The concept of taiji ("supreme ultimate"), in contrast with wuji ("without ultimate"), appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, where it represents the fusion or mother of yin and yang into a single ultimate, represented by the taijitu symbol. T‘ai-chi ch‘üan theory and practice evolved in agreement with many Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism. Today, t‘ai-chi ch‘üan has spread worldwide.
Health Benefits of Tai Chi
T‘ai-chi ch‘üan has been reported as being useful in treating a number of human ailments, and is supported by a number of associations, including the National Parkinson Foundation and Diabetes Australia. However, medical evidence of effectiveness was lacking and in recent years research has been undertaken to address this.
A 2011 comprehensive overview of all the existing systematic reviews of t‘ai-chi ch‘üan's health effects found that "the evidence is conclusively or tentatively positive for fall prevention, general healthcare in older people, improving balance and enhancing psychological health"; the overview's authors thus recommended t‘ai-chi ch‘üan to older people for its various physical and psychological benefits. There was no conclusive evidence of benefit for any of the other conditions researched, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis.
A 2015 systematic review found Tai Chi could be performed by those with chronic medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, and osteoarthritis without worsening shortness of breath and pain, and found favorable effects on functional exercise capacity in people with these conditions.
In 2015 the Australian Government's Department of Health published the results of a review of alternative therapies that sought to determine if any were suitable for being covered by health insurance; t‘ai-chi was one of 17 therapies evaluated for which no clear evidence of effectiveness was found.
History and Styles
There are five major styles of t‘ai-chi ch‘üan, each
named after the Chinese family from which it originated:
Training and Techniques
The core training involves two primary features: the first being taolu (solo "forms"), a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of tuishou ("pushing hands") for training movement principles of the form with a partner and in a more practical manner.
The taolu (solo "forms") should take the students through a complete, natural range of motion over their centre of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout the students' bodies, maintain flexibility through their joints, and further familiarize students with the martial application sequences implied by the various forms. The major traditional styles of t‘ai-chi have forms that differ somewhat in terms of aesthetics, but there are also many obvious similarities that point to their common origin. The solo forms—empty-hand and weapon—are catalogues of movements that are practised individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defence training. In most traditional schools, different variations of the solo forms can be practised: fast / slow, small-circle / large-circle, square / round (which are different expressions of leverage through the joints), low-sitting / high-sitting (the degree to which weight-bearing knees are kept bent throughout the form), for example.
Breathing exercises; neigong (internal skill) or, more commonly, qigong (life energy cultivation) are practiced to develop qi (life energy) in coordination with physical movement and zhan zhuang (standing like a post) or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 60 years they have become better known to the general public.
The study of t‘ai-chi ch‘üan
primarily involves three aspects:
T‘ai-chi Mandarin: tàijí 太極, an abbreviation of tàijí quán 太極拳.
"Supreme Ultimate Boxing" is an internal Chinese martial art 武术 practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. Though originally conceived as a martial art, it is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: competitive wrestling in the format of pushing hands (tui shou), demonstration competitions, and achieving greater longevity. As a result, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims with differing emphasis. Some training forms of t‘ai-chi ch‘üan are especially known for being practiced with relatively slow movements.
For Mental Health & Cognitive Function
While a range of research has suggested that exercise helps reduce depression and anxiety, the role of tai chi and qi gong for these and other mental health problems is less clear. However, there is evidence that tai chi may boost brain function and reasoning ability in older people.
For Quality of Life
Much research suggests that physical activity enhances quality of life. Health providers who treat people with cancer often recommend exercise to reduce illness-related fatigue and improve quality of life. Some studies also suggest that physical activity helps people with heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
Research results indicated that practicing qi gong may improve quality of life, mood, fatigue, and inflammation in adults with different types of cancer, compared with those receiving usual care. However, the researchers suggested that the attention received by the qi gong participants may have contributed to the positive study findings.
A 2010 NCCIH - supported research review examined the effects of tai chi and qi gong on the quality of life of adults who were healthy, elderly, were breast cancer or stroke survivors, or had a chronic disease. The analysis suggested that practicing tai chi or qi gong may improve quality of life in healthy and chronically ill people.
What the Science Says About
Safety of Tai Chi and Qi Gong
Tai chi and qi gong appear to be safe practices. One NCCIH - supported review noted that tai chi is unlikely to result in serious injury but it may be associated with minor aches and pains. Women who are pregnant should talk with their health care providers before beginning tai chi, qi gong, or any other exercise program.
Training, Licensing, and Certification
Tai chi instructors don’t have to be licensed, and the practice isn’t regulated by the Federal Government or individual states. There’s no national standard for qi gong certification. Various tai chi and qi gong organizations offer training and certification programs—with differing criteria and levels of certification for instructors.
What’s the Bottom Line?
How much do we know about tai chi and qi gong? Several clinical trials have evaluated the effects of tai chi and qi gong in people with various health conditions.
What do we know about the effectiveness of tai chi and qi gong? Practicing tai chi may help to improve balance and stability in older people and in those with Parkinson’s disease, reduce back pain and pain from knee osteoarthritis, and improve quality of life in people with heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses. Tai chi and qi gong may ease fibromyalgia pain and promote general quality of life. Qi gong may reduce chronic neck pain, but study results are mixed. Tai chi also may improve reasoning ability in older people.
What do we know about the safety of tai chi and qi gong? Tai chi and qi gong appear to be safe practices, but it’s a good idea to talk with your health care providers before beginning any exercise program.
What the Science Says About the
Effectiveness of Tai Chi and Qi Gong
Research findings suggest that practicing tai chi may improve balance and stability in older people and those with Parkinson’s, reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, help people cope with fibromyalgia and back pain, and promote quality of life and mood in people with heart failure and cancer. There’s been less research on the effects of qi gong, but some studies suggest it may reduce chronic neck pain (although results are mixed) and pain from fibromyalgia. Qi gong also may help to improve general quality of life.
Both also may offer psychological benefits, such as reducing anxiety. However, differences in how the research on anxiety was conducted make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about this.
Falling and Balance
Exercise programs, including tai chi, may reduce falling and the fear of falling in older people. Tai chi also may be more effective than other forms of exercise for improving balance and stability in people with Parkinson’s disease.
For Pain (knee Osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia,
chronic neck pain, back pain)
There’s some evidence that practicing tai chi may help people manage pain associated with knee osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage in the knee that allows leg bones to rub together), fibromyalgia (a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue), and back pain. Qi gong may offer some benefit for chronic neck pain, but results are mixed.
Chronic Neck Pain
Research results on the effectiveness of qi gong for chronic neck pain are mixed, but the people who were studied and the way the studies were done were quite different.
More To Consider
Info on this page was last updated and verified on May 15th, 2018 P.S.T.