Can We Prove Qi (Chi) is Real?

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.

References

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.


New Class Starting In Whitewater, WI

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is pleased to announce the opening of a new class in Whitewater, WI.

Commencing April 22nd, 2023, WTCA will be offering classes at the Whitewater Seniors Center at Starin Park, Whitewater. While this is a new class to Whitewater, it represents a transfer of the Evansville class to this new location. The relocation of the Evansville class is seen to have a number of benefits, including the ability to offer Beginners weekly rather than bi-weekly classes as well as being more accessible to people living in this region of Wisconsin.

“There has been a lot of interest from the public in having Tai Chi available in Whitewater and surrounding areas, and that, coupled with the great facility we’ve been able to secure, has been the main influence in our decision to move our Evansville class to Whitewater,” said WTCA’s Founder and Head Instructor, Ray Gates.

Registrations for the next term of classes for all locations including Whitewater are now open and details can be found on our Classes page.


Six Tips Before You Start Tai Chi Class

I’ve been an Instructor of Tai Chi for a number of years now, and a student of Tai Chi much longer than that. Over that time my knowledge and understanding of what Tai Chi ‘is’ has changed and evolved from the first time I stepped into a class, and certainly from my idea of what it was before I took my first class. In hindsight, I can honestly say I had no idea what Tai Chi ‘is’, or what to expect from attempting to learn it. Today my only regret is that I didn’t start learning it many years before that first class!

Over more than 20 years involvement in Tai Chi I’ve seen a lot of students come and go. Of the ones that go, there is, in my observation, a lot of leave because the class they attend turns out to be something different than what they expected, or what they are looking for. Similarly, many people who I talk to about Tai Chi and encourage to take it on don’t because they’ve already formed an idea (bias might be a better word) of what it is and determined it’s not for them.

I’m known for saying, “if I had my way, everybody would do Tai Chi.” I say this as a Tai Chi Instructor, as a physical therapist, as a friend and colleague, as a parent, as a member of the community. In my personal and professional opinions – biased though they might be – Tai Chi (and Qigong) is one of the few things that can benefit everyone who does it.

So if you’re debating whether to try a Tai Chi class, or maybe you’ve just started or just about to start a class, I’d like to offer you six pieces of advice so that you can get the most from your introduction to Tai Chi.

Keep an Open Mind

Many people who begin Tai Chi usually do so with an idea of what it’s going to be like – and often, that idea is not at all what it turns out to be. I feel this is because our broader society has developed a preconceived idea – a stereotype, if you like – of what Tai Chi ‘is’. For example:

  • Tai Chi is just for “old people” (it is not, it’s for everybody and the younger you start the more benefit you’ll get);
  • Tai Chi is just slow movements/exercises (it is not; not only are there sets and styles where at least some movements are performed very quickly, Tai Chi requires attention and focus to understand not just the movements but the affect they have on the body, the mind and the spirit);
  • Tai Chi isn’t a real martial art (it is – taijiquan, the Grand Ultimate Fist – even if the martial aspect is not always emphasized, the martial art is still there);
  • Tai Chi isn’t really exercise (it is, and research is finding it’s just as, if not more, effective as other forms of low- to moderate-intensity exercises for building strength, balance, endurance and improving flexibility, reducing weight, benefiting mental and emotional states, etc.);

and the list goes on. The fact is: if you’ve never experienced Tai Chi for yourself, chances are you really don’t know what it’s about – and that’s a good thing! Even if you have undertaken some form of Tai Chi class, depending on the quality and experience of your Instructor, you may not have really been exposed to the essence of Tai Chi.

You must keep an open mind, and be willing to learn what Tai Chi is, and is all about. Forget the stereotypes. Understand that Tai Chi is as much about the experience as it is about performing the movements. In that respect, what Tai Chi ‘is’ becomes a very personal thing: you will come to realize that the question is not “what is Tai Chi?”, but rather, “what is Tai Chi to me?”. That way, you will get as much as you want to get from it – maybe even more.

It’s About Learning, Not Imitation

Starting a Tai Chi class is not like starting an exercise class. If you go to an aerobics class, or a spin class, or even some yoga classes, you are essentially just following along with the instructor or presenter. While there is an aspect of learning, especially if, for example, you need to follow a routine or perform an unfamiliar exercise, that learning often remains within the classroom. Few people would go home and practice what they did in class. Some might not even think about what they did once they walk out the door. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s more that these classes are structured in a way that you don’t need to learn the routines, because each time you come to class, you can just follow along with the the instructor says or does.

Tai Chi is different. Like any other skill set, getting the most out of Tai Chi means that you need to learn it; not just the what or the how but the when, where and why as well. This involves more than just practice (though as you’ll see below that’s important as well!) – it always requires some absorption and reflection of each lesson you take. If you only attend class and try to follow along with what the Instructor or the other students are doing, without giving the time and attention to learning for yourself what needs to be done, then ultimately you might be engaging in some useful exercise, perhaps even practicing some good Kung Fu, but you will not be performing Tai Chi.

Be Patient

One of my favorite sayings related to Tai Chi is: “How long does it take to learn Tai Chi? More than one lifetime.” Your initial reaction to this might be, “why bother then?”; hear me out.

Now more than ever, our society has instilled in us a sense, dare I say a need, for instant gratification. So many things can be offered and provided to us on demand, that it’s become an expectation that anything that we want or need we can have right now. This isn’t just about information: if we’re hungry, there’s drive thru, or microwavable meals, or snacks. If I want something, I go to a store and buy it, or better yet, order it online and have it delivered to me, sometimes within the same day. No money? Get it on credit. Want to lose weight? Don’t spend months or years on exercising – take this drug. While these things benefit us in many ways and can make our lives easier and more enjoyable, it also skews our expectations when it comes to things that take time and effort to gain.

As an Instructor I see it a lot. There are always people who join the class and are constantly wanting to move things along, to learn the next movement or next section or next form, even though they don’t know what I’ve already shown them! I call this the “I want Tai Chi now” mentality.

It doesn’t work like that. Unfortunately, there are people out there who take advantage of this mentality in society and promise to be able to teach you Tai Chi in weekend, or become an Instructor in two weeks. Again: it doesn’t work like that. Yet for some people, when they don’t get Tai Chi “now”, they get frustrated, and then discouraged, and then give up.

Learning Tai Chi is a process, and as your understanding of it deepens with experience, you will come to realize it’s an ongoing process. There is always something more to learn, something more to explore, something that can be improved upon or refined further. I’ve been fortunate in my lifetime and experience to have worked with a number of martial arts Masters who, after 40, or 50, or even 60 years of practicing their art still refer to themselves as “students”. As my Master often said, “when you think you’ve got it, go deeper.”

Understand this: you are not expected to understand everything, and perform your Tai Chi at a Master level, after your first class. Or even after your tenth, or hundredth, or thousandth class. It is not about “getting it right”. It’s about growing, developing, and improving over time. A good Instructor will understand this and demonstrate the patience needed to achieve this by allowing you to work at your own pace. You just need the patience to continue to want to strive for it. I often tell my students that every time I perform my Tai Chi, I learn something new, and my hope is I never stop learning.

Ask Questions

Were you one of those people at school that didn’t like to ask questions? Either because you thought you already knew it, or your classmates would laugh at you, or your were afraid of looking stupid, or for some other reason that probably seemed important at the time, but on reflection really wasn’t? I was, and it took time and effort for me to overcome that. However, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article for you to read today.

The only way to learn something, to strengthen your understanding and become proficient at something, is to ask questions. This is more than just putting up your hand in class and asking a question, though that is important and something I definitely encourage. It’s about seeking out the information that you need in order for the thing your learning to become meaningful to you. This might mean putting up your hand, however it might also mean having a discussion with your Instructor and/or your other classmates, or reading a book or online article, or watching a video, or even just some self-reflection. It might also mean that instead of an answer you’re left with more questions – that’s great! It’s that kind of thinking that will lead you to more knowledge and a greater understanding.

If you want to learn Tai Chi, ask a lot of questions. As I often say to my students: the question you have is probably one that ten other students have, yet if none of you ask it, all of you miss out on the opportunity to learn.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

A previous Master of a different martial art style used to reflect on his Master’s response when he got something correct: “Good! Now, do it ten thousand times!”

If you want to learn and become good at anything, you must devote time to practicing it, and Tai Chi is no exception. Elite sports agencies – those involved in top-level professional sports or events such as the Olympics – have determined through research that to achieve an ‘elite’ or ‘master’ level in a sport, an athlete needs to train for at least 10,000 hours. To put that in perspective, if you practiced for one hour every single day, it would take about 27 years and 4 months to achieve ‘elite’ or ‘master’ status – and that’s before we even look at the quality of your practice. I can assure you that blazing fastball you see a pitcher deliver came about from thousands of hours and tens-of-thousands of pitches prior to that one. Similarly, that stunning ballet performance that looks so strong and graceful and effortless came from thousands and thousands of hours practicing different positions and learning new choreography.

I’m not saying you have to devote that much time to your Tai Chi, however it is important to understand that you do need to practice in at least some capacity in order to be able to learn it effectively.

In the first instance, you need to learn the movements, and the sequence they are performed in. A typical Tai Chi class will seek to teach you more and more of the sequence with each class. This means that with each successive class, you are expected to remember (at least for the most part) what the previous movement you learned was. Unless you have an exceptional talent for learning new skills, or an eidetic memory, you are going to need to practice what you’ve learned in order to be able to retain it and then build upon it from class to class.

Once you know the sequence well enough to perform it from start to finish, the real work of finding your Tai Chi begins. There is always refinement to be done, always things that can be improved. My Tai Chi today is different from the Tai Chi I was doing when I was competing years ago, which was far different from the Tai Chi I was doing when I first started. You can only achieve this growth through practice.

Enjoy

Though I put this last, in could also be the first thing to consider. Arguably the most important piece of advice I can give you to learn Tai Chi is: enjoy it. Take pleasure in learning something new, in performing your forms, in seeing how the Tai Chi affects your body, your mind, and your spirit over time. Enjoy the challenge that comes with learning Tai Chi. Make attending class the highlight (or at least one of them) of your day. When you can enjoy doing something it becomes less of a chore or a task and more something you want, even desire, to do. It becomes part of your life, part of who you are. Your Tai Chi should be a positive thing in your life, something that you look forward to, and feel great for having done it.

I look forward to seeing you in class!


Announcing 2023 Workshops

Category : News

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is please to announce it will start hosting workshops in 2023.

It is anticipated that up to six workshops will be held in 2023, with the first two schedule for January 14. WTCA’s workshops will focus on specific aspects of Tai Chi/Taijiquan and Qigong practice, and are aimed at giving attendees a deeper understanding of the principles and practice of Tai Chi. Most workshops will be open for public attendance although some prerequisites may need to be met in order to attend.

The first workshops will focus on an initial examination of the Thirteen Postures and the martial applications of Tai Chi forms. While only these two workshops have been formally announced, future workshops will build on these initial ones, while others will examine other aspects related to Tai Chi theory and practice including qi and Qigong practice.

Further information can be found at WTCA’s workshop page under the ‘What We Offer’ menu or by clicking here.


WTCA Instructor Accredited with ATCQA

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Category : News

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy’s Instructor Ray Gates has been accredited as an Associate Instructor with the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association (ATCQA).

ATCQA is a national non-profit organization whose aim is to promote Tai Chi and Qigong – in any style, lineage, or application – in the United States for American people’s health, fitness and wellness. In order for Tai Chi Instructors to be accredited with ATCQA they must be able to demonstrate their qualifications and experience in teaching Tai Chi. At the Associate Instructor level an Instructor has demonstrated that they have accumulated a minimum of 200 hours teaching Tai Chi. To maintain accreditation Instructors must reapply every two years.

Instructor Ray Gates has formerly held accreditation with Australia’s Kung Fu and Wushu Federation and is pleased to have achieved accreditation within the United States. He is grateful to all those who supported him during the accreditation process, including his sifu Master Dennis Watts, and his past and current students.


Evansville Class Now Held Weekly!

Category : Classes , News

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is changing the timing of its Evansville classes.

Commencing in the final term of 2022, Beginner classes will be held weekly for an hour instead of every two weeks as has been the previous format. The change has been made to make the class more accessible to new students and to bring the classes more into line with other venues.

Intermediate classes will continue to be held every two weeks for an hour and a half at this time, however this is also expected to change in the foreseeable future.

Term 4 commences at the Evansville location on Saturday October 8 – see our class information for details.


Did you know Tai Chi can benefit runners?

Category : Uncategorized

Recently I was asked by The Runner Doc about ways Tai Chi could benefit runners. While there are many potential benefits, I suggested five specific benefits Tai Chi can have for runners.


Benefits of Tai Chi for School and College Students

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.

References

  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.


WTCA Now Accepting Installment Plans to Help More People Enjoy Tai Chi

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy strives to make Tai Chi and Qigong accessible to as many people as possible. While we always try to keep our fees as low as possible, in the current economic climate it can still be challenging for people to afford engaging in activities which are additional to their regular monthly expenses. To try and ease financial burden on people and continue to make Tai Chi affordable, WTCA is now able to take installment payments using Afterpay.

Afterpay offers the ability to split payments into 4 installments to make payments easier to manage. Payments are made via our secure Square site and details are provided upon request.

Afterpay may include its own fees or charges separate from your payment for using this service, and anyone using this service are advised to be sure they understand all the terms and conditions of Afterpay’s service prior to establishing a payment agreement with them.

Currently use of Afterpay is for class term fees, however WTCA plans to extend this to other services in due course. Information about our classes can be found here.


Want to know what Tai Chi is like? Come to one of our Come N Try Tai Chi events! We have events scheduled in Brookfield, Cedarburg and Glendale!

Can’t make it to any of our current locations? Let us know where you would like to see us start a new class.

Are you a community group or business that would like to offer Qigong to your members/community/employees? Check out our Corporate and Community Qigong program.


WTCA Joins 20 Year Celebration for Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts

The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts has hosted a space for Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy to hold Tai Chi classes since 2020. This was our first official class in the Greater Milwaukee area, and we now hold Beginner and Intermediate classes at their facility.

WTCA is helping Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts celebrate their 20 years of making the arts accessible to the Greater Milwaukee community by holding two Come N Try Tai Chi for Free sessions during their Summer celebrations. These sessions will be held on Saturday mornings on June 25 and July 2 at from 8am. Following these sessions, attendees can continue the celebration with coffee and live music from 9am.

More information about the Come N Try Tai Chi sessions and our upcoming new Term of Tai Chi classes can be found on our website.


Want to know what Tai Chi is like? Come to one of our Come N Try Tai Chi events! We have events scheduled in Brookfield, Cedarburg and Glendale!

Can’t make it to any of our current locations? Let us know where you would like to see us start a new class.

Are you a community group or business that would like to offer Qigong to your members/community/employees? Check out our Corporate and Community Qigong program.