Tai Chi and Mental Health
General

Tai Chi and Mental Health

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Tai chi or tai chi quan is an ancient form of exercise and expression with a martial arts application. Various forms of tai chi have become popular within the past few centuries and are practiced worldwide. There are five original families who created their own particular styles. The Chen family is the first known family to introduce tai chi, known as Chen style tai chi. Chen tai chi is more of a fighting style. The Yang family followed with what has become a common style because of its slower movements and fluidity of form. It is a gentler and more mindful form of practice.

The next three styles, Woo, Sun, and Wu, also have taken from the Chen family and Yang family styles but incorporated their own movements and postures. Overtime, all five of the styles have morphed by interpretation of instructors and others who practice. However, all forms and styles have been proven to strengthen the body, improve balance, and even lower blood pressure. With that said, can tai chi also have a positive impact on one’s mental health?

Mental health benefits of tai chi

Also referred to as moving meditation, tai chi is known to offer positive benefits, physically as well as emotionally and cognitively when done regularly. The specific and focused motion requires full concentration, which allows body and mind to relax. This forces the participant to be completely present while allowing the Qi (energy) to flow freely, thus helping to heal areas of the body that may have Qi stagnation.

The specific and focused motion requires full concentration, which allows body and mind to relax.

According to research done by Diane Sater-Wee (11 Dec. 2023), “Qi stagnation is a fundamental concept in traditional Chinese medicine, and it refers to a blockage of disturbance in the flow of Qi in the body. When Qi is blocked due to physical ailments or even stress or anxiety, blood flow slows which then affects the body’s ability to heal itself naturally. Signs of Qi stagnation include but are not limited to depression and mood swings. When one is off balance physically or mentally, their Qi is not free to flow. Qi, otherwise known as life force, is necessary for health and connects all living beings within the universe.”

The ancient book of Huangdi Neijing, also known as The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon or The Classic of Internal Medicine, is considered a fundamental source for Chinese medicine and states, “The human body is part of a larger cosmos and therefore its functional development follows the laws that apply to all other matter.” Written in the form of a conversation between the Chinese emperor Huangdi and his court physician, it discusses the origin of diseases and cures for them based on the concepts of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements.

Energy flow

Once the Qi is allowed to flow freely, internally or externally, there is no room for destructive thoughts or depressive feelings. When Qi is allowed to flow, in a state of presence, one achieves Wuji. When one achieves a state of true Wuji, there is simply beingness in mind and body, and this state is known to have healing properties. When tai chi quan is practiced regularly, it can improve the circulation of energy and blood flow throughout the body providing an ideal environment for healing. Tai chi is known to help strengthen muscle, improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, support cognitive functionality, improve balance, and alleviate anxiety and other mood disorders.

Researchers Peter Wayne and Ted Kaptchuk state, “The practice of tai chi quan combines mental concentration, physical balance, muscle relaxation, and relaxed breathing. Tai chi shows excellent potential to be integrated into the prevention and rehabilitation of medical and psychological conditions. Tai chi is an exercise that modulates the activity and connectivity of key brain regions involved in depression and mood regulation, reducing neuroinflammatory sensitization and modulating the autonomic nervous system, which improves emotion regulation and reduces stress.

Whether Qi stagnation is global or individual, found within a microcosm or the macrocosm, there may certainly be a negative impact and detrimental results stemming from such stagnation. The more we practice tai chi quan, the more balance we bring to our internal and external environments which can only help to heal ourselves, others, and our world.

References
  1. Wayne, P. M., & Kaptchuk, T. J. (2008). Challenges Inherent to T’ai Chi Research: Part I—T’ai Chi as a Complex Multicomponent Intervention. J. Altern. Complement. Med., 14(1), 95–102.
  2. Sater-Wee, D. (2024). Qi Stagnation. American Institute of Alternative Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.aiam.edu/acupuncture/qi-stagnation on 5/30/24.
  3. Huangdi, a. 2. B., & Veith, I. (1972). The Yellow Emperor’s classic of internal medicine. Chapters 1-34. New ed. Berkeley; London (2 Brook St., W1Y 1AA), University of California Press.

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