Tai Chi: From martial art to health promotion
If you find little appeal in the vigorous movements of aerobics or the solemn
stillness of meditation, consider Tai Chi. Dating back to the mid-17th century,
Tai Chi is a martial art that has gained popularity among the public as
a means of healing and preventive care.
Several important aspects of human function--including both the mind and
the body--are combined in Tai Chi. It is the combination of these that is
believed to activate "meridians" for stimulating chi flow, or
vital energy, important in traditional Chinese medicine:
* physical motion, emphasizing balance, coordination, flexibility and non
* relaxation and meditation, providing a peaceful meditative experience;
* breath control, providing the health benefits of improved breathing and
associated relaxation effects.
Movements are slow, deliberate and fluid and require certain positions for
the hands, arms, elbows, head, shoulders, torso, legs and feet. While the
movements may seem strange, they are not random. Called by names such as
"Part the Wild Horse's Mane" and "White Crane Spreads Wings,"
these movements were developed in ancient times as training for hand-to-hand
The special combination of physical activity, relaxation, meditation, breath
control and chi flow provide a unique activity with potential for a range
of benefits, and have long been recognized as a powerful, effective health-enhancing
technique by the Chinese people and practitioners. However, research documenting
these benefits has barely begun. A recent study conducted in the Department
of Rehabilitative Medicine and funded through the National Institutes of
Health evaluated the use of Tai Chi to improve balance in the elderly. After
comparison with a control group and other techniques, Tai Chi was found
to be far superior for prevention of falls in the elderly, reducing falls
48 percent. Because falls are the sixth largest cause of death among seniors
and contribute to a general health decline even when they're not the direct
cause of death, the implications of this finding show great promise.
Suggested areas for future research include the effects of Tai Chi on stress
reduction; hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases; arthritis; osteoporosis;
and body image and eating disorders.
Because the public is utilizing alternative medical techniques in record
numbers, there is an increasing awareness in the medical community of a
need to consider a wide range of techniques for healing and preventive care.
Much research needs to be conducted to explore the use of this traditional
health practice with modern research methods: a productive and powerful
combination of East and West.
Tingsen Xu is associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitative Medicine
and Tai Chi Master. Stacey Jones is special projects marketing manager in
the Emory Clinic. For more information, call 320-0055.
to the December 2, 1996 contents page