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
- A vital energy called qi underlies all
- 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.
People practice tai chi for various health
purposes, such as:
- For benefits from exercise:
- Tai chi is a low-impact form of
- 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,
- 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
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
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.
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
- 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:
- 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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