaining greater control over your body and mind.