- Key Points About Tai Chi as CAM
- A Description of Tai Chi
- Other Key Beliefs of Tai Chi
- Specific Health Purposes and Tai Chi
- Side Effects and Risks of Tai Chi
- Licensing, Training, and Credentialing of Tai Chi Teachers
- Tai Chi as a Part of CAM
- Some Points of Controversy About Tai Chi
- US Government Funded Research on Tai Chi
- Tai Chi Health Research References
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 meditation.b 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.