Tai Chi & Qigong: Holistic Practices for Better Health

When we ask our wellness instructors what kinds of classes they see as being most beneficial to the majority of our clients, the most common answers are Qigong and Tai Chi.  These ancient Asian movement forms have been steadily gaining in popularity throughout the western world, and the medical community is increasing funding and research into figuring out how and why they are so effective.

The differences between Qigong and Tai Chi are subtle and complex, owing in large part to the fact that there are many different styles and teaching methods for both of them.  However, they can both be seen as integrated mind-body interventions and are often described as “moving meditations”.  In Bobbie Lu-Kopf’s (RMT and our resident Qigong master) experience, Qigong is frequently used as a warm-up and cool-down from more intensive Tai Chi practices, although both forms draw on many similar movements and meditative concepts.  Bobbie often says that the movements of Qigong can be seen as individual phrases or sentences, whereas Tai Chi sequences take those phrases and turn them into poems.

Many of our clients enjoy the accessibility of Qigong: simple movements are often repeated a number of times to emphasize different aspects of the body, and its gentleness and slow pace make it particularly popular among seniors.  A growing body of research, much of it headed by the Harvard Medical School, is exploring the ways in which Tai Chi (and by extension, Qigong) can have dramatically positive impacts on not just overall wellness, but conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and related neurological disorders. (1)  Dr. Peter M. Wayne, coauthor of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, believes there are eight “active ingredients” that make Tai Chi such an effective practice for maintaining physical, cognitive, and emotional vitality, particularly in older populations.  These ingredients are:

◊       Awareness

◊       Strengthening and flexibility

◊       Intention

◊       Natural, freer breathing

◊       Structural integration

◊       Social support

◊       Active relaxation

◊       Embodied spirituality (2)

It is the integration of each of these pieces – which are also present in most Qigong practices – that allows for optimal functioning of bodies, in turn providing truly holistic approaches to managing injuries and diseases.

Specifically, Dr. Wayne and his team investigated 21 separate studies about the effects on Parkinson’s Disease of practicing Qigong and/or Tai Chi, and concluded that individuals who participated in these exercises and meditative techniques experienced improved motor-related symptoms, balance, and mobility, as well as reduced falls and rates of depression. (3)  In 2017, Dr. Wayne’s team won an award for their study illustrating that “individuals with Parkinson’s who completed a 6-month Tai Chi course showed trends towards improved performance on a dual task test, which involves working on a cognitive challenge while also doing a physical activity.” (4)  Such findings reinforce the link between integrated mind-body therapies and the importance of exercise on cognitive function.

Studies like Dr. Wayne’s help illustrate the importance of Tai Chi and Qigong when it comes to dealing with specific conditions, but their effectiveness is hardly confined to those conditions: everyone can benefit from increased coordination, balance, strength, flexibility, as well as more mental clarity, calmness, and meditative breathing practices, all of which are emphasised in gentle weekly practices of Qigong and Tai Chi. (5)

 

[1] Wayne, P., Manor, B., Novak, V., Costa, M., Hausdorff, J., & Goldberger, A. et al. (2019). A systems biology approach to studying Tai Chi, physiological complexity and healthy aging: Design and rationale of a pragmatic randomized controlled trial.

[2] The 8 Active Ingredients of Tai Chi. – Tai Chi for Health. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.taichiforhealth.net/the-8-active-ingredients-tai-chi/

[3] Positive Impacts of Tai Chi for Parkinson’s | Davis Phinney Foundation. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.davisphinneyfoundation.org/blog/tai-chi-and-parkinsons/

[4] Ibid.

[5] Helmer, J. (n.d.). Tai Chi and Qi Gong: Better Balance and Other Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/tai-chi-and-chi-gong