What is tai chi?
It’s known as “meditation in motion,” and for those who enjoy doing tai chi, this ancient practice is said to offer the benefits of both mental focus and movement. Rooted in Asian traditions, including martial arts and Chinese medicine and philosophy, tai chi integrates slow, intentional movements with breathing and cognitive skills such as mindfulness and imagery. The goal is to strengthen, relax, and integrate body and mind and enhance the “flow of internal energy,” or chi. Tai chi is also used to improve overall health and personal development and, for some students, as a form of self-defense.
Some people going through psychiatric drug withdrawal find that the slow movements of tai chi provide some benefits of non-aerobic exercise, with lower levels of physical strain and impact and less “revving up” of the central nervous system. Tai chi also calls for focusing the mind on specific, flowing movements, which some people feel creates a grounding effect and helps shift a ‘fight or flight’ energy to a calmer relaxation response. In addition, some people say that learning the choreographed movements of tai chi can lead to improved mental clarity.
That being said, tai chi does involve physical effort, and its repetitive shifting movements can sometimes be taxing to knees, hips, feet, or sacroiliac areas, especially if they are already vulnerable. Fortunately, many of tai chi’s movements can be tailored to suit an individual’s tolerance level. There’s also the option of trying out the related practice of qigong, which some find to be less physically strenuous while offering many of the same benefits. Some instructors combine both approaches, starting with qigong as a foundational practice and building up to the choreographed movements of one of tai chi’s “forms”. While some aspects of tai chi can be learned at home with the help of a video, some people report that practicing tai chi in a class/group setting helps them counteract feelings of withdrawal-related disassociation.
Where can I find more information?
- Basic web searches can yield opportunities for qigong classes in many cities and for beginner instructional online videos.
- The American Tai Chi and Qigong Association (ATCQA) is a national nonprofit organization that promotes tai chi and qigong—in any style, lineage, or application.
- The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) offers general information, instructional videos and studies related to tai chi and qigong.