Taijiquan, Taiji or Tai Chi, is a martial art that falls within the neija style of Chinese martial arts. Neija simply means internal because its focus is on developing the practitioner’s body from the inside before developing external or martial skill. This internal training is accomplished by practicing slow, controlled movements, deep abdominal breathing, and cultivating the qi so that the practice becomes a form of moving meditation. For a Western audience, the phrase cultivating qi implies a connection to a type of mystical energy force, but the word qi takes on different meanings depending on the context. For the beginning Taiji player, cultivating the qi refers to a special kind of stretch that aligns the joints and tendons to develop the Taiji body. These proper joint alignments are necessary to develop martial power. It is this process that allows a person to reap the health benefits that result from practicing Taijiquan (Liu, Miller, Burton, & Brown, 2008).
The four family styles of Taijiquan, Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun, all date their point of origin to the 1800s in the Chen Family village, Chenjiagou. Up until the handgun became more accessible to civilian populations, the focus of Taijiquan was on developing martial skill. Due to the ban placed on practicing martial arts by Chairman Mao just before the Cultural Revolution, there was a paradigm shift among Taiji practitioners. In order to stay viable, the focus slowly shifted to attaining or maintaining health rather than the development of martial skill. It is important to note, however, that in order to reap the full health benefits requires practicing to develop martial skill or what is referred to as peng jin in Taiji principles.
Developing peng jin requires a significant investment of time, but an individual does not need to practice with the intentions of becoming a master of Taijiquan in order to see an improvement in health. In as little as two hours per week of practice, a person can see a reduction in perceived pain and quality of life improvements(Wang, et al., 2010). Due to the low to moderate exercise intensity, Taijiquan is recommended as an ideal form of exercise in individuals diagnosed with heart disease(Liu, Miller, Burton, & Brown, 2008). Taijiquan has also been found to reduce several of the factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome (Park, et al., 2009).
Due to poor diet habits, inactivity, and increasing levels of stress in our country, the number of people diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD) and/or metabolic syndrome continues to increase at an alarming rate(Liu, Miller, Burton, & Brown, 2008)(Park, et al., 2009). Increasing activity levels can reduce or eliminate the risk of metabolic syndrome by eliminating contributory risk factors. Adopting healthier behaviors in CAD patients can reduce morbidity and mortality while improving their quality of life (Park, et al., 2009). In both cases many patients do not participate in any intervention program due to a lack of motivation, limited access, or high costs associated with the activity(Park, et al., 2009).
Taijiquan is a low cost activity that does not require any special equipment. It can be practiced virtually at any location with a group or alone. It is possible that practicing in a group setting can have indirect influences on a participant’s health and wellness(Posadzki, 2010). There appears to be a relationship between social isolation and declining health, especially in older populations((Dong, Chang, Wong, & Simon, 2012). Practicing Taijiquan in a group setting may strengthen the physiological effects (Posadzki, 2010). Furthermore the improvements in psychosocial well-being, reduction in the fear of pain, and the overall increase in confidence resulting from Taiji may make participants more likely to continue participating in this form of exercise over other programs(Wang, et al., 2010).
Dong, X., Chang, E.-S., Wong, E., & Simon, M. (2012). Perception and negative effects of loneliness in a Chicago Chinese Population of Older Adults. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 151-159.
Liu, X., Miller, Y. D., Burton, N. W., & Brown, W. J. (2008). A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Tai Chi and Qigong Medical Exercise on Inidicators of Metabolic Syndrome, Glycaemic Control, Health-Related Quality of Life, and Psychological Health in Adults with Elevated Blood Glucose. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 704-709.
Park, I. S., Song, R., Oh, K. O., So, H. Y., Kim, D. S., Kim, J. I., . . . Ahn, S. H. (2009). Managing Cardiovascular Risks with Tai Chi in People with Coronary Artery Disease. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 282-292.
Posadzki, P. (2010). The Sociology of Qigong: A qualitative study. Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, 87-94.
Wang, C., Schmid, C., Rones, R., Kalish, R., Yinh, J., Goldenberg, D., . . . McAlindon, T. (2010). A Randomized Trial of Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia. The New England Journal of Medicine, 743-754.