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Other Key Beliefs in Tai Chi

Certain concepts from Chinese philosophy were important in tai chi's development (although not every person who practices tai chi for health purposes, especially in the West, learns or uses them). A few are as follows:

  • A vital energy called qi underlies all living things.
  • Qi flows in people through specific channels called meridians.
  • Qi is important in health and disease.
  • Tai chi is a practice that supports, unblocks, and redirects the flow of qi.

Another concept in tai chi is that the forces of yin and yang¹ should be in balance. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are two principles or elements that make up the universe and everything in it and that also oppose each other. Yin is believed to have the qualities of water--such as coolness, darkness, stillness, and inward and downward directions--and to be feminine in character. Yang is believed to have the qualities of fire--such as heat, light, action, and upward and outward movement--and to be masculine. In this belief system, people's yin and yang need to be in balance in order for them to be healthy, and tai chi is a practice that supports this balance.

Specific Health Purposes

People practice tai chi for various health purposes, such as:

  • For benefits from exercise:
    • Tai chi is a low-impact form of exercise.
    • It is a weight-bearing exercise that can have certain health benefits--for example, to the bones.
    • It is an aerobic exercise.²
  • To improve physical condition, muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility.
  • To have better balance and a lower risk for falls, especially in elderly people.
  • To ease pain and stiffness--for example, from arthritis.
  • For health benefits that may be experienced from meditation.
  • To improve sleep.
  • For overall wellness.

Many people practice tai chi for health purposes. In the United States, a 2002 national survey on Americans' use of CAM found that 1.3 percent of the 31,000 survey participants had used tai chi for health reasons in the year before the survey. Tai chi is widely practiced in China (including in its hospitals and clinics) and in other countries with a substantial native-Chinese population. In Asia, many people consider tai chi to be the most beneficial exercise for older people, because it is gentle and can be modified easily if a person has health limitations.

¹ - The concept of two opposing yet complementary forces described in traditional Chinese medicine. Yin represents cold, slow, or passive aspects of the person, while yang represents hot, excited, or active aspects. 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.

² - Aerobic exercise has benefits to the heart and possibly to cholesterol levels. This type of exercise causes the heart to work harder to pump blood more quickly and forcefully. The body adds oxygen to the blood faster, and the person breathes more quickly. Two other examples of aerobic exercise are swimming and brisk walking.

Side Effects and Risks

Tai chi is a relatively safe practice. However, there are some cautions.

  • Tell your health care provider if you are considering learning tai chi for health purposes (especially if you have a health condition for which you are being treated, if you have not exercised in a while, or if you are an older person).
  • If you do not position your body properly in tai chi or if you overdo practice, you may get sore muscles or sprains.
  • Tai chi instructors often recommend that people not practice tai chi right after they eat, or when they are very tired, or when they have an active infection.
  • Use caution if you have any of the conditions listed below, as your health care provider should advise you whether to modify or avoid certain postures in tai chi:
    • Pregnancy
    • Hernia
    • Joint problems, back pain, sprains, a fracture, or severe osteoporosis
  • A CAM approach should not be used to replace conventional medical care or to delay seeking that care.


NCCAM has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCAM.

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