for Contemporary Times
Betty Chewning, Ph.D.
Tricia Yu, M.A.
Jill Johnson, M.S., P.T., G.C.S.
Betty Chewning, Ph.D., is director of the Sonderegger Research Center and is an associate professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research addresses patients' health behaviors and decision-making related to prescribed regimens and self-care. She has practiced T'ai Chi for 25 years.
Tricia Yu, M.A., is director of the T'ai Chi Center in Madison, Wisconsin, one of the oldest and largest schools in the United States. She provides training nationwide on simplified versions of T'ai Chi for health professionals and fitness instructors. She has practiced T'ai Chi for 29 years and studies with Yang Style T'ai Chi masters Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo and William C.C. Chen. She is certified by Master Chen.
Jill Johnson, M.S., P.T., G.C.S., is a geriatric clinical specialist in physical therapy at the New England Center for Integrative Health. Jill has published numerous research articles on geriatric rehabilitation and has received a grant from the Physical Therapy Foundation to study falls in the elderly. She practices both yoga and T'ai Chi and leads T'ai Chi Fundamentals workshops nationwide.
article is the first in a two-part series that introduces T'ai Chi to
health and fitness instructors and program directors. It summarizes
key elements in the practice of T'ai Chi and describes its basic movements
and elements of mind/body integration. It includes descriptions of simplified
version developed to make T'ai Chi more accessible, and provides resources
for finding T'ai Chi classes, videos, and books.
Chi or T'ai Chi Ch'uan (also spelled T'aiji or T'aiji Quan) means "Supreme
Ultimate Boxing." Developed more than 700 years ago by Chinese
martial artists, this non-impact exercise form builds endurance and
enhances flexibility, balance, and coordination. Unlike many exercise
programs that focus on exertion and straining as a means to achieving
increased strength and endurance, T'ai Chi movements are slow, relaxed
and smooth. "In T'ai Chi, although one moves, there is also inner
stillness. In practicing the form, slower is better. If it is slow and
the inhalation is deep and long, the qi (life force) sinks to the tan
tien (storehouse of energy located in the belly)"(1).
Chi is a choreography of movements that look like an effortless, slow
motion dance. Although there are a variety of interpretations and styles,
all authentic T'ai Chi is characterized by certain postures and patterns
of movement (See figure 1).
At first, it looks quite simple to do. After months of practice, many
discover that, like any art, it has depth and subtlety that take years
to explore. T'ai Chi is a daily exercise routine that can be practiced
for a lifetime. Most forms take about 15 minutes to complete and can
be practiced almost anywhere.
of using television or loud music as distraction during exercise, T'ai
Chi practice is mindful, with a focused awareness of the body and external
environment. Ideally, the mind remains both alert and calm while in
motion (See figure 2). T'ai
Chi was developed as a means of integrating the mind, body, and spirit
to function in harmony with the external world. "T'ai Chi uses
mind, not force, it is continuous and not broken. Naturally there is
no injurious practice" (1).
This ancient art was developed to cultivate mental as well as physical
strength and flexibility. The Chinese have practiced T'ai Chi for centuries,
and its popularity in the United States is burgeoning.
Although there has been growing interest in T'ai Chi as a health exercise, the question has been: How can T'ai Chi become more accessible to individuals with a wide range of ages and conditions? Many beginners find it difficult to perform the movements and remember the sequence. After only a few classes they become discouraged and drop out. Originally developed by martial arts experts for advancing their skills, traditional T'ai Chi forms incorporate highly complex movement patterns throughout the entire sequence. T'ai Chi encompasses several styles or forms, each originating from three main branches named after their founders (Yang, Chen, and Wu). To add to the confusion, many interpretations of these styles have emerged throughout T'ai Chi's long history, resulting in numerous variations in forms. To help address this issue, a number of simplified versions of T'ai Chi have emerged during the past few decades, making it more accessible to the general public (see figure 4).
Versions of T'ai Chi
group of martial arts experts in China created the 24 Forms, based on
Yang Style T'ai Chi, the most popular style worldwide. The movements
themselves have not been simplified, but the sequence includes fewer
repetitions and takes less time to learn and practice than the traditional
form. This shortened sequence has become a standard T'ai Chi form in
China and there are videos available in the United States that teach
Emory University, Dr Wolf and colleagues developed a version of T'ai
Chi to study as part of the Frailty and Injuries Cooperative Studies
on Intervention Techniques (2).
They identified several therapeutic elements of T'ai Chi including slow,
continuous movement, weight shifting, postural alignment, and progressive
knee flexion. These were incorporated into a 10-movement form (see Recommended
Reading). Dr. Tingsen Xu, who taught this version of T'ai Chi to older
adults in the study, created a video demonstrating these movements titled
T'ai Chi: A Gift of Balance.
T'ai Chi instructor Tricia Yu, M.A., developed T'ai Chi Fundamentals , a simplified, systematic approach for mastering T'ai Chi basics that maintains the integrity of the traditional Yang Style form (3). She targeted critical elements from the traditional form that enhance balance, coordination, strength, and endurance and modified or eliminated consistent areas of difficulty that students encountered in learning T'ai Chi. The T'ai Chi Fundamentals form begins with simple, basic movements and progresses to complex patterns in later parts of the sequence. The program includes a series of warm-up exercises that reinforce the movement patterns repeated throughout T'ai Chi. Physical therapist Jill Johnson, M.S., P.T., G.C.S. analyzes the movements for their clinical applications and functional benefits. The program includes instructional videos, a manual and training workshops for therapists and instructors.
Exercise Programs Integrating T'ai Chi Principles
Occupational therapist Diane Harlowe, M.S., O.T.R., F.A.O.T.A., teamed up with T'ai Chi instructor Tricia Yu, M.A., to create the ROM Dance: Range of Motion Exercise and Relaxation Program (5). Developed for individuals with chronic pain and other limiting conditions, it blends medically recommended range-of-motion exercises with the mind/body integration principles of T'ai Chi. These principles include: attention to present, diaphragmatic breathing, postural alignment, slow movement, relaxed movement, and awareness of movement. The ROM Dance can be performed standing with or without support. There is also a version for wheelchair use. Grants from the Arthritis Foundation partially funded initial development, research, and creation of instructional media. This program, based in T'ai Chi principles, is now an established, reimbursable therapeutic intervention used in hospitals, clinical settings, home health care, and long-term-care facilities. Participants in these programs have a wide range of conditions, including arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, Parkinson's, mental illness, and stroke. Instructor training workshops, videos, audio tapes, and a manual for therapists are available on this innovative program.
settings serving geriatric populations and individuals with chronic
conditions increasingly are using T'ai Chi as a complementary therapy.
In addition, a growing group of healthy individuals wish to learn T'ai
Chi. Classes are popping up all over (See figure 3).
For example, in the authors' city of Madison, WI, two hospital wellness
programs, four health clubs, four senior centers, an assisted living
facility, and a number of churches offer T'ai Chi classes. The city
parks and recreation department, the YMCA, the University of Wisconsin
Extension, and a national sports medicine center also sponsor classes.
The university offers credit for T'ai Chi classes in its kinesiology
department. For the past two summers, the Wisconsin Department of Health
and Family Services has sponsored noontime T'ai Chi classes for state
employees, which are also open to the general public, on the roof of
the city convention center. And third-party payers reimburse classes
at an established T'ai Chi Center as a health-promoting activity.
Wolf, S.L., Barnhart, H.X., Kutner, N.G., McNeely, E., Coogler, C.,
and Xu T. Reducing frailty and falls in older persons: an investigation
of t'ai chi and computerized balance training. Atlanta FICSIT Group
(Frailty and Injuries: Cooperative Studies of Intervention Techniques).
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 44: 489-497, 1996.
Jennifer. T'ai-Chi: Choreography of Body and Mind.Complementary Therapies
in Rehabilitation: Holistic Approaches for Prevention and Wellness.
(C. Davis ed.) Thorofare, New York: Slack Inc.;1997.
Linda. T'ai-Chi. Modern Maturity.June-July: 61-64,1992.
Jerry. T'ai-Chi: A Kinder, Gentler Workout. Arthritis Today. Jan-Feb:31-33.
Wolf, S., Coogler., Xu, T., Exploring the basis for tai chi chuan as a theraputic exercise approach. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 78:886-92, 1997.
Basic T'ai Chi Postures and Movements
there are many variations, most T'ai Chi forms include the following
stances and movements that are repeated throughout the sequence:
This T'ai Chi stance emphasizes relaxed, natural body alignment. The head is "as if suspended from above" at the crown. Both feet are flat, parallel, hip-distance apart with knees slightly bent. Weight is evenly distributed between both feet.
The T'ai Chi Stance, or 70/30 Stance, provides a wide, stable base of support. When the weight is forward, more (70 percent) is on the front foot. When the weight is on the back foot, it supports up to 100 percent of the weight. During all weight shifts, the knees maintain a flexed position, and the feet remain flat with weight evenly distributed over the entire soles. The body stays upright throughout the movement. Moving forward and back in this stance strengthens the quads, lengthens the calf muscles, and promotes increased ankle range of motion.
70/30 Stance with the Folding of the "Kwa"
kicks and knee strikes are executed while standing on one leg with the
supporting foot at the diagonal and the body upright. There is a horizontal
crease in the "Kwa" of the stable foot, with the tailbone
maintaining alignment with the heel. This stance helps increase flexibility
in the hip area and contributes to better balance.
of Mind/Body Integration
to the practice of T'ai Chi is bringing focus into the present moment.
This is done to integrate the mind with the body and to cue awareness
of the environment. We are often absorbed by worries about the future,
or events of the past -- sometimes to the extent that we are unaware
of what is actually occurring in the present.
According to the principles of T'ai Chi, this depletes our qi. When we bring our attention to what is actually occurring, we gather our qi.. We are more alive to the present moment, aware of our body's signals, and more sensitive to others and to what is occurring.
"Centering" for Mind/Body Integration
Chi practice begins with a few moments of quiet while focusing on slow,
natural breathing to help calm the mind, relax the body, and bring attention
fully into the present moment. This process is called "centering."
It is an essential component of all T'ai Chi practice that reinforces
mind/body integration and includes the following elements:
Fostering the Flow of Qi
the mind is calm and tuned to the body, there is increased awareness
of the body's subtle energy. The dynamics for optimum flow of qi include
The bones are the pearls; the joints are the threads. The muscles and tendons are relaxed, moving with minimal effort. The slow movement cleanses the fluid that lubricates the joints. According to Chinese medicine, the qi of the joints can become stagnant or blocked by inactivity and by tension. Moving with the joints loose and relaxed promotes the flow of qi, enhancing health and well-being.
Adapted with permission from T'ai Chi for Health Professionals and Instructors.
Where to Find a T'ai Chi Class
Chi schools are usually under the following telephone listings:
Resources for T'ai Chi Videos and Books
Many T'ai Chi resources are not marketed nationally. If you cannot find a resource in your local bookstore, contact the distributors listed below who specialize in T'ai Chi videos and books. Direct contact information is provided if the resource is not available from a distributor.
Videos of Traditional Versions
Chi: Exercise for Life Long Health and Well-Being. Tricia Yu
of Simplified Versions
That Teach T'ai Chi Principles
© 2002, Thomas M. Krapu, Ph.D., All rights reserved.
Thank you for your interest.