Tai chi does not mean oriental wisdom or something exotic.
It is the wisdom of your own senses,
your own mind and body together as one process.
~Chungliang Al Huang ~
Tai Chi (pronounced Tie Chee) is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, focused body movements, meditation and deep breathing. The relaxed and deliberate movements of Tai Chi help develop balance, coordination and flexibility. Tai Chi is often referred to as “Meditation in Motion.”
Its name is derived from the philosophical term, “Tai Chi,” the first known written reference of which appeared in the Book of Changes over 3000 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty (1100-1221 BC). In this book it says that “in all changes exists Tai Chi, which causes the two opposites in everything.” Tai Chi means the ultimate of ultimate, often used to describe the vastness of the universe.
During a Tai Chi session, one moves slowly from one position to the next without stopping so that your body is in constant motion during the session. Because one must focus on breathing and the movements, tai chi helps focus one’s mind in a form of meditation.
The essential principles of Tai Chi are based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which stresses the natural balance in all things and the need for living in spiritual and physical accord with the patterns of nature. According to this philosophy, everything is composed of two opposite, but entirely complementary, elements of yin and yang, working in a relationship which is in perpetual balance. Tai Chi consists of exercises equally balanced between yin and yang, which is why it is so remarkably effective.
A History of the Medical Use of Tai Chi
Originally used for self-defence, Tai Chi is now practised as a gentle form of exercise, which has been used as part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for centuries.
It is almost impossible to separate Chinese martial art history from legend. Legends hold interesting and useful messages; thus, I will share some with you.
The real origins of Tai Chi are obscure. The more romantic and mystical accounts date back as far as the 15th, 12th or even the 8th century.
Less romantic, but more reliably sourced, accounts of Tai Chi, date back to Chen Wangting, a 16th century Royal Guard of the Chen village in Wenxian County, Henan Province. After retiring from the army, he was drawn to the teachings of Taoism, which led him to a simple life of farming, studying and teaching martial arts.
In the 1670s, Chen Wangting developed several Tai Chi routines which included the old frame (classical Chen style) form still practised today. He was greatly influenced by schools of boxing, particularly that of a famous general of the Imperial army, Qi Jiguang.
Chen Wangting assimilated the ancient philosophical techniques of Daoyin and Tuna into his martial art routines. These techniques, together with the use of clarity of consciousness, developed into the practice of Taoism.
Daoyin is the concentrated exertion of inner force, while Tuna is a set of deep breathing exercises. Tuna has recently developed into the popular Qigong exercises.
He also adapted the core philosophical understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine. By combining martial art exercises, the practice of Daoyin and Tuna and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tai Chi became a complete system of exercise in which the practitioner’s mental concentration, breathing and actions are closely connected. It paved the way for its current use as an ideal form of exercise for all aspects of health care.
In his later years, Chen Xin, a member of the 16th generation of the Chen family, wrote and illustrated a detailed book about the Chen school of Tai Chi. In it, he described the correct postures and movements, and explained the philosophical and medical background of the routines.
Yang Style, created by Yang Lu-chan (1799-1872) in the early 19th century, is the most popular style. Yang style is characterised by gentle, graceful and slow movements, which are easier to learn and promote health.
Wu Quan-you (1834-1902), and later his son Wu Jian-quan (1870-1942), created this other Wu
Style; it is characterised by softness and emphasis on redirecting incoming force. It is rich with hand techniques. Wu style tends to have a slightly forward leaning posture. The advantage of the Wu Style is that it is pleasant to look at, and is rich in techniques
Sun style is the youngest of the major styles. It was created by Sun Lu-tang (1861-1932). Sun style is characterised by agile steps. Whenever one foot moves forward or backwards the other foot follows. Its movements flow smoothly like a river, and there is a powerful Qigong exercise whenever the direction is changed. Sun Style has high stances.
The unique Qigong in Sun style brings great internal power, like water in the river, beneath the calm surface there is immense power within the current. This power is especially effective for healing and relaxation; its higher stances make it easier for older people to learn. It is also compact, not requiring a large space in which to practise. Sun has so much depth that it holds learners’ interest as they progress.
Tai Chi as a Complementary Therapy
Tai Chi does not treat the cancer itself, but works on the inside of the body and helps give order to feelings of confusion and turmoil.
Through Tai Chi, children with cancer can begin to understand their needs and emotions and to anticipate a feeling that is building in them, and it becomes easier for them to find self-control. The gentle exercises will also help them to stay fit or regain their fitness after a long hospital stay.
Tai Chi is especially beneficial for children with brain cancer who suffer from behavioural problems due to what is happening to their brain.
Pretending to be an animal moving peacefully in nature takes them away from the noisy, hectic pace of daily life and calms them down.
Tai Chi has also been successfully used with autistic children: by simplifying the moves for them, instructors have noticed remarkable changes in behaviour, ability to relate to others and self-confidence.
What is great about Tai Chi is that it is an exercise in which the whole family can take part and which will benefit all:
- Tapping on our bodies is a great morning activity for just 5 minutes. The whole family can wake up their energy and get ready for the day;
- A quick 10-minute Tai Chi session in the middle of the day can refresh one or just bring one back down is angry, fearful or anxious;
- Tai Chi can be a beautiful family activity before bed; the whole family can be sleeping lions.
A few minutes of Tai Chi before a test or before any hospital visit or treatment can do wonders to calm a child (and the parent/caregiver too) and make them focused and cooperative:
As you breathe and visualise, your shoulders and stomach relax; that tight feeling in the abdomen goes away; the blood begins to circulate more freely; you become rooted and centred, and your mind becomes focused on the task ahead.
Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., says he often recommends tai chi to patients because of its overall health benefits.
“In terms of the evidence that’s out there and the scientific literature, practices such as tai chi have been found to help improve patients’ quality of life,” Cohen says. “There are some studies showing that these types of mind-body practices can also have an impact on physiological functioning, improving aspects of immune function and decreasing stress hormones.”
Small studies have shown that regular Tai Chi may help with depression and improve self-esteem. These studies have also suggested that regular practice of tai chi can improve quality of life.
Some studies have shown that Tai Chi exercises may help improve shoulder movement after surgery and may also temporarily reduce lymphedema.
Research also suggests that tai chi can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, ease pain and stiffness and improve sleep. With regular practice, tai chi improves flexibility, strength, balance and fitness.
Tai Chi is perfect for all ages, all kids, everywhere. Students develop the self-confidence they need to find success. They are flexible and balanced, free of excessive fears and anxiety. Kids with special needs such as ADD, ADHD, autism, poor concentration, low energy and other disabilities can improve their focus and self-control, their ability to relate to others, to stay on target with their work and believe in themselves.
Even gentle forms of exercise like tai chi, or t’ai chi, and qigong can have major health benefits, according to research by Sala Horowitz, PhD, published in the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies.
“T’ai chi and qigong are traditional Chinese mind-body disciplines that have gained popularity in the West for their health benefits,” says Horowitz. “These interrelated practices have also received attention from researchers as complementary and alternative exercises for promoting overall well-being, as a fall-prevention strategy, and as adjunct therapies for addressing a wide range of conditions.”
Horowitz also cites studies that show that tai chi improves self-efficacy (or the belief that you have the ability to achieve your goals), locus of control (or the belief that you control the outcome of your life versus uncontrolled, external forces), and hope.
How is Tai Chi Administered?
There are several different schools of tai chi, but they all share the controlled flowing body movements and the focus on breathing.
Tai Chi differs from other types of exercise in several respects. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched.
Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.
Tai chi can be practised in a group or you can do the exercises on your own, after you learn the movements. Certain movements can be used to improve flexibility and balance, while the whole series of movements can help improve overall fitness.
A tai chi class might include these parts:
- Warm-Up: Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body.
- Instruction and Practice of Tai Chi Forms: Short forms — forms are sets of movements — may include a dozen or fewer movements; long forms may include hundreds. Different styles require smaller or larger movements. A short form with smaller, slower movements is usually recommended at the beginning, especially if you’re older or not in good condition.
- Qigong (or Chi Kung): Translated as “breath-work” or “energy-work,” this consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy. Qigong may be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down.
Side Effects or Risks
Because Tai Chi uses slow and gentle movements, it is thought to be a safe, low-impact physical activity. As with any exercise, your muscles or joints may be a little sore and stiff when you first start practising Tai Chi, especially if you haven’t been physically active in a while.
Contraindications: Patients who suffer from musculoskeletal injuries should consult a physician before starting tai chi.
As with any new exercise program, it’s best to talk to your healthcare team about whether tai chi is safe for you.
Let your Tai Chi instructor know about your cancer diagnosis and overall health. You may have to avoid or change certain movements or postures during tai chi.
World Tai Chi Day
World Tai Chi & Qigong Day founders, Bill and Angela Wong Douglas, have been pioneers in integrating Tai Chi and Qigong into modern healthcare.
The Last Saturday of April each year in 100s of cities, spanning 80 nations, people come
together, to breathe together, providing a healing vision for our world.
Many hospitals, health networks, and government health ministries have partnered with local Tai Chi and Qigong teachers and schools to promote World Tai Chi & Qigong Day events in their locales.
Spread the word! WTCQD is April 30, 2016. Click to see videos of past global events
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use. LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.