Target Health Blog

Tai Chi and Qigong

November 18, 2019


The physical exercise chart; a painting on silk depicting the practice of Qigong Taiji; unearthed in 1973 in Hunan Province, China, from the 2nd-century BC burial Mawangdui Han tombs site, Tomb Number 3.
Graphic credit: by Anonymous -, Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons
Outdoor practice in Beijing's Temple of Heaven Photo credit: by Craig Nagy from Vancouver, Canada - Tai Chi, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Archeological evidence suggests that the first forms of qigong can be linked to ancient shamanic meditative practice and gymnastic exercises. For example, a nearly 7,000-year-old Neolithic vessel depicts a priest-shaman (wu xi) in the essential posture of meditative practice and gymnastic exercise of early qigong. Shamanic rituals and ideas eventually evolved and formalized into Taoist beliefs and were incorporated into the field of traditional 1) ___ medicine.

The roots of Qigong and Tai Chi can be found in traditional Chinese 2) ___, philosophy, and martial arts. According to the traditional Chinese medical community, the origin of qigong is commonly attributed to the legendary Yellow Emperor (2696-2598 BCE) and the classic Huangdi Neijing book of internal medicine. Chinese scholars acknowledge Kongzi (“Confucius“, 551-479 BCE) and Mengzi (“Mencius“, 385-302 BCE) as the founders of the Scholar qigong tradition. In their writings, they alluded to the concepts of qi training as methods of moral training. In the Taoist tradition, the writings of Laozi (“Lao Tzu“, ca. 400 BCE) and Zhuangzi; (“Chuang Tzu“, ca. 300 BCE) both describe meditative cultivation and physical 3) ___ as means to extend one's lifespan, and to access higher realms of existence.

The history of qigong, the Chinese practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and martial arts training, extends back more than 4,000 years. Contemporary qigong is a complex accretion of the ancient Chinese meditative practice xing qi or “circulating qi“ and the gymnastic breathing exercise tao yin  or “guiding and pulling“, with roots in the I Ching and occult arts; philosophical traditions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts; along with influences of contemporary concepts of health, science, meditation, and exercise. Mao Zedong: “Chinese medicine is a great treasure house! We must make efforts to uncover it and raise its standards,“ which legitimized the practice of traditional Chinese medicine and created an impetus to develop a stronger scientific basis. The subject of qigong underwent a similar process of transformation. The historical elements of qigong were stripped to create a more scientific basis for the practice.

In the early 1950s, Liu Guizhen  (1920-1983), a doctor by training, used his family's method of body cultivation to successfully cure himself of various ailments. He then promoted his method to his 4) ___ and eventually published a book, Qi Gong liaofa shiyan  to promote his successes. His efforts to re-define qigong without a religious or philosophical context proved to be acceptable and successful. By the middle of the 1980s, there were more than 2000 qigong organizations and between 60 and 200 million practitioners across China, almost one fifth of the Chinese population. This growth was fueled by the tacit support of small elements within the Chinese government, reduced criticism of qigong practice, pent-up demand within Chinese society for alternative belief systems, and improved methods of communication that resulted in mass adaptation of qigong practice, in what has been termed “qigong fever“. By the end of the 1980s, qigong practices could be found within all segments of Chinese 5) ___.

By the end of the 1990s, the explosive growth in the number of qigong practitioners had led to the revival of the old traditions that accompanied qigong development. Qigong research and practice have been officially supported in the context of health functions and as a field of study within traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese Health Qigong Association was established in 2000 to regulate public qigong practice, requiring state approved training and certification of instructors, limiting practice to four standardized forms from the classical medical tradition, and encouraging other types of recreation and exercise such as yoga, t'ai chi, senior disco dancing, and exercise machines. Migration, travel, and exploration contributed to the spread of qigong practice beyond the Chinese community. Western societies first encountered qigong concepts through exposure to traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese philosophy and the Chinese martial arts.

Productive exchanges between China and the West, began with the visit of President Nixon in 1972. In the subsequent exchanges between China and the West, the international community became aware of 6) ___. The ideas of qigong were quickly embraced by alternative therapists. The idea of qi as a form of living energy also found a receptive audience within the New Age movement. Chinese qigong practitioners were invited to the West to demonstrate qigong concepts and practices to Americans. The American public's first exposure to qigong was in the PBS series Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers in 1993. In the documentary, Moyers provided an in-depth look at alternatives to Western medicine and introduced the audience to 7) ___ Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and qigong. As a result, qigong practice spread to the general public in the US.

From roughly the mid-1990s onward, Tai Chi, also, has gained popularity in some countries to the point of becoming nearly as well-known as a health-oriented practice, Yoga.

Beyond the innate restorative capacities of the physical body, there are many factors of psychological nature that can influence self-healing. Hippocrates, considered by many to be the father of Western medical treatment, observed: “The physician must be ready, not only to do his duty himself, but also to secure the co-operation of the patient, of the attendants and of externals.“ - Hippocrates. Self-healing may also be achieved through deliberately applied psychological mechanisms. These approaches may improve the psychological and physical conditions of a person. Research confirms that this can be achieved through numerous mechanisms, including relaxation, breathing exercises, fitness exercises, imagery, Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, biofeedback, and various forms of psychotherapy, among other approaches.

Self-healing using Tai Chi and other forms of alternative medicine, for the sake of Health, include:

Decreases in stress 8) ___ that may impair physiological functions when there is chronic stress.

Decreases in muscle tension, which can worsen or produce pains in muscles, tendons and joints when there is chronic muscle tension due to stress.

Improved sleep that can be achieved through relaxation, which improves physiological functions.

Improvements in emotional tensions, depression, anger and other emotions that can otherwise impair social relationships and functioning in the workplace, leading to vicious circles of increased psychological symptoms.

Tai chi has been reported as being useful in treating a number of human ailments, and is supported by a number of associations, including the National Parkinson Foundation and Diabetes Australia. A 2017 systematic review found that it decreased the risk of falls in older people. A 2011 comprehensive overview of systematic reviews of Tai Chi recommended Tai Chi to older people for its various physical and psychological benefits. There was evidence of benefit for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. By 2015, systematic reviews found Tai Chi could be performed by those with chronic medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, and osteoarthritis without worsening shortness of breath and pain, and found favorable effects on functional exercise capacity in people with these conditions.

Tai Chi, originally developed for self-defense, has evolved into a graceful form of seated exercise that's now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Often described as meditation in motion, seated Tai Chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements. Worthy of note is the growing popularity of seated Tai Chi exercises touted by the medical community and researchers. Seated Tai Chi is being used by the general public, medical practitioners, and Tai Chi instructors in a growing 9) ___ population. It would have been possible to simply take the well-known Yang short form and redesign it for seated positions. There is, however, the matter of the integrity of the form itself. Within any Tai Chi form, there lies a certain inherent logic and purpose to each of the movements. The synchronization of the upper body with the steps and the breathing exists in a very carefully crafted order developed over hundreds of years, and the transition to seated positions is an important factor in the movements themselves. Research has shown that seated Tai Chi techniques can make big improvements to a person's physical and mental well-being. Marked improvements in balance, blood pressure levels, flexibility and muscle strength, peak oxygen intake, and body fat percentages can be achieved.

According to the NIH, research examining psychological and physiological benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi is growing rapidly. The many practices described as Qigong or Tai Chi have similar theoretical roots, proposed mechanisms of action and expected benefits. Measures of cardiopulmonary function were representative of cardiopulmonary fitness and cardiovascular disease risk and included blood pressure, heart rate, ejection fraction rates, blood lipids, 6-minute walk distance, ventilatory function, and body mass index (BMI). One of the most consistent findings was the significant reduction in blood pressure reported in multiple studies, especially when Qigong or Tai Chi, were compared to inactive control groups such as usual care, educational classes, or wait-list controls.

Studies show no significant differences between Qigong or Tai Chi, thus, providing preliminary evidence that these meditative movement practices achieve positive health results. Indicators of cardiac health, as a result of doing Qigong and Tai Chi have been evaluated. Reduced heart rate is reported as well as increases in heart rate variability. These reported changes in blood 10) ___, heart rate, and heart rate variability suggest that one or several of the key components of Tai Chi and Qigong, that is body, breath, and mind, may affect sympathetic and parasympathetic balance and activity.

In summary, current research suggests a favorable effect on bone health for those practicing Tai Chi or Qigong. Resistance training and other weight bearing exercises are known to increase bone formation and have been recommended for post-menopausal women for that purpose. Interestingly, most Qigong and Tai Chi practices involve no resistance and only minimal weight bearing (such as gentle knee bends), yet the four RCTs (total sample size=427) included in a review reported positive effects on bone health. One study examined the effect of Qigong and three examined Tai Chi. Bone loss was retarded and numbers of fractures were less among post-menopausal women practicing Tai Chi compared to usual care. The 9 outcome category groupings that emerged are: bone density (n=4), cardiopulmonary effects (n=19), physical function (n=16), falls, balance and related risk factors (n=23), quality of life (n=17), self-efficacy (n=8), patient reported outcomes (n=13), psychological symptoms (n=27), and immune- and inflammation-related responses (n=6). Within each category of outcomes, there were both Qigong and Tai Chi interventions represented.

Sources:; Wikipedia; YouTube

Qigong in China

Tai Chi Philosophy

ANSWERS: 1) Chinese; 2) medicine; 3) exercises; 4) patients; 5) society; 6) qigong; 7) traditional; 8) hormones; 9) elderly; 10) pressure

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