Tai Chi Improves Balance by Increasing Your Body’s Self-Awareness

Tai Chi Improves Balance by Increasing Your Body’s Self-Awareness

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/rs.3.rs-3703201/v1 ↩︎
  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. ↩︎

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