Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a non-combative, traditional form of Chinese martial art. In involves sequences of slow and graceful body movements combined with controlled breathing. It is also commonly referred to as meditation in motion. It is believed that Tai Chi creates a positive life force by balancing the Yin and Yang (opposing internal forces) in the body. Tai Chi is known to improve flexibility, muscle strength, and overall health. Over the years, many different styles of Tai Chi have evolved.

Tai Chi and Cancer

Many studies indicate that practicing Tai Chi can enhance the immune system and relieve anxiety, pain, and stress in Cancer patients and survivors. Remember, there is no study which indicates that Tai Chi can treat the Cancer itself. Here are some benefits:

  • In a study to evaluate the effects of Tai Chi and Qigong on symptoms and quality of life in cancer survivors, the following areas showed significant improvement:
    • Sleep
    • Depression
    • Fatigue
    • Overall quality of life
  • In another study, a weak positive preliminary evidence was found for pain management.

The challenge in assessing the effectiveness of Tai Chi and other mind-body is the difficulty in creating controls and placebo conditions.

  • A study showed the association of Tai Chi with maintenance of insulin levels and changes in cytokine levels important for maintaining a lean body mass in breast cancer survivors.
  • In a randomized trial, preliminary association was found between Tai Chi and health-related quality of life and self-esteem in breast cancer patients.
  • In a systematic review and meta-analyses of studies conducted until June 30, 2013, it was found that Tai Chi had positive effects on the cancer-specific QOL, fatigue, immune function and cortisol level of cancer patients.

Key Points

  • Tai chi is a form of traditional Chinese martial art, mind-body exercise and meditation.
  • Tai chi is practiced to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength and overall health.
  • LHC is interested in evidence associating tai chi with improvements in fatigue, sleep difficulty, depression, quality of life and pain management.
  • Tai chi movements are low-impact, making its practice generally safe for patients. A few medical conditions may warrant caution.
  • Tai chi is widely available as classes, on video or online.

Tai Chi or Qigong: What’s the Difference?

The follow summary draws from Tai Chi Society, The Qigong Institute, and Livestrong.com.

The qi (also spelled chi) is “the life energy that flows through the body’s energy pathways.” Tai chi and qigong both cultivate the qi by combining movement, breathing and meditation. Tai chi is the most well-known and popular moving form of qigong. The practitioner uses visualization, breathing and body movement to guide the circulation of qi as it moves through and around the body. Other characteristics in common:

  • The same fundamental principle (relaxation)
  • The same fundamental method (slowness)

Ways in which tai chi and qigong differ:

  • Tai chi originated as a martial art, but qigong is a health practice with origins in Chinese culture and philosophy.
  • Tai chi is a series of continuous, circular, slow, relaxed and smooth flowing movements called forms. Tai chi practice is centered on the forms, involving alignment, integration, coordination, connection, precision and unity. The qi manifests as a result of the form.
  • The forms in qigong are not as intricate as those in tai chi and need not be executed as precisely. Qigong forms are free in movement and can be adapted to an individual’s manner of moving. Qigong can be carried out standing, sitting or lying down The core body may be still with only the extremities moving. The discipline of qigong is focused on cultivating the qi without need to study the forms.
  • The forms in tai chi follow certain rules and involve intricate body mechanics. In tai chi, a series of forms are not repeated as in qigong; instead one form is followed by another, with each form an integral part of the next and making up a continuous flowing movement.
  • Tai chi involves an advanced and elaborate choreography, unlike qigong. Tai chi forms generally take longer to learn and master than qigong’s.
  • The qi is not easily cultivated early in tai chi practice, whereas qigong practice can generate tremendous qi in a much shorter time.
  • The art of qigong can be a profound meditation going deep into consciousness. The moving meditation of tai chi is typically less intense.

References & More Information

  1. Credit: Beyond Conventional Care Therapies
  2. ZenOnco.io Integrative Oncology Cancer Care
  3. National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms – Tai Chi. Viewed October 2, 2018.
  4. Beginners Tai Chi. Tai Chi Styles for Beginners: Differences and History. Viewed October 2, 2018.
  5. Lana Maciel. Tai chi: Healing from the inside out. December 29, 2010. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
  6. Wayne PM, Lee MS et al. Tai chi and qigong for cancer-related symptoms and quality of life: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Cancer Survivorship. 2017 Dec 8.
  7. Lin YC, Wan L, Jamison RN. Using integrative medicine in pain management: an evaluation of current evidence. Anesthesia & Analgesia. 2017 Dec;125(6):2081-2093.
  8. Ruddy KJ, Stan DL, Bhagra A, Jurisson M, Cheville AL. Alternative exercise traditions in cancer rehabilitation. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2017 Feb;28(1):181-192.
  9. Janelsins MC, Davis PG, et al. Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on insulin and cytokine levels in a randomized controlled pilot study on breast cancer survivors. Clin Breast Cancer. 2011 Jun;11(3):161-70. doi: 10.1016/j.clbc.2011.03.013. Epub 2011 Apr 20.
  10. Mustian KM, Katula JA, et al. Tai Chi Chuan, health-related quality of life and self-esteem: a randomized trial with breast cancer survivors. Support Care Cancer. 2004 Dec;12(12):871-6. Epub 2004 Sep 30.
  11. Zeng Y, Luo T, Xie H, Huang M, Cheng AS. Health benefits of qigong or tai chi for cancer patients: a systematic review and meta-analyses. Complement Ther Med. 2014 Feb;22(1):173-86. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.11.010. Epub 2013 Dec 18.
  12. Mansky P, Sannes T, et al. Tai chi chuan: mind-body practice or exercise intervention? Studying the benefit for cancer survivors. Integr Cancer Ther. 2006 Sep;5(3):192-201.
  13. Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies
  14. Campo RA, Light KC, O’Connor K, Nakamura Y, Lipschitz D, LaStayo PC, et al. Blood pressure, salivary cortisol, and inflammatory cytokine outcomes in senior female cancer survivors enrolled in a tai chi chih randomized controlled trial. J Cancer Survivorship 2015;9:115-25.
  15. Liu J, Chen P, Wang R, Yuan Y, Wang X, Li C. Effect of Tai Chi on mononuclear cell functions in patients with non-small cell lung cancer. BMC Complement Altern Med 2015;15:3.
  16. Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Cancer (CAM-Cancer): Tai Chi.
  17. Mayo Clinic: Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress
  18. Livestrong: Tai Chi for Beginners  
  19. MD Anderson Cancer Center: Tai Chi Can Help Cancer Patients
  20. Erlene Chiang: Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine in Treating Cancer and Grief

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