What is empowerment ?
Perceptions of empowerment vary greatly across time and culture. Some people are empowered by material gains, while others are empowered by a spiritual quest. A battered woman feels empowered when she is freed from the threat of violence and can make decisions about her own life. Workers feel empowered through unions. In essence, empowerment speaks to self-determined change and control. While nations can foster this, true empowerment comes from within.
Tai chi ch’uan (the “supreme ultimate force”), a melding of martial arts and meditation, has long been a source of individual and social empowerment in Asia – as I discovered when I joined people doing tai chi in the parks of China.
Central to Chinese philosophy and medicine is the concept of the “chi,” or life force. One of the aims of tai chi is to inspire the circulation of chi in order to enhance one’s physical health and vitality as well as to foster a calm and tranquil mind. The seamless, dance-like discipline consists of a number of sets of smooth, graceful movements, performed in a contemplative state. Many sets are derived from the natural movements of animals and birds, with picturesque names that conjure up images, like White Crane Spreads Wings, Wild Horse Leaps the Ravine and Lion Shakes Head.
Other exercises are based on the philosophical context of Taoism, which is a reflective, mystical Chinese tradition founded by the philosopher Lao-tzu, an older contemporary of Confucius. In the 6th century B.C., Lao-tzu authored the seminal work of Taoism, “The Tao Te Ching.” The philosophy has many elements, but fundamentally it espouses a view of a world steeped in the beauty and tranquility of nature.
Symbolism in names was a potent force in Taoist thinking. As part of their contemplation of nature, the Taoists observed the heavens and were keen students of astronomy and astrology. This is reflected in such tai chi forms as Embrace The Moon, Heavenly Steed Soars Across the Sky and Step Up to Seven Stars.
When done correctly, tai chi moves the chi in an even flow through the body’s vital center, dissipating potentially evil or destructive energy and sending it away. It is calming yet invigorating. The practitioner thus feels empowered by increased energy, better balance, health and posture.