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Tai chi

What is it?

Tai Chi means "supreme ultimate power." This is a form of movement and breathing that is often described as meditation in motion. To begin their day, some Chinese perform Tai Chi in city parks. Tai Chi has recently become popular in the United States and is now a favorite form of movement and exercise for all age groups.

The exact origin of Tai Chi is difficult to trace, but 13th century Taoist monks practiced Tai Chi because they were forbidden from carrying weapons. Others believe that Tai Chi was created over 400 years ago by a Chinese general, Chen Wang Ting. Tai Chi was not allowed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but is now promoted by the government as a form of health care prevention.

Tai Chi is considered a martial art, but it is not intended for fighting. The practice consists of slow, graceful movements that are intended to promote the flow of qi or "life energy" through the body. Just as acupuncture promotes the flow of qi with needles, Tai Chi improves the flow of qi through specific body movements.

A Tai Chi session consists of a series of specific exercises known as "forms." Each form consists of a group of positions that are performed together to make up one continuous movement. A single form may include as many as 100 different positions and can take up to 20 minutes to complete. Tai Chi does not involve combat or quick movements. It is well suited for older people and those recovering from accidents. It is also good for those with joint pain who cannot tolerate high impact aerobics or other intense exercise.

Many videos are available to learn Tai Chi, but it is recommended that beginners attend classes with a teacher. The teacher will explain the philosophy behind the movements and be sure that they are done correctly. Beginners may feel overwhelmed trying to remember all the movements, but with daily practice the forms soon become easy to remember. The object of Tai Chi is to perform smooth, fluid, and coordinated movements. Experienced practitioners of Tai Chi make the movements look effortless, like a slow, beautiful dance.

Ma Yueh Liang, Tai Chi grand master, says there are five principles of successful Tai Chi practice. These include: (1) Calm down and think only of Tai Chi, (2) Relax, Tai Chi does not require exertion, (3) Be consistent in the speed and movement during the forms, (4) Practice the precision of the movements and study the movements you make, and (5) Practice and perform for the same amount of time and at the same time every day.

Tai Chi improves muscle strength and tone. It improves a person's flexibility, range of motion, and sense of balance and coordination. Tai Chi lowers blood pressure and heart rate, reduces stress symptoms, and improves the general health of older people who practice it consistently. Tai Chi may help with the following health problems: anxiety, depression, insomnia, tension, low energy, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. It may also help with menopause, ulcers, digestive problems, general muscle soreness and weakness, and low energy.

There are no certifying agencies for Tai Chi instructors. In most cities, there are many different Tai Chi instructors and types of classes available. When choosing an instructor, you may want to observe a class before joining to make sure it is right for you.

For more information:


1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.

2. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983.

3. Kastner MA: Alternative Healing: The Complete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA; 1993.

4. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

5. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.

Last Updated: 9/15/2016

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