tai chi on the beach

Two of my favourite meditative practices are Tai Chi meditation and QiGong meditation. Beginners who are just starting to get into these techniques will probably want to know what all the fuss is all about.

Simply put: There are huge benefits of both Tai Chi Meditation and QiGong meditation that beginners can look forward to. 

The Tai Chi and Chi Kung Institute calls taichi “meditation in motion’.  It’s a practice regularly done at the YMCS and local gyms. Cynthia McMullen [Oriental Healing Arts School of Massage Therapy, Acupuncture, and Traditional Taoist Medical QiGong in Arizona], explains that the meditative aspect is important in tai chi because it creates a sense of physical and emotional stability.

I’ve been practising tai chi for around five years and in my experience it massively boosts my mindfulness. The slow and graceful movements make me more aware of my body and help me to live in the present moment. And those are just a couple of the benefits.

These two ancient martial-arts systems help both the mind and the body. So whether you’re looking for help with a physical problem such as arthritis, or you just want to improve your mood, tai chi and qigong will help. They are two of the very best hobbies for mental health.

Are Tai Chi And Qigong Meditation?

Qigong and Tai Chi are not technically meditation techniques. However, they do share many of the same principles as meditation. They are slow exercises that relax the mind and improve focus and concentration.

As a meditation teacher who practices tai chi on the side, I find that these two practices perfectly complement one another. Meditation makes me more aware of my mind. And tai chi and qigong make me more aware of my body.

Tai Chi has been termed “meditation in motion.” It was created in China by a Taoist Monk named Zhang San around 1000 years ago as a form of self-defence but has evolved through the years.

Today, it is considered more of a  Taoist meditation than a “martial art”.  Teacher Paul Lam tells us, “The essential principles include mind integrated with the body; control of movements and breathing; generating internal energy, mindfulness, song (loosening 松) and jing (serenity 静)”. [1]

The ultimate purpose of tai chi, “meditation” is to cultivate chi (read: chi meditations), the life-force. When we practice the slow flowing movements we bring the mind and body together, we increase present-moment-mindedness, and we generate (and become aware of) the chi energy in the body.  These are the traditional benefits of qigong and tai chi meditation.

This is where we get to the terms “Tai Chi meditation” and “QiGong meditation” because they are both about being in the moment and consciously moving the body.

Over the past half-decade, scientific research has proven that there are many health benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong. Because of this, most people today practise it for stress relief and relaxation.

Qigong and tai chi are very similar. The main difference is that Qigong is purely for healing and is not a martial art.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important health benefits of Tai Chi.

The 5 styles of tai chi

Chen style (陳氏) of Chen Wangting (1580–1660)
Yang style (楊氏) of Yang Luchan (1799–1872)
Wu Hao style (武氏) of Wu Yuxiang (1812–1880)
Wu style (吳氏) of Wu Quanyou (1834–1902) and his son Wu Jianquan (1870–1942)
Sun style (孫氏) of Sun Lutang (1861–1932)

Health benefits of Tai Chi Meditation / QiGong Meditation

#1 : Relaxation

Just like meditation, Tai Chi incorporates the deep breathing techniques of meditation. Because of that, it is incredibley relaxing. And that’s the main reason most people (including me) do it.

When my mind is racing and I’m acting mindlessly, I like to slow down by doing some tai chi (and meditations).

It is perhaps the most relaxing of all exercises.

While you move through the motions you breathe deeply while focusing (meditating) on the parts of the body. This helps to relax the mind and body. And it helps you to slow down and to let stress slip away.

Relaxation really is the name of the game in Tai Chi. All the moves are slow, graceful and smooth, and we do not exert force on the body. The muscles and joints relax and this helps to cure many physical problems.

2: anti-ageing

There is a growing amount of scientific research [2] that shows that Tai Chi is immensely beneficial for reversing the physical symptoms of ageing.

Because Tai Chi and Qigong use slow and smooth motions which are free of any stress and strain, they help the body to repair without the risk of injury.

This is one way these practices are different from other exercises.

Most other exercises, like running, weight training, and even yoga, put a strain on the body (yoga stretches the body which can exacerbate tissue damage).

In many exercises the idea of “no pain no gain” is present, but not in tai chi and qigong. They are gentle forms of exercise that help the body to relax and to return to its natural state, free of strain or damage.

Because of this, they are invaluable to people with muscular or joint problems (Tai Chi helps with arthritis, for instance [3]).

Practising Tai Chi and qigong meditation before or after other exercises helps the body to avoid injury when we go full-burn.

For instance, practising Tai Chi meditation before a run prepares the hips, so when we start running we are able to do so smoothly and without strain. For these reasons, they are two of the best warm-up exercises.

3: Somewhat Spiritual

“Qigong meditation” and “Tai Chi Meditation” are somewhat spiritual practices.

You don’t need to be spiritual to practice ti chi. Like meditation, tai chi is not spiritual per se.  

But millions of people have gotten into spirituality via tai chi. And that’s a good thing because there are some seriously impressive benefits of being spiritual.

 For instance, spirituality has been shown to help with stress, anxiety and depression and to help people to achieve higher levels of happiness.

Tai Chi (and qigong) can help to put you in touch with your more spiritual side.

The traditional exercise involves the movement of Qi around the body.

Qi is the central energy force of the body.

If we find ourselves stuck in life, tired or just fed up, many Tai Chi teachers would say it is because our Qi is not flowing.

When we practise, we cultivate Qi and this promotes spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing.

Another spiritual aspect of Tai Chi is the idea of yin and yang. Yin and yang are opposing elements which should be kept in balance. Tai Chi helps us to promote the balance of yin and yang.

4: Fitness

Many people believe that because Tai Chi doesn’t put a strain on the body it isn’t very effective at developing strength or fitness.

But just because something is smooth and gentle doesn’t mean isn’t strong.

In the famous words of Lao Tzu:

“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and the earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.”

Sometimes, softness is strength. Tai chi is one of those “soft-but strong’ things.

Tai Chi meditation addresses all key components of fitness. It builds muscle strength, balance, flexibility and aerobic conditioning [3]. The aerobic conditioning is not so great as it is in running, swimming or other cardio-based exercises, but it is nevertheless a benefit of Tai Chi.

In a time when many are obsessed with weight training, the idea that Tai Chi makes us stronger is disregarded by many.

The fact of the matter, however, is that Tai Chi has been scientifically proven to help strengthen muscles and to tone the body. Of course, it will not give you big and bulky muscles. Instead, it works the core, strengthening the body in a more natural way.

5: It’s good for muscle strength

Tai chi is as good as resistance training for strength.

In 2006 the publication Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published research conducted by Stanford University.

The study looked into the benefits of Tai Chi for strength training. 39 men and women who had below-average fitness levels and were at risk of developing a cardiovascular condition were asked to practice tai chi for 12 weeks.

After the 12 week period, they showed markedly improved lower body strength and upper body strength (these were tested by seeing how many times they could sit up from a chair in 30 seconds and how many arm curls they could do).

But how does Tai Chi fair against resistance training?

A Chinese study asked 113 adults to practice Tai Chi for twelve weeks, while other groups practised walking and resistance training. The group who had practised Tai Chi improved their lower body strength by 30%, which is better than those who walked and almost exactly the same as those who did resistance training.

The reason why Tai Chi works for strength building is that, although there is no resistance, the unsupported arm exercises strengthen the upper body, while other postures condition the midsection and lower body. All without risk of injury too (as someone who permanently damaged a rib by lifting weights, this is a big deal).


6: Improved Balance 

Tai Chi has been shown to significantly improve balance and to help elderly people and people with physical ailments to prevent falls. (It also helps me to stop tripping up during yoga).

As we grow older our proprioception declines (proprioception is our sense of positioning in space. It’s a big deal for balance, especially for grandmas and grandads).

It improves the functioning of neurons and stretches receptors. It also improves both flexibility and muscle strength. Together, this provides significantly improved balance and is helpful in preventing falls. 


7: It’s the best thing for arthritis

It is a well-established fact that tai chi helps arthritis. My mum agrees, and so does science.

In October 2008 Tufts University presented the results of a study in which they asked 40 people to practice Tai Chi for 12 weeks.

The study showed that by practising tai chi for one hour twice a week ( not much of a commitment), the participants improved mood, reduced pain and improved physical conditioning [of course, you can also use meditation for pain relief]. The study also showed that Tai Chi was more effective than standard stretching in people with knee osteoarthritis.

A Korean study also showed that eight weeks of Tai Chi classes followed by home practise improved flexibility and slowed disease in people suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, which is a debilitating and very painful inflammatory type of arthritis that has a severely detrimental effect on the spine.

In the video below, tai chi master Paul Lam discusses many of the benefits of Tai Chi for rheumatoid arthritis relief.

Tai Chi for Arthritis Video | Dr Paul Lam | Free Lesson and Introduction


8: Improves life for people with breast cancer

Tai Chi has been scientifically proven to improve the quality of life of people suffering from breast cancer. Specifically, it improves functional capacity (the ability to live a normal life and complete everyday tasks).

One study published in 2008 by the University of Rochester revealed that muscular strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity and functional capacity improves in just 12 weeks of Tai Chi practise.

Another group was given supportive therapy and did not receive Tai Chi training. This second group of women showed worse functional capacity after twelve weeks. In other words, Tai Chi helps women suffering from breast cancer to live normal lives and to maintain their strength.

One wise idea is to combine tai chi with meditations for pain relief.

9: It does wonders for your Heart

Benefits of Tai Chi – Blood PRessure (1)
Benefits of Tai Chi — Blood PRessure (1)

One of the most important health benefits of tai chi is the effect it has on your heart.

The National Taiwan University asked 53 people to practice tai chi for one year while being studied by researchers [6].

The study showed that tai chi meditation lowered blood pressure, boosted exercise capacity, improved cholesterol levels, insulin levels, triglycerides levels and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. Another control group were asked not to practice tai chi. This second group showed none of the improvements of the tai chi group.

Harvard Medical School conducted a study in which 30 people were asked to practice tai chi for twelve weeks. The study showed that tai chi reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein. This protein is a sign of heart failure, so by decreasing it, tai chi was shown to help people to avoid heart failure.



10: Parkinson’s Disease:

The Washington University School of Medicine has 33 people practice tai chi. The subjects were suffering from Parkinson’s disease. They showed improved walking ability, balance and wall being after 20 tai chi lessons.

11: Sleep:

The University of California asked 112 healthy adults with sleep problems to practice tai chi for 16 weeks. Their duration of sleep and quality of sleep improved.

12: Stroke:

136 people who had suffered a stroke within six months prior to testing were asked to practice tai chi for 12 weeks. They showed improved balance, and improved muscle mobilisation.

The Best Beginners Tai Chi Tutorial [Video]

The video below is (IMO) the best beginners tai chi guide. It will take you from an absolute beginner to an intermediate within a few hours.

As the video states, it’s important when learning Tai Chi for beginners to adopt a daily practice. If you can commit to twenty minutes per day, you will learn quickly and effectively.

Tai Chi for Beginners Video | Dr Paul Lam | Free Lesson and Introduction

Wow. Who knew there were so many health benefits of tai chi?

For best results, combine this practice with dance meditations.  

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