We’re Growing – Help Us Decide Where

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy currently has two great classes and in 2022 we’re looking to add more to give greater opportunities for people to learn and enjoy Tai Chi and Qigong. What we need to know is where the best places for us to look to open new classes are.

Below is a list of potential areas we are looking to open classes in. Please let us know where YOU would be interested in joining a class by checking as many locations and times as you would be willing to come to.

Where would you like us to open a Tai Chi class?

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What time(s) would be best for you?

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Don’t see a place or time that works for you? Leave us your suggestion in the comments section below.

We are hoping to add more classes in Spring and/or Summer this year (assuming we can find suitable venues – we’ll also take suggestions on that in the comments section below).

Thank you for your help and support and we hope to open a class near you soon!


Bringing Tai Chi and Qigong to Diverse Communities

Tai Chi and Qigong practice are well known for their health and wellness benefits, yet they can only be of benefit to people if people can access quality instruction.

Despite what we would like to believe, accessing health and wellness services is not the same for all. Race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, socioeconomic status and other factors contributing to the diversity of our communities can have a profound, and often negative, impact on a person’s ability to find or participate in quality health and wellness programs. Consequently, the health and wellbeing of these communities is often significantly impaired when compared to the broader, “mainstream”, community. Worse, there is a misconception that these communities “could participate if they want to” yet for some reason “choose not to”, and so are to blame for their own poor health. In a system where racism, discrimination, exclusionism, and physical and mental trauma is not only prevalent but in some instances normalized, it is unreasonable to expect that people from diverse backgrounds would feel safe enough to participate in settings where they are very much the minority.

Researchers have demonstrated that Tai Chi and Qigong can have significant health benefits to people from low-income and ethnically diverse populations (see references below) when factors such as accessibility, socialization, and appropriate instruction/teaching are accounted for. At Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy, we believe that Tai Chi and Qigong should be available and accessible to all, as outlined in our ‘Tai Chi for All’ Inclusion Policy. More than that, we want to ensure that the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong can be gained by all people who can benefit from them – that means everybody!

To that end, WTCA is actively seeking opportunities to bring Tai Chi and Qigong to diverse communities. At this time there are two main ways we are working to achieve this:

  1. we provide accessible, safe, friendly and welcoming class environments so people of all backgrounds can particiapte in learning Tai Chi and Qigong, and actively seek to achieve diversity amongst our student population. We want people of all cultures, races, ages, identities and abilities to join us and gain the physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of practicing Tai Chi and Qigong;
  2. we provide programs such as our Corporate and Community Qigong program to make Tai Chi and Qigong accessible to communities through existing groups and programs, and are actively seeking opportunities to work with diverse communities. Our aim is to reduce any barriers people may experience to attending a regular class by bringing Tai Chi and Qigong into communities in environments they feel are most appropriate for them.

More than that, we also call on other Tai Chi and Qigong instructors to actively work towards engaging diverse communities to participate in their classes and programs, by understanding and eliminating the barriers faced by these communities.

WTCA always welcomes suggestions on how we can provide more inclusive services and make Tai Chi and Qigong more accessible to more people. If you have an idea, or would like more information on attending one of our classes, or bringing Tai Chi and Qigong to your community, please contact us.


New Term and New Classes

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy’s second term of the year commences in the first week of April and there are now four class locations to choose from. Our original classes in Evansville and Brookfield are now joined by classes in Glendale and the Waukesha side of Brookfield.

WTCA welcomes all new students of all ages and abilities to Tai Chi. To find a class near you see our Classes section.


Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy Announces New Partnership and Class with Momentum Movement Clinic

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is pleased to announce our new partnership with Momentum Movement Clinic and will be commencing a new Tai Chi class at their premises in Brookfield, Wisconsin, in April 2022. WTCA’s Founder and Instructor Ray Gates said the partnership with Momentum is “a natural fit”, as Tai Chi and Qigong practice together with the therapies offered by Momentum’s Owner and Structural Integrationist Lisa McNeil and her staff would be “highly complementary to one another, and should provide people with maximal health and wellness, particularly with regards to healthy, functional movement.”

Momentum’s Lisa McNeil is excited with the partnership. “Tai Chi and Qigong blend specific movements designed to stretch, strengthen, and re-balance injured or painful body regions with focused breathing and enhanced body awareness combining common sense and intuitive body wisdom. Bringing this movement practice to the clinic is going to help clients reach their mobility and pain goals,” she said.

Classes will be held Thursday mornings from April 7. Further information and registration is available in our Classes section.


Can Tai Chi and Qigong Assist Post-Exercise Recovery?

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.


Announcing Our New Corporate and Community Qigong Program

Category : News

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is proud to announce its new Corporate and Community Qigong program, aimed at bringing the health and wellness benefits of Qigong practice to more people in the community.

Qigong is increasingly being recognized and recommended by health and medical professionals for its benefits to physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Qigong classes are a great way to supplement corporate health and wellness programs and community health, wellness and recreational activities.

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy’s Qigong classes are highly suitable for any corporate or community based organisation, including but not limited to:

  • small, medium and large businesses;
  • community groups and centers;
  • conferences and corporate retreats;
  • YMCAs, health clubs and gyms;
  • colleges, schools, and school-based programs (eg: Summer Camps);
  • senior living and residential-based care centers;
  • health and wellness fairs and expos.

For more information please visit our Corporate and Community Qigong section or Contact Us.


Private Lessons Now Available By Appointment

Can’t make it to a class but still want to learn Tai Chi? Already attending a class and want to supplement your learning?

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is now offering private lessons for individuals or small groups (2 or 3 people) with Instructor Ray Gates. Private lessons can be held for anyone – you do not need to be a current member of Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy. Private lessons are conducted in the same way as a regular class, however at a prearranged time and place convenient for you.

For more information about scheduling a private lesson please click here or select the Private Lessons option under the Classes & More menu.


Announcing a New Class in Glendale

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is pleased to announce we will be opening a new class in Glendale.

The new class will be held at Nicolet High School in their dance studio on Thursday evenings from 6-7pm. Details can be found on our Classes page.

For a limited time new students who pre-register will be eligible to receive a one-off 25% discount on their term fees! Register now to receive details of this offer.

This is the first of what will hopefully be a number of new classes and events WTCA will be establishing this year.


Tai Chi and Qigong Could Help Prevent, Treat, and Rehabilitate COVID-19

Tai Chi (taijiquan) and qigong are well-researched methods of improving peoples health and well-being. A number of clinical studies in particular have demonstrated that Tai Chi and qigong can help prevent, treat and rehabilitate people suffering from the effects of respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD1,2. Now researchers believe that these benefits can also help people avoid and recouperate from COVID-19.

Tai Chi and qigong have been clinically demonstrated to benefit those with respiratory diseases by a) improving pulmonary function, immune response, respiratory muscle strength and overall quality of life; and b) decreasing dyspnea (shortness of breath), inflammation, stress, anxiety and depression1-3. Specific studies have demonstrated Tai Chi and qigong improve pulmonary function through increasing lung capacity and efficiency3,4, as well as the depth of breath5. Research suggests it does not matter which style of Tai Chi or qigong are used, though studies have mainly focussed on 24 Forms Tai Chi, Ba Duan Jin and Liu Zi Jue.

As COVID-19 tends to impair pulmonary function, immune response and quality of life while increasing dyspnea and inflammation, researchers are now advocating for Tai Chi and qigong as suitable, safe forms of exercise both pre- and post-infection, and even the lowest impact forms forms during the course of the infection.

Clinical studies supporting the use of Tai Chi and qigong against COVID-19 are beginning to come through and researchers are examining these to demonstrate evidence to support their use in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy offers both Tai Chi and qigong forms in our classes – find a class near you today!

References

  1. Alschuler, L., et al. (2020). Integrative medicine considerations for convalescence from mild-to-moderate COVID-19 disease. Explore: in press available online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550830720304171
  2. Xianjian, C., & Datao, X. (2021). Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on the physical and mental health of the elderly: A Systematic Review. Physical Activity and Health, 5(1), 21–27.
  3. Xu, S., et al. (2021). The positive role of Tai Chi in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18: 7479.
  4. Luo, Z. et al. (2020). The effect of Tai Chi on the quality of life in the elderly patients recovering from coronavirus disease 2019: a protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 99: 49.
  5. Peng, J., et al. (2020). The effect of qigong for pulmonary function and quality of life in patients with COVID-19. Medicine, 99: 38.

Debunking the Myths: “Tai Chi Knee”

Have you ever heard of “Tai Chi Knee”? I first heard about it years ago when I saw a promotion for a book claiming to explain why Tai Chi knee is a ‘normal’ part of Tai Chi practice, along with tips on how to ‘minimise’ the risk of developing Tai Chi Knee. The basic premise was that the positions that some Tai Chi stances require students to put their lower limbs in put a significant amount of strain on the knee joint, and this in turn will cause pain and eventually joint problems. While it is suggested that appropriate strength and conditioning of the knee can minimise these effects, it is accepted that “some” degree of pain is to be expected through learning and performing Tai Chi – a ‘sacrifice for the art’ if you will.

I’m here to tell you that is a complete fallacy. Tai Chi Knee is nothing more than poor understanding and instruction of Tai Chi. It is not something that should exist.

Before becoming a Tai Chi Instructor I was (still am) a Physical Therapist. Throughout my experience with Tai Chi it has always amazed me the level of understanding the old masters had of biomechanics and kinesiology. Every stance, or ‘form’, in Tai Chi is a carefully considered combination of structure and position which results in strength, balance and effective distribution of external forces (eg: gravity) acting on the body. There is no form in any style of Tai Chi that allows or accepts pain or dysfunction as a result of adopting that position. The very notion that such a thing would exist is absurd as it goes against the very principle of using Tai Chi as a way of moving energy (Qi) around the body as part of developing optimal health.

How does “Tai Chi Knee” happen?

In theory, Tai Chi Knee often occurs as the result of either poor alignment of the knee relative to the rest of the body, or applying torsion through the knee while bearing weight through it. I say “in theory” because with correct Tai Chi practice, neither of these things should occur.

The knee is often referred to as a hinge joint as it’s primary movements are to bend (flex) and straighten (extend). However, because of its anatomy, the knee can also be rotated very slightly. Rotation usually occurs in a ‘closed-chain position’, that is, with the feet in contact with the ground or some other surface. In this position the femur can turn slightly over the tibia, creating a torque (rotational force) through the knee. Depending on the alignment of the knee in relation to rest of the leg, it can also flex on one side or the other (lateral flexion). This results in one side of the knee being stretched, while the other is compressed. This movements are often minimal, however they do create strain and wear on the knee.

Excessive and/or repetitive torsion and/or lateral forces can lead to wear and tear on knee structures, especially the ligaments and cartilage. Tai Chi practitioners are at risk of experiencing these forces if:

  • the alignment of the knee is incorrect relative the rest of the leg, especially in relation to the foot (often causes lateral forces);
  • body-weight is applied through the knee while attempting to change position, for example, when turning to change direction (often causes torsion); and/or
  • the joint is being overstressed, as may occur if the student is attempting to move through a range, or at a depth, that their musculoskeletal system has not been conditioned to (often occurs when attempting to perform movements that are too deep or too long).

How to avoid “Tai Chi Knee”

The good news is that with correct instruction and careful practice you never have to experience Tai Chi Knee. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to suggest the correct practice for every Tai Chi form in every set across all styles, here are some general considerations:

  1. work to your current ability: particularly important if you are new to Tai Chi, or new to exercising in general. Your body needs to adapt and make changes in order to perform at its best. No movements or positions should be forced. A good instructor will not expect you to over strain or stretch your body in order to make things look “correct”; rather, they will help you work within your capacity while showing you how to challenge yourself to make improvements over time;
  2. align your knees with your feet and your hip joints: generally speaking, your knee should not fall inside or outside of your foot or hip joint as this causes excessive lateral forces. If you are unsure, have your instructor check your alignment while performing your form;
  3. anytime the foot needs to turn, the weight should be coming off that foot: a position change is generally associated with a weight shift; this is important as it allows the foot to be able to turn freely and avoid torsion through the knee. If it isn’t easy to move the foot, chances are you have your weight distributed incorrectly – have your instructor check and correct;
  4. some movements may cause strain, but none should cause pain: some forms in Tai Chi can be challenging, and this challenge is what encourages our bodies to adapt and improve. No forms should cause pain. I differentiate between pain and strain as follows: strain should be mildly uncomfortable, however relieves immediately upon cessation. Pain is anything strong that a mild discomfort, and/or persists after cessation. It is important to clarify what you’re feeling with your Tai Chi practice with your instructor.

Of all the things that can result in knee pain, Tai Chi should not be one of them. In fact, Tai Chi is well supported through clinical research as a means of reducing knee pain. Tai Chi Knee should not ever be a thing. If any Tai Chi instructor tells you to expect to develop Tai Chi Knee, my advice would be: run! While your knees are still healthy!


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