Category: Research

Category: Research

It’s well known and scientifically proven that Tai Chi can make great improvements in a person’s balance. What’s less talked about is how these improvements happen: what changes does the body undergo in order for balance to be improved? One of these mechnisms involves changes to your body’s self-perception of where it is and in what position. Medically this is known as proprioception and kinesthesia.

Understanding Terms: Proprioception and Kinesthesia

Proprioception and kinesthesia are closely related, however they are different things.

Proprioception is what gives us the ability to know what our body’s position is in relation to itself and the world around us. Our bodies have specific sensory nerves called proprioceptors, which feedback information about position, movement and strain. For example, some proprioceptors can tell what angle a given joint is at, while others can tell how quickly a muscle is contracting or how much stretched it is. It is an independent system, meaning it doesn’t rely on other sensory input, like touch or vision, however if often works in conjunction with other systems.

Kinesthesia refers to your ability to perceive extent, direction and weight of movement. It is essentially how your brain processes the information being fed back to it by proprioceptors. It’s what allows you to be able to stand on one foot or hold your arms out to your sides without having to actually watch yourself lift your leg or your arms.

An example of understanding the relationship could be this: if I ask you to close your eyes and then give me a “thumbs up” at chest height, your kinesthetic sense will allow you to raise your arm in front of your chest, close your fist and stick your thumb up all without having to watch what you’re doing. It can do this because your proprioceptors are giving feedback on where your arm, hand, fingers and thumb are in space and in relation to each other and your body. Your kinesethetic sense will tell you if you are in the correct position; if not, your proprioceptors will provide the information your kinesthetic sense needs to make the necessary adjustments.

Unfortunately there are a number of things that can decrease our proprioception and kinesthesia, from injuries and diseases to the aging process. As one or both of these things deteriorate, so to does our balance, which further limits our function and potentially increases our risk of injuring ourselves.

How Does Tai Chi Help?

Clinical research has demonstrated that people who practice Tai Chi on a regular and ongoing basis are able to maintain or even improve their proprioception and kinesthesia across their lifespan. For example, a study by Li and colleagues1 showed that experienced Tai Chi practitioners demonstrated increased ground reaction forces (ie: the force exerted by the ground when you stand or move), and increased joint loading, range of movement, and torque, versus inexperienced practitioners, all of which improve neuromuscular feedback and kinesthetic sense. Similarly, Wang and colleagues2 demonstrated that long-term Tai Chi practitioners have greater postural control, as evidenced by having significantly less postural sway (the amount of involuntary movement the body makes when attempting to stand still; a greater degree of movement suggests impaired proprioception and/or kinasthetic sense) under a variety of conditions, than a non Tai Chi trained control group.

Researchers such as Chu and colleagues3 suggest a number of reasons why Tai Chi in particular helps with proprioception and kinesthesia. These include:

  1. Tai Chi’s slow, controlled movements allow time for proprioception to occur, and kinesthetic sense to interpret and make adjustments to positioning, speed, and posture; in effect it trains the neuromusculoskeletal system to interpret, adjust and learn safe movement;
  2. Tai Chi’s focus on mind-body awareness encourages development of kinesthesia through relaxation and activation of neural pathways; and
  3. Tai Chi’s ability to direct ground reaction force and torque to reduce body stiffness and sympathetic arousal to achieve effortless action.

There are other ways Tai Chi can improve balance as well, such as improving muscle strength and activity tolerance. However, Tai Chi’s ability to influence proprioception and kinesthesia, combined with it being a relatively easy and low-stress form of exercise to undertake, make it particularly effective as a means of maintaining function and reducing falls risk throughout the lifespan.


  1. Li, H. et al. (2023). Newly complied Tai Chi (Bafa Wubu) promotes lower extremity exercise: a preliminary cross sectional study. PeerJ 11:e15036 DOI 10.7717/peerj.15036 ↩︎
  2. Wang, D. et al. (2023). Effects of Tai Chi practice on postural sway for older people during COVID-19 pandemic. Research Square DOI 10.21203/ ↩︎
  3. Chu, T. J. et al. (2020). Biomechanical aspects of Tai Chi Chuan countermeasure against health threats during spaceflight. MedCrave Online Journal of Applied Bionics and Biomechanics; 4(5): 118 – 123. ↩︎

Category: Research

Though I might be biased, I’ve known for many years that Tai Chi makes you happier; I wouldn’t have been practicing and teaching over 20 years if it didn’t! There has been a wealth of information on the effects of Tai Chi practice on mental health, with evidence demonstrating showing that Tai Chi can improve factors such as cognitive performance, depression and anxiety.1 While these results allude to the idea that improving your mental faculties or decreasing stress and anxiety would, logically, make you happier, a number of researchers are specifically looking at the perceived happiness of Tai Chi practitioners, and finding that practicing Tai Chi can actually make you happier.

For example, Cezario and colleagues2 examined stress, anxiety and perceived happiness of older health professionals and younger pre-university students planning to enter health related courses. They used standardized measurement tools to determine pre- and post-class levels of stress, anxiety and self-perceived happiness using standardized, qualified assessment tools. Almost all participants reported an increase in their happiness after attending their Tai Chi class. The researchers reported this finding as significant because happiness is associated with positive health outcomes, such as being better able to adapt to everyday experiences, deal with social situations, and recover from adverse events. Further, their study demonstrated that age was not a factor in determining Tai Chi’s affects on perceived happiness.

Gender identity also doesn’t seem to influence Tai Chi’s ability to make a person feel happier. Studies by Galeh and colleagues3 on men, and Hatamipour and colleagues4 on women, both show that practicing Tai Chi can significantly improve happiness despite gender identity differences.

Again, while it would seem logical that improving our mental health would make us happier, researchers are also considering the direct affect that mind-body practices, such as Tai Chi, can have on happiness, as compared to other forms of treatment or exercise. For example, Osypiuk and colleagues5 have proposed that the interrelationship between body posture (like those adopted during Tai Chi) and mental state allude to the postures themselves having a significant role in the overall outcomes for psychological health, including happiness.

So if you’d like to find more happiness in your life, as well as many other health and wellness benefits, Tai Chi might be just what you need!


  1. Sollway, et al. (2016). An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes. Systematic Reviews, 5:126 ↩︎
  2. Cezario, et al. (2023). Effect of Tai Chi on stress, anxiety and self-perceived happiness: a longitudinal intervention study. Bioscience Journal. 39, e39039. ↩︎
  3. Galah, et al. (2018). Effect of “Tai Chi” on happiness in elderly men. Iranian Journal of Nursing Research, 13:5 ↩︎
  4. Hatamipour, et al. (2019). The effect of Tai Chi Chuan exercises on happiness, sleep quality and blood pressure of elderly women. Iranian Journal of Rehabilitation Research in Nursing, 6:1 ↩︎
  5. Osypiuk, et al. (2018). Can Tai Chi and Qigong postures shape our mood? Toward an embodied cognition framework for mind-body research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 18:12 ↩︎

Category: Research

Much is often said about the benefits Tai Chi has for a person’s physical health: strength, balance, coordination, even specific physical ailments such as arthritis and blood pressure. Yet Tai Chi also has many benefits for your mental and emotional health and well being.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)1., as many as 1 in 8 people around the world – 970 million people – are diagnosed as having some form of mental health issue. In the US alone, 4% of the population suffer from a serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia2.. The global impact of mental health is staggering: from an economic standpoint alone it is estimated that the cost of mental health-related issues – not just in terms of medical care but flow on effects, such as lost wages, etc. – is about $5 trillion USD annually, and rising3.. Clearly, any intervention that can have a positive impact on mental health and reduce the burden to individuals, families, and the broader community can only be beneficial.

There has been a great deal of research into the benefits Tai Chi can have on mental and emotional well being. across a variety of populations. Many of these studies have found that Tai Chi can:

  • reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression, both in terms of self-reporting and physiological responses, for example, reduced presence of cortisol (a stress hormone) in saliva4.;
  • improve sleep quality, as indicated by standardized, evidence-based tests such as the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI)5.;
  • improve quality of life, as indicated by standardized, evidence-based tests such as Health Related Quality of Life (HRQOL)6.

A number of studies further indicate that Tai Chi may be more effective than other forms of exercise in terms of the overall and lasting benefits to mental and emotional well being.

Though it would seem obvious that the slow movements, calm disposition and subsequent relaxed state a person finds themself in when practicing Tai Chi would produce these results, researchers are investigating the specific physiological effects that Tai Chi has on the body that would account for these changes. One theory is that Tai Chi encourages the production of chemical mediators such as serotonin and dopamine, which in turn releases the body’s natural opioids (endorphins), in much the same way as certain forms of moderate intensity exercise have been demonstrated to do (eg: the “runner’s high”)7. The caveat being that Tai Chi is very much a lower intensity form of exercise, and therefore may be more accessible to the average person.

Another theory is the prefrontal cortex hypothesis proposed by Yao and colleagues8. The basis of this theory is as follows: one of the main functions of the prefrontal cortex of the brain is to regulate our emotional behaviours and responses through its connections to other parts of the brain – it is sometimes referred to as the “immune system of mental health”. Functional MRI studies have demonstrated changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain of Tai Chi practitioners compared with control groups, which enhances the function and response of the prefrontal cortex, similar to that seen in studies involving meditation and aerobic exercise. Though Yao and colleagues admit that more specific research is required to prove/disprove this theory, the supporting evidence looks promising.

While clinical research supports the evidence that Tai Chi practice is beneficial for mental health, it generally only reflects the approach from the view of the Western medical model. Increasingly research is being conducted to support the Eastern concepts of health and the role this affect this might have on mental and emotional well being. For example, in their book, The Tao of Trauma, authors Duncan and Kain explain the relationship between polyvagal theory – the theory that our behavioural state is regulated by the autonomic nervous system primarily through the vagus nerve – and Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as a means of understanding how our biological systems respond to our environment and how, if this response is interrupted or not allowed to run its full cycle, the system becomes imbalanced and the result is a traumatic response, such as anxiety and other mental health conditions9.. Within this model, Tai Chi would be seen to be a means of restoring and rebalancing the flow of qi within the body, thereby potentially allowing our system to complete the interrupted cycle and return the system to its normal resting or ready state – like hitting a reset button for the heart and mind. Though there is little clinical evidence to support this theory, more research into this area is being conducted.

Whatever the underlying reasons, it seems there is no doubt that regular Tai Chi practice can have great benefits to a person’s mental and emotional well being. The best way to determine if it can have these benefits for you is to try for yourself.


  1. World Health Organization:, accessed 6/13/2023
  2. Center for Disease Control:, accessed 6/13/2023
  3. Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health:, accessed 6/13/2023
  4. Esch, T. et al. (2007). Mind/body techniques for physiological and psychological stress reduction: Stress management via Tai Chi training – a pilot study. Medical Science Monitor, 13(11): 488-497.
  5. Zhu, D. et al. (2018). Long-term effects of Tai Chi intervention on sleep and mental health of female individuals with dependence on amphetamine-type stimulants. Frontiers in Psychology, 9: 1476-87.
  6. Sprod, L. et al. (2011). Health-related quality of life and biomarkers in breast cancer survivors participating in tai chi chuan. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 6: 146-154.
  7. Zhang, L. et al. (2012). A review focused on the psychological effectiveness of Tai Chi on different populations. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012: 1-9.
  8. Yao, Y. et al. (2021). The effect of Tai Chi Chuan on emotional health: potential mechanisms and prefrontal cortext hypothesis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021: 1-12.
  9. Duncan, A. D. and Kain, K. L. (2019). The Tao of Trauma: A Practitioner’s Guide for Integrating Five Element Theory and Trauma Treatment. North Atlantic Books.

Category: Research

Qi (Chi) is the vital lifeforce energy which forms the basis for the practice of Qigong and Tai Chi exercises. Its quality, quantity, and movement throughout the body is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Many cultures have their own representation of qi, for example, ki in Japan, prana in India, and mana in many Indigenous cultures. In the West, the term ‘biofield science’ is becoming an increasingly popular definition to represent all these different concepts. Yet in Western societies, the existence of qi remains disputed, even dismissed, despite there being a growing body of evidence of the benefits to people’s health and well-being from practices focused on qi. I see examples of this when talking about qi and its effects; some people are quite interested and attentive, and some people’s eyes glaze over in a mask of skepticism.

Why is there such reluctance to accept the existence of qi? My personal belief is that it comes down to one word: evidence. Much of Western society is based on the principle of, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” This is demonstrated in the Western medical model, which bases best practice on scientific evidence; that is, a thing can be observed, and/or its effects can be repeatedly observed and are not due to chance alone. There is much merit in this practice and it is the reason why many medical practices have proven useful and effective, and others have been discontinued for being at best shams, and at worst just wrong and potentially dangerous. However, there is also a risk in assuming that if the science cannot prove something ‘is’ (as opposed to proving it ‘is not’) then that thing isn’t real. If humanity had accepted that, we never would have continued looking for things like DNA or subatomic particles because the science of the day stated, “we cannot see these things, therefore they don’t exist.”

As I tell my students, part of the problem for qi is that I cannot stick a needle in your arm and extract the qi; I can’t take a blood sample and put it under a microscope and say, “look! There’s the qi!”. In fact, until recently much of the research on qi and qi practices like Qigong have only been able to provide evidence on the effects of these practices. For example, there is a great deal of published research showing evidence of Qigong practice reducing blood pressure1., improving sleep2., and boosting immunity3.. There are even studies that demonstrate direct affects on the body at the cellular level4,5..The evidence for the effects often comes from comparing Qigong practice to other forms of exercise, or what is termed “sham Qigong” – that is, performing the exercise without any thought or intent or even knowledge related to qi; this is often used to determine a ‘placebo effect’ – or to doing nothing at all. While this has been great in confirming and promoting the benefits of such practices for health and wellness, it does not necessarily confirm that the reason these things are so effective is because of their affect on the body’s qi. Consequently, while the effects cannot be denied, they are often attributed to some reason other than qi.

Fortunately there is research taking place that hopes to confirm and demonstrate the existence of qi. Much of it still relies on demonstrating the effects of the application of qi energy, that is, having a Master of Qigong direct their energy towards a given ‘target’, however this is different to the approach of examining techniques like Qigong, the rationale being that, in the absence of other interventions, it must be qi that is producing the observed phenomena. Some interesting examples include:

  • a study by Takaota and colleagues, who demonstrated that neutrophils show enhanced signalling and activity when exposed to a sealed saline solution that had qi energy applied to it, as opposed to untreated solution6.;
  • a similar study by Fukushima and colleagues, who demonstrated a similar affect on leukocytes exposed to a sealed saline solution that had qi energy applied to it, and this affect was stronger than the effect of exposing the sealed saline solution to microwave or infrared radiation7.;
  • a study by Chien and colleagues, who demonstrated that the qi emitted from a Qigong Master’s palm could both raise and lower air temperature, as well as increase or decrease fibroblast cell growth and DNA synthesis, and increase or decrease the respiration rate of sperm cells, depending on the Master’s desired effect8..

Practitioners of Tai Chi and Qigong who have experienced and connected with qi will soon tell you that qi is very real. We are probably still some distance away from having a level of evidence that is accepted by the scientific community, and from there the broader community, however I have no doubt that day is coming. In the meantime, you can do your own investigating by engaging in practices like Tai Chi and Qigong and seeing the effects they have on your own body. Keeping an open mind, and allowing yourself the opportunity to experience it first-hand might be all the evidence you need.


1. Ma, J., et. al. (2023). The effect of traditional Chinese exercises on blood pressure in patients with hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2023: 1-16.

2. Ko, L-H., et al. (2022). Effects of health qigong on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 71:1-6.

3. Oh, B., et al. (2020). The effects of Tai Chi and Qigong on immune responses: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicines, 7(39): 1-21.

4. Jhaveri, A., et al. (2008). Therapeutic touch affects DNA synthesis and mineralization of human osteoblasts in culture. Journal of Orthopaedic Research, 26(11): 1541-46.

5. Yan, X., et al. (2006). External qi of Yan Xin Qigong differentially regulares the Akt and extracellular signal-regulared kinase pathways and is cytotoxic to cancer cells but not to normal cells. International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, 38(12): 2102-13.

6. Kataoka, T., Sugiyama, N., and Matsumoto, M. (1997). Effects of Qi-gong vital energy on human neutrophils. Journal of International Society of Life Information Sciences, 15(1): 129-137.

7. Fukushima, M., et. al. (2001). Evidence of Qi-gong energy and its biological effect on the enhancement of the phagocytic activity of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 29(1): 1- 16.

8. Chien, C-H., et. al. (1991). Effects of emitted bioenergy on biochemical functions of cells. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 19(3-4): 285-292.

Category: Research

Let’s face it: being a student, especially at high school or tertiary level education, can be an extremely stressful time of life. Workloads, exams, and maintaining course requirements, in addition to the social and emotional pressures of being in a new environment and trying to maintain and enjoy a life both within and outside of school, places a tremendous amount of stress on a student, and maintains this stress for a significant amount of time. Long-term or chronic stress has been shown to have a detrimental affect on physical, mental and emotional health, and students who struggle to manage these stressors effectively often suffer from issues ranging from poor concentration and productivity, through sleep deprivation, weight gain, and poorer immune function, to more serious conditions such as anxiety, depression, and impaired social interactions. Managing these stressors and minimising their adverse affects are critical for a student to be successful not only in their studies but in their future life.

Tai Chi has been well researched as a means of promoting relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety, and researchers have been examining whether Tai Chi could be specifically beneficial for high school and college students. Much of the research does suggest that Tai Chi can be beneficial in many ways, and at least one systematic review of these studies1. has demonstrated a high level of evidence supporting Tai Chi as a means of reducing stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as improved interpersonal sensitivity (such as coping skills) and flexibility. It also demonstrated significant moderate level evidence (termed “secondary benefits”) including decreased compulsive behaviour, somatization symptoms (focus on pain, weakness, shortness of breath, often linked with subsequent physical and mental disorders), hostility and symptoms of phobia. These benefits alone had the researchers calling for higher education institutions to consider including Tai Chi with their provided services as a means of promoting students’ physical and psychological well-being.

Other studies have focused on specific benefits, such as perceived stress, task attention, mood, sleep quality and self-esteem. For example, a study by Calwell and associates2. showed that increased mindfulness through the practice of Tai Chi accounted for changes in mood and perceived stress, which in turn improved sleep quality. A review of the literature will find numerous other studies supporting these benefits and others associated with health management, such as reduced blood pressure and improved immune function.

A summary of potential benefits Tai Chi can have for students is as follows:

  • improved mental acuity (eg: attention, focus, clarity of thought);
  • improved and more stable mood and interpersonal sensitivity;
  • improved general health and fitness;
  • better sleep quality;
  • decreased perceived stress;
  • decreased anxiety and depression.

With these benefits in mind, Tai Chi should be considered as an effective complimentary activity towards an overall successful study program. Students are one of many groups of people who can gain great benefits from practicing Tai Chi.


  1. Webster, et al. (2015). A systematic review of the health benefits of Tai Chi for students in higher education. Preventive Medicine Reports 3: 103-112.
  2. Caldwell, et al. (2010). Developing Mindfulness in College Students Through Movement-Based Courses: Effects on Self-Regulatory Self-Efficacy, Mood, Stress, and Sleep Quality. Journal of American College Health, 58(5): 433-422.

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy offers a number of Tai Chi classes and has a Corporate and Community Qigong program to help more people access and enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong.

Category: Research

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy has been informed that The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Harvard Medical School, in collaboration with the Motion Analysis Lab at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, is conducting a 12-week research study for older adults between 60-85 years old who have never tried Tai Chi before.

The study is being headed by Dr Peter Wayne, Director of The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, noted Tai Chi teacher and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart and Sharp Mind.

The study is limited to 30 participants, and offers payment for participation. To be eligible to participate you must be:

  • between 60 and 85 years old;
  • able to walk for 15 minutes on your own;
  • use a smartphone or computer regularly; and
  • completely new to Tai Chi.

It will likely fill up quickly, so if you’re interested please contact contact Dan Litrownik at

If you’re interested in trying Tai Chi for free however don’t necessarily want to be a research participant, check out our Events page for upcoming Come N Try Tai Chi sessions!

Disclaimer: Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is not affiliated with The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital or any of their subsidiaries, affiliates, partners, or staff, nor have we received any compensation for promoting this project. We present this information because we are advocates of quality clinical research examining the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong practice.

Category: Research

I’ve been involved in exercise of one form or another for most of my life, whether it was playing sports, weight training at the gym, martial arts training, or simply enjoying long walks and hikes. This became even more so as I became a physical therapist – exercise literally became the way I made my living.

One of the key principles of effective exercise is ensuring that you have effective strategies for recovery following exercise. Recovery is important because it is what helps the body make positive adaptations and thus gain the benefit from the exercise being performed. Without proper recovery, exercise may do more harm than good – this is why many sports and high level exercise programs have ‘rest’ days to allow the body to adapt and heal following exercise. If you’ve engaged in any sort of sport and exercise you’re probably familiar with stretching after exercise to avoid injury, though exercise science research continues to argue whether stretching is effective for recovery. Elite level athletes often use ‘cross-training’ activities – that is activities and exercises not necessarily related to their actual sport – as a form of recovery from their regular training, and the research has demonstrated that this has benefits to their overall performance and ability to improve.

Tai Chi and Qigong are both well known for their wide range of benefits as forms of exercise. Clinical research is increasingly demonstrating evidence that Tai Chi and Qigong are useful adjuncts to other forms of exercise in maximizing the overall effects and outcomes of exercise or rehabilitation programs. Most research tends to take place in health-compromised populations, for example, those with specific illness or conditions (eg: Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, etc.), those with recent trauma or injury (eg: after stroke, heart attack, etc.) and those who are at risk of decline as a part of the aging process. Yet there hasn’t been a lot of investigation on Tai Chi and Qigong in already healthy/fit populations, nor does there appear to be any research looking at the benefits Tai Chi and Qigong could have in post-exercise recovery. Given the multitude of benefits already demonstrated by Tai Chi and Qigong in terms of gains in strength, flexibility, balance, and mental and emotional wellbeing, it seems reasonable to expect that Tai Chi and Qigong would be very effective in facilitating post-exercise recovery. I started to look into this with my own exercise, and my experience tells me we need to be examining this more closely.

My Experience with Tai Chi and Qigong Following Exercise

I first started weight training when I was about 15 years old and have engaged in this kind of training on and off ever since, including now. As such, I’m very familiar with the soreness and fatigue that comes from a good weights session, and the importance of allowing adequate recovery time to avoid injury and facilitate adaptive changes in the body.

About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to recommence a gym program focused on both building strength and weight reduction after a considerable time away from this type of exercise. My program consisted both anaerobic (mostly free weights training) and aerobic (treadmill, cross-trainer/elliptical or rowing machine) exercises. When I committed to starting the program I knew I would be starting from a low level and it would take time to build up to where I had previously been, and I knew what I was in for, especially in those early weeks! The difference this time, though was that I planned to practice my Tai Chi and Qigong sets after I exercised.

At the time my only intention for including Tai Chi and Qigong practice was to spend more practicing these sets by taking opportunity of the time I was setting aside for exercise. I had not considered that there could be any sort of specific benefit to practicing my Tai Chi and Qigong after exercise beyond ensuring that I was getting my practice in!

My experience was almost immediate, to the point where it took me a little while to make any sort of connection. The first week of starting my program, I noticed that I was not experiencing the level of soreness or fatigue I was expecting from the gym sessions. This is not to say I didn’t experience any, just not anywhere near what I expected. I put this down to the idea that I was “easing back into it” and not working out as hard as I potentially could. I felt this was a reasonable approach, though I was keen to make gains, and so from the second week on I started to challenge myself.

As the weeks went on though, I realized that I was making gains – in terms of increased strength (increasing the resistance of my exercises) and stamina (increasing the time spent on aerobic exercises) at a faster rate than I had ever previously achieved. More than that, rather than feel fatigued at the end of an exercise session, I felt energized and the soreness I experienced was minimal. I started to wonder if my Tai Chi and Qigong could explain what was happening, so I tried a little experiment. For one week, I continued with my gym program but did not practice my Tai Chi and Qigong afterwards – though I did continue to practice them at my regular classes twice a week.

Again, the effect was almost instantaneous. After the second session of the week I felt more sore and more fatigued. Not only that, but I felt ‘stiff’ and ‘tight’, like I needed a good stretch. I particularly found my aerobic components became more laborious and harder to maintain at the level I had been doing. By midway through the week I was so convinced I wanted to restart my Tai Chi and Qigong practice just so I wouldn’t feel this way after a workout, however I persisted with abstaining from it for the week in an attempt to try and confirm (at least to myself) what was happening.

When I restarted my Tai Chi and Qigong practice after exercising the following week, everything went back to the way it was: less soreness, less tiredness, and feeling ‘good’ after each session. To me there seemed to be a clear link between the two.

I must admit this is by no means any sort of proof that Tai Chi and Qigong can assist with post-exercise recovery – at best it’s anecdotal evidence – but as a physical therapist and a student of exercise science, I believe it’s enough to warrant further investigation through clinical research.

Possible Explanations for How Tai Chi and Qigong Facilitate Post-Exercise Recovery

Assuming the benefits I experienced are a result of including Tai Chi and Qigong practice following exercise, what could the possible explanation be? The immediate consideration relates to the flow of qi in the body, and way that Tai Chi and Qigong improve qi flow, and the subsequent benefits this has on one’s health. However, Western science still struggles with the concept of qi, and though evidence is growing in support of biofield medicine (a term used to explain the effects of energies known as qi, prana, mana, etc.), at this time it’s likely that any clinical research will want a more ‘physiological’ explanation in order to validate any evidence that becomes apparent through studies. In my own consideration of this, I would suggest Tai Chi and Qigong practice post-exercise could influence the following mechanisms:

  • improved clearance of waste metabolites formed during exercise;
  • enhanced circulation and efficiency of the cardiovascular system;
  • improved action and efficiency of the immune system;
  • enhanced restoration of a normal/resting physiological state (heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, etc.) post-exercise; and/or
  • enhanced restoration of psychological/emotional state post-exercise.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, however I feel it is a reasonable starting place for clinical research and one that would be relatively easy for experienced researchers in exercise and sports sciences to develop studies for.

A Call for Further Research

With the increasing evidence of the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong across the health and wellness spectrum, as well as their relative ease of application (no need for costly or special equipment, for example), it only makes sense to investigate the potential practices could have on enhancing the effects of exercise. If it can be demonstrated that Tai Chi and Qigong can enhance post-exercise recovery, and this in turn enhances ability for people to participate in exercise programs, imagine the potential this has for exercise in all settings: from school-based sports and athletics programs, to rehabilitation programs, to elite level athletic performance. Tai Chi and Qigong could be a game changer in a very literal sense.

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy, and our Instructor Ray Gates, welcomes the opportunity to partner with and assist any researchers wanting to investigate the effects and benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong, whether related to post-exercise recovery or otherwise. If you have a study or project you would like our involvement with, please use this link to Contact Us.