Tai Chi History
Tai chi, which originated in China as a martial art, is a mind-body practice in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Tai chi is essentially a system of movements and positions that have a written history of over 19 generations, utilizing anywhere from 24 to 108 movements. The term "tai chi" (shortened from "tai chi chuan") has been translated in various ways, such as "internal martial art" and "supreme ultimate fist." It is sometimes called "taiji" or "taijiquan."
Tai Chi techniques aim to address the body and mind as an interconnected system and are traditionally believed to have mental and physical health benefits to improve balance, flexibility, posture, strength and wellbeing. Tai chi comes from the terms “taiji” (Supreme Ultimate) and “chi” (life-force or energy).
Modern Day Tai Chi
Tai Chi is taught in classes or can be practiced alone. It requires hardly any space and no special attire. In China, it is common to see groups of people of all ages gathered at a park at every corner, doing their routines with precision and concentration.
Tai Chi exercises can also be practiced alone daily for 15 to 20 minutes. Doing Tai Chi in the morning will give you energy to start the day, while Tai Chi in the evening will relax you and make it easier for you to fall asleep. Tai Chi classes are even taught in prisons. Tai Chi allows the incarcerated to focus on peace and harmony within. People with a history of crime often are unable to connect with their higher selves, and Tai Chi as an active meditation, is able to bring about a sense of calm accomplishment replacing the internal chaos with the feeling of oneness with all beings.
Tai Chi, Qi and Internal Balance
Tai chi incorporates the Chinese concepts of yin and yang; the concept of two opposing yet complementary forces described in traditional Chinese medicine. A major theory is that health is achieved through balancing yin and yang and disease is caused by an imbalance leading to a blockage in the flow of qi. (opposing forces within the body).
A person’s outer, visible balance is a reflection of their internal balance and Tai Chi stresses the importance of maintaining this balance through movement, meditation and throughout life.
Practicing tai chi is said to support a healthy balance of yin and yang, thereby aiding the flow of qi.
This movement of qi is the key to rejuvenation. Stagnant qi creates ill health, pain and misery. Tai Chi strives to activate and circulate the qi in our bodies.
Tai Chi and Mindfulness
A high level of concentration is usually involved with Tai Chi, and sessions are intensely focused and quiet to encourage mindfulness.
Tai Chi for Exercise and Fitness
Several studies suggest that Tai Chi is a form of aerobic exercise that can improve aerobic capacity. The Japanese Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine in 2006 reported that leg muscles used in Tai Chi exceeded muscle activities in bicycling and jogging and could be a useful strength building exercise.
The Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2001 noted that Tai Chi was a moderate intensity exercise that showed improvements in just a 6 month period in physical functions in daily and more strenuous activities.
Smooth, balanced, low-impact exercise was cited in the University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter, 1998, as significantly suppressing platelet functions and protecting from the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Tai Chi Improves Physical Balance
The April 2009 Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that Tai Chi was effective for fall prevention in the elderly. Another clinical trial by researchers at the Oregon Research Institute evaluated Tai Chi as a fall prevention program. Participants at six community centers showed significant improvements in health-related outcome measures. Researchers in Sydney Australia selected 702 participants in relatively good health, aged 60 and older and randomly assigned them in two groups, a Tai Chi group and control group. Over a period of 6 months, the Tai Chi group had a 35% reduction in the risk of falls, and statistically significant improvements in balance.
Steven L. Wolf, Ph.D. at the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Ga., found during a 15 week Tai Chi program that elderly people reduced their risk of falling by 47.5 percent.
The American Geriatric Society in an article titled “Injury Prevention” on Tai Chi stated that exercise could improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and reaction time.
In the May 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, it was noted that Tai Chi helped improve balance and strength among seniors. Tai Chi practiced for 15 weeks reduced their risk of falling by 47.5%.
Tai Chi and Health
Tai Chi is associated with physiological benefits, such as improvements in muscle tone, physical fitness and circulation. Tai Chi can also improve our mental faculties by helping us to focus and concentrate and become more peaceful and calm. As a martial art, Tai Chi improves our reflexes, cardiovascular functions, coordination, balance and flexibility. Tai Chi is a low impact, aerobic exercise that anyone can do at any age.
Over the past twenty years, Tai Chi has gained in popularity because of its well-documented effectiveness on health and anti-aging benefits. Although Tai Chi is an invincible marital art, a “fighting” art used for combat and training in Special Forces and law enforcement, Tai Chi is also one of the few martial arts endorsed and actually taught in hospitals, senior and rehabilitation centers for health and healing.
Tai Chi is not only a preventative measure against illnesses and diseases, but Tai Chi can successfully improve and even eliminate a variety of physical, mental and emotional health conditions significantly.
The following are a few of the major health challenges that we face today and the effectiveness of Tai Chi in combating some of the symptoms.
Alzheimer's/Dementia/Mild Cognitive Impairment. Tai Chi practice is helpful in keeping us centered, calm and focused. Since dementias lack attention and concentration, meditation practices such as Tai Chi and yoga have been reported to reduce agitation with very beneficial results.
Anger. A pilot study shows that Tai Chi is a beneficial therapy for those who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) which is frequently a precursor to anger and mood disorders. Tom Tombaugh, PhD at the Centre for Memory Assessment and Research at Carleton University, Ottawa Ontario wrote that head injuries can change someone’s personality, which greatly affects their interaction with others. Frustration, emotional outbursts and overreacting damages relationship and self-esteem. Brain damage can significantly alter moods and a person can feel totally out of control. Tai Chi can almost immediately relax a person and put them in a good mood. Group interaction of Tai Chi is helpful to individuals who may otherwise remain isolated and alone, having negative thoughts which perpetuate even more anger.
Arthritis. It was found in a study at Tufts University at the American College of Rheumatology that an hour of Tai Chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. A Korean study published in December 2008 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, noted that Tai Chi slowed the progression of ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis by creating and regulating fluids within the joints
Bone Density Improvemen. Early results of Tai Chi for bone health are promising. A review of six controlled studies by Harvard researchers indicates that Tai Chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. Similar studies are currently underway with women suffering from osteopenia at the Osher Research Center and Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Breast Cancer. In 2008, a study at the University of Rochester, published in Medicine and Sport Science, showed that women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of Tai Chi showed improvement in their aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility and showed potential for improving the quality of their lives.
Cardiovascular Disease. A study of 53 people conducted at the National Taiwan University was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The study found that Tai Chi practiced for a year significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, while the control group which did not practice Tai Chi showed no improvement in any of the conditions.
Cholesterol. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine reported that Tai Chi “could decrease blood pressure and results in favorable lipid profile changes and improve subjects' anxiety status. Therefore, Tai Chi could be used as an alternative modality in treating patients with mild hypertension, with a promising economic effect.”
Diabetes. Tai Chi, used with proper medication, has been shown in early tests to be beneficial in improving glucose metabolism and blood sugar levels in diabetics.The British Medical Journal Apr 2, 2008 reports that Tai Chi appears to be helpful in regulating immune regulatory functions in type 2 diabetic patients and T cell helper function. In 2007, Diabetes Care reported that after a 12 week course in Tai Chi, researchers in Taiwan noted that HbA1c levels decreased and T cell helper reactions increased.
Fibromyalgia. Tai Chi may aid quality of life in fibromyalgia patients, but additional study is needed to make a strong recommendation.
Headaches. A study at UCLA Oct 22, 2007, suggests that Tai Chi effectively reduced tension headaches and migraine pain. After 15 weeks, the trials shows that the group assigned to Tai Chi showed improvements in energy, emotional well-being, and social functioning. Early study suggests that Tai Chi practice may be effective in reducing migraine and tension headaches without the use of prescription drugs, which include many side effects. Tai Chi addressed not just the symptoms of headaches, but the cause of the headaches--usually stress.
Heart Failure. The Archives of Internal Medicine, Mar 8 2004, reports on a study conducted by Wang Chenchen, MD at Tufts-New England Medical Center. The study showed that Tai Chi was helpful to the heart and circulatory system. Heart failure is indicated elevated B-type natriuretic protein. Harvard Medical Center also showed that 12 weeks of Tai Chi reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein. Although promising, more studies are underway.
High Blood Pressure. Patients who have participated in Tai Chi for 12 weeks have lowered their blood pressure almost as much as doing moderate intensity aerobics. Their cholesterol has also been reduced doing Tai Chi. Researcher of trials at the American Heart Association, Dr. Deborah R. Young from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD said, "You better believe we were surprised by those results. We were expecting to see significant changes in the aerobic exercise group and minimal changes in the Tai Chi group.” Dr. Young cautions that more tests are necessary to confirm these results.
In 26 studies published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008) it was reported that in 85% of trials, Tai Chi improved blood pressure from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
Mental Health. Dr. Chenchen Wang, Associate Professor, from Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Massachusetts conducted 40 studies about the mental health effects of Tai Chi. They found that the meditative qualities of Tai Chi alleviated stress, depression, anxiety and increased self-esteem and well being.
Osteoarthritis. Trials have shown that Tai Chi has assisted women with knee osteoarthritis by improving their physical functions. Tai Chi significantly decreased pain and stiffness according to a study published in the Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology.
Osteoporosis. Preliminary research suggests that Tai Chi may lead to improved bone mineral density and reduce the risk for osteoporosis. Results of testing indicate that Tai Chi may be beneficial in delaying early bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Parkinson's Disease. Tai Chi has improved balance, movements and well-being in Parkinson’s patients. A study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO found that people with Parkinson’s showed significant overall improvement after just 20 Tai Chi sessions.
Rheumatoid Arthritis. A pilot study at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston showed a 20% improvement in symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as swollen joints, pain and depression. Their quality of life was enhanced, suggesting that Tai Chi is effective and beneficial for those with RA.
Shingles. A research supported by the National Institute of Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows how Tai Chi can help older adults with shingles by increasing immunity to varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and boosting the immune response to varicella vaccine in older adults. Researchers Michael R. Irwin, M.D., and Richard Olmstead, Ph.D., of the University of California at Los Angeles, and Michael N. Oxman, M.D., of the University of California at San Diego and San Diego Veterans Affairs Healthcare System reported that Tai Chi increased immunity in the 25 week study by double that of the control group.
Sleep Disorders. In a University of California, Los Angeles, study of sleep disorders, they found that 16 weeks of Tai Chi was enough to improve the quality and duration of sleep. The study was published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Sleep.
Stress and Mental Health. Studies have shown Tai Chi to reduce the symptoms of ADHD in adolescents, as long as they were continued. The CIGNA newsletter, Wellbeing, winter, 1998, advises that Tai Chi Chuan has been shown to increase immunity, reduce stress, alleviate gastric problems, hypertension, and other ailments.
Stroke Recovery. 12 weeks of Tai Chi was helpful in the general functioning of stroke rehab patients. Balance and speed of walking were improved in136 patients who'd had a stroke at least six months earlier. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.
Weight Management. Tai Chi is an effective way to lose weight, and control weight. Tests reveal that Tai Chi burns more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill skiing. Researchers such as Dr. Michael Irwin from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior confirm that studies show that Tai Chi is an effective aerobic exercise that increases metabolism and physical conditioning.
Tai Chi and Longevity
There is evidence from several studies indicating that Tai Chi, if practiced regularly, may help improve quality of life in the elderly and slow down the effects of aging. Beyond improved balance and the preventive effects against falls, Tai Chi appears to improve overall physical functioning.
Between 1993 and 2007, seventy- seven random trials on Tai Chi were conducted by the American Journal of Health. The tests were based on 6,410 participants, whose average age was 55. The reviewers credited Tai Chi, through a series of 24 to 108 moves, with improved bone health, cardio-respiratory fitness, physical function, balance, quality of life, fall prevention and psychological benefits. The Emory University researchers were also able to show that Tai chi practitioners were 50% les likely to suffer falls.
During a 4 and 8 week Intensive on Tai Chi training for the elderly, it was observed that their balance performance and joint proprioception was comparable to experienced Tai Chi practitioners.
Researchers at the National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei investigated the fitness level of seniors, average age of 69 with 12 years of Tai Chi practice in comparison to sedentary subjects. The Tai Chi group had 18-19% greater peak oxygen uptake, greater flexibility and lower body fat compared to the sedentary.
Tai Chi exercises are choreographed to help joints go through a full range of motion. Research has shown that Tai Chi is an effective form of physical therapy for those recovering from injury or suffering from arthritis.
Tai Chi Precautions
Before beginning any exercise regime, including Tai Chi, it is recommended that you consult a medical practitioner if you have any medical, mental or emotional conditions.
About the Authors
Chandi Devi is an experienced tantra yoga practitioner, an experienced author on the topic of tantra yoga.
Dubbed "the Dear Abby of Tantra" Devi hosts the popular online radio show “The KarmaCaffe Spiritual Hour”where she answers questions and gives advice regarding tantra yoga and spiritual bliss . Some of Devi's publications include, From Om to Orgasm: the Tantra Primer for Living in Bliss" and the "The World of Tantra" a set of tantra DVDs that activate and transmute sexual energy (kundalini shakti).
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA is a well known author, champion natural bodybuilder, is a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, personal trainer, and life coach with over 30 years of experience in the health, fitness, bodybuilding, disease prevention, nutrition, and anti aging fields. As a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, Jeff Behar has been featured on several radio shows, TV, and featured in popular bodybuilding publications such as Flex and Ironman. Jeff's work has appeared all across the web, in books, and in peer reviewed scientific journals.
Jeff Behar is also the founder of the very popular www.MuscleMagFitness.com and www.MyBesthealthPortal.com health and wellness information websites; two of the largest 24/7 online web portals providing 24/7 news and information regarding top health, fitness, disease prevention, diet, nutrition, natural healing, and anti aging issues that are being discussed today.