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Tai Chi for Health Purposes

Tai chi (pronounced "tie chee" and also known by some other names and spellings ¹) is a mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art. A person doing tai chi moves his body slowly and gently, while breathing deeply and meditating (tai chi is sometimes called "moving meditation"). Many practitioners believe that tai chi helps the flow throughout the body of a proposed vital energy called qi² (pronounced "chee," it means "air" or "power"). In the United States, tai chi for health purposes is part of complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. This Backgrounder provides a general overview of tai chi and suggests some resources you can use to find more information.

Key Points

  • Many people who practice tai chi do so to improve one or more aspects of their health and to stay healthy. Resources for finding published research on this practice are listed at the end of this Backgrounder.
  • It is not fully known what changes occur in the body during tai chi, whether they influence health, and, if so, how. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is sponsoring studies to find out more about tai chi's effects, how it works, and diseases and conditions for which it may be most helpful.
  • Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

A Description of Tai Chi

Tai chi developed in China in about the 12th century A.D. It started as a martial art, or a practice for fighting or self-defense, usually without weapons. Over time, people began to use tai chi for health purposes as well. Many different styles of tai chi, and variations of each style, developed. The term "tai chi" has been translated in various ways, such as "internal martial art," "supreme ultimate boxing," "boundless fist," and "balance of the opposing forces of nature." While accounts of tai chi's history often differ, the most consistently important figure is a Taoist monk (and semilegendary figure) in 12th-century China named Chang San-Feng (or Zan Sanfeng). Chang is said to have observed five animals--tiger, dragon, leopard, snake, and crane--and to have concluded that the snake and the crane, through their movements, were the ones most able to overcome strong, unyielding opponents. Chang developed an initial set of exercises that imitated the movements of animals. He also brought flexibility and suppleness in place of strength to the martial arts, as well as some key philosophical concepts.

A person practicing tai chi moves her body in a slow, relaxed, and graceful series of movements. One can practice on one's own or in a group. The movements make up what are called forms (or routines). Some movements are named for animals or birds, such as "White Crane Spreads Its Wings." The simplest style of tai chi uses 13 movements; more complex styles can have dozens.

In tai chi, each movement flows into the next. The entire body is always in motion, with the movements performed gently and at uniform speed. It is considered important to keep the body upright, especially the upper body-many tai chi practitioners use the image of a string that goes from the top of the head into the heavens-and to let the body's weight sink to the soles of the feet.

In addition to movement, two other important elements in tai chi are breathing and meditation³. In tai chi practice, it is considered important to concentrate; put aside distracting thoughts; and breathe in a deep, relaxed, and focused manner. Practitioners believe that this breathing and meditation have many benefits, such as:

  • Massaging the internal organs.
  • Aiding the exchange of gases in the lungs.
  • Helping the digestive system work better.
  • Increasing calmness and awareness.
  • Improving balance.

¹
- Among the different names and spellings of tai chi are taiji and t'ai chi. Many consider the term "tai chi" to be a shortened form of "tai chi chuan" (two other spellings are t'ai chi ch'uan and taijiquan).

² - In traditional Chinese medicine, the vital energy or life force proposed to regulate a person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health and to be influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang.

³ - A conscious mental process using certain techniques -- such as focusing attention or maintaining a specific posture -- to suspend the stream of thoughts and relax the body and mind.


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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.

Article Source: http://www.journey101.info


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