Tai Chi and Qigong are ancient Chinese calisthenics that combine graceful, stretching movements with slow, measured breathing. Research has shown that these exercises effectively reduce stress and anxiety, in addition to protecting against disease, aging and mental health problems. Each movement works as a self-massage for the internal organs, while improving circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids throughout the body. ‘Qigong’ is characterized by stationary, repetitive movements that focus on stimulating particular organs and muscle groups; ‘Tai Chi’ is a martial art style that is practiced as a moving meditation to improve balance, enhance neuromuscular memory and rejuvenate the whole body. Beginners who practice Tai Chi or Qigong immediately recognize a transformation in body and mind, including sensations of deep relaxation, increased vitality and improved physical coordination.
In China, tai chi is revered as a ‘vehicle to immortality.’ This interpretation highlights the extraordinary health benefits of daily tai chi practice. In the west, tai chi and qi-gong are rapidly moving to the forefront of today’s healthcare news as a balanced exercise to support health and well-being. Tai chi has been used effectively to treat hypertension( 7 ), arthritis( 3 ), reduce the risk of falling( 6 ), and increase bone and muscle density( 4 ). Tai Chi has also been shown to have promising results for patients with cardiovascular disease( 8 ), cancer( 5 ) and diabetes. Tai chi applies the Chinese medical theory of intrinsic energy flow or “qi” in order to actively circulate bodily fluids, regulate organ function and return the body to homeostasis. Additionally, tai chi’s correct posture and slow, concentrated movements make it especially helpful as a rehabilitative therapy that reinforces the tendons and ligaments while increasing range of motion( 2 ).
In addition to physical benefits, tai chi can also enhance memory, sharpen mental concentration and improve psychological wellbeing( 1 ). The mind often holds onto stress and anxiety, even after we walk away from stressful stimuli. This mental “attack” translates into an over-active inflammatory response that changes our internal chemistry, resulting in depression, anxiety and fatigue, as well as increasing our risk for developing chronic diseases later in life. Without infection, inflammation needlessly drains essential energy reserves that would otherwise be used for daily body maintenance such as filtering toxins, regulating organ function and correcting genetic mutations. Tai chi breathing deeply relaxes the mind and body, allowing our internal chemistry to return to homeostasis and preserve a finely-tuned machine. As a result, practitioners enjoy more energy, better sleeping patterns and a happier disposition. Many other health benefits are still being studied today.
- Dechamps A, Lafont L, Bourdel-Marchasson I. Effects of Tai Chi exercises on self-efficacy and psychological health. Eur Rev Aging PhysActivity. 2007;4:25–32.
- Hong Y, Li JX, Robinson PD. Balance control, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory fitness among older tai chi practitioners. Br J Sports Med 2000;34:29–34.
- Lee MS, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Tai Chi for osteoarthritis: a systematic review. ClinRheumatol. 2008;27:211–218.
- Lee MS, Pittler MH, Shin B, Ernst E. Tai Chi for osteoporosis: a systematic review. Osteoporos Int. 2008;19:139–146.
- Mansky P, Sannes T, Wallerstedt D, et al. Tai Chi Chuan: mind-body practice or exercise intervention? studying the benefit for cancer survivors. Integr Cancer Ther. 2006;5:192–201.
- Wolf SL, Sattin RW, Kutner M et al. Intense tai chi exercise training and fall occurrences in older, transitionally frail adults: A randomized, controlled trial. J Am Geriatr Soc 2003;51:1693–1701.
- Yeh GY,Wang C, Wayne PM, Phillips RS. The effect of Tai Chi exercise on blood pressure: a systematic review. Prev Cardiol.2008;11:82–89.
- Yeh GY, Wang C, Wayne PM, Phillips RS. Tai Chi exercise for patients with cardiovascular conditions and risk factors: a systematic review. J Cardiopulm RehabilPrev. 2009;29:152–160.
Wudang Tai Chi
Wu Dang Mountain, popularized by the movie “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” is revered as the birthplace of martial arts. Wu Dang is the primary center for internal kung fu training, tai chi and qi-gong healing. It is both a physical and spiritual sanctuary rich in tradition and history. For over 2000 years, Taoist priest on Wu Dang Mountain have refined the practice of meditation, qi-gong, dao-yin (yoga) and internal alchemy, which solidified its position as the Mecca of ancient Taoist wisdom and mind-body practices. Around 1100 A.D., qi-gong was further developed on Wu Dang Mountain by the sage Zhang Sanfeng, the grand assembler of tai chi. It is said that Zhang Sanfeng observed a magpie fighting a snake and immediately understood the yin-yang nature of combat; the essence of overcoming hardness with softness. Zhang Sanfeng integrated qi-gong, bagua theory, traditional Chinese medicine, internal alchemy and kung fu to create the first “internal” martial art called Tai Chi Quan (“Grand Ultimate Fist”). Zhan Sanfeng’s original 13 postures changed the platform in which kung fu and eventually other styles practiced martial arts. Previously, kung fu was only a self-defense system; Zhan Sanfeng made it an art form, a way of life, capable of generating internal power and insight. Although outwardly designed as a highly advanced martial art system, Wu Dang tai chi is in fact a direct path to health and longevity aimed at conserving jing, qi and shen: the three treasures of the Tao.
Knowing one’s tai chi roots and recognizing its lineage, not only honors the teacher and the wisdom that has been passed down from previous masters, but also validates that you are receiving authentic instruction. Kaikudo’s Tai Chi instructor, Michael Issa, has studied extensively under a tai chi master from Wu Dang Mountain, the birthplace of tai chi. Master Yun Xiang Tseng (Chen) was a child prodigy in Chinese martial and healing arts. At the age of six he was chosen by Wu Dang masters, Master Guo Gao Yi and Master Li Cheng Yu, to learn the ancient wisdom of Wu Dang tai chi, qi-gong, meditation and healing. He is of a 14th generation Wu Dang Zhang Sanfeng lineage and a 25th generation Longmen Taoist Priest, and is authorized to practice and teach the authentic Wu Dang Taoist teachings that have passed on in an unbroken living tradition for 700 years. He was given the Taoist name of Qing Zhen.
In 1990, he immigrated from the People’s Republic of China to the United States. He now resides in Ft. Collins, Colorado with his wife and three children. Chen has trained many thousands in America and over 10,000 people in China. He has a gift for making these authentic Taoist teachings understandable. He teaches the Wu Dang tradition of Taoism throughout the United States. He has appeared on various major network news stations and has been interviewed by newspapers as well as published articles in national magazines.
A true son of the Tao, Master Chen believes most strongly that only in having an open sharing affection for his students can he impart the great message of peace and hope that he has come to North America to deliver. His teaching is always informed by his knowledge of classical Chinese medicine and his extensive background in Chinese classical literature.
Currently, Chen is the President of Chi for Longevity, President and founder of the Association for Chinese and American Enrichment, Inc. a not for profit organization, and serves as director of Wu Dang Cultural Studies in America. He is the official representative of Wu Dang for the Wu Dang Taoist Association. Chen’s mission is to build the first Taoist Monastery in the U.S.
For more information, please visit Master Chen’s website at www.wudangtao.com.
Qi-gong has been practiced for thousands of years in China as a means of healing the body and revitalizing the spirit. Qi-gong is a moving meditation that serves as the perfect stress-management tool and mind-refreshing tonic after long hours of work. In addition to deep breathing and graceful movements, qi-gong uses concentrated imagery to guide qi throughout the body. In this way, qi-gong “washes” the body with the mind using intrinsic energy-flow to restore organ function and strengthen the mind-body connection. Qi-gong movements originated from dao-yin stretching, or “Taoist yoga.” They differ in that qi-gong’s soft movements focus on gathering qi to rejuvenate the body, whereas dao-yin aims to improve flexibility and release energy blockages by stretching the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Together, dao-yin warms-up the body for more efficient cultivation in qi-gong; and qi-gong gathers energy for more effective qi-flow during tai chi practice.
Beginners can immediately enjoy the benefits of qi-gong breathing and dao-yin stretching, while learning the fundamentals of tai chi movement. Dao-yin and qi-gong movements are easy to follow, but with profound results. In addition to self-relaxation, these classes serve to increase strength and flexibility, support the spine and restore the body in preparation for more difficult tai chi forms. Kaikudo makes qi gong fun and relaxing while enabling students to practice at home and build a strong foundation. Beginners can attend any of the “All Levels” classes held weekly.
Issa has developed a unique tai chi curriculum that guides students step-by-step through the foundations of tai chi movement and internal energy (qi) theory. Students first practice ‘Tai Chi Walking,’ which is the foundation for all tai chi movement. Tai chi walking starts by repeating the same technique while moving across the room and, then, learning how to combine movements into a fluid motion. Tai chi walking is an in-depth approach to focus on correct posture, form and breathing before memorizing the tai chi form.
After tai chi walking, students will learn Wu Dang style tai chi. There are three main forms taught at Kaikudo: Wu Dang Square-foot Tai Chi, Wu Dang 13 and Wu Dang 52. Square-foot Tai Chi is the perfect introduction to the Wu Dang system; it does not require a lot of space or time to perform and it includes many of the basic techniques found in the more advanced Wu Dang forms. In addition, its movements strengthen the kidneys and increase waist power, which is essential for tai chi development. After Square-foot Tai Chi, students are eligible to learn the Wu Dang 52 and 13 forms.
Wu Dang 13 is the first Tai Chi form created by Zhan Sanfeng himself. Wu Dang 13 is a special form that demonstrates powerful rooting and internal cultivation methods. From Wu Dang 13, 108 Movements was developed by Zhan Sanfeng’s top students, but the form is rarely taught outside of Wu Dang Mountain. Wu Dang 52 is an abridged version of Wu Dang 108 for public benefit. The 52 form appears more martial with more advanced movements and some fast kicks.