by Scholten A

Understanding Tai Chi

IMAGE Breathe in, breathe out. Let your chest rise, now let it fall. Shift your body weight to your left leg and stretch your arms out to the left. Now slowly sway your arms and your body weight over to the right. Matching movements, mental and physical balance, yin and yang. These are the essence of tai chi.

According to Chinese medicine, the universe is run by a single idea. It is called the Tao. The Tao is made up of the yin and the yang. They are opposite, yet balancing forces. For example, the yin includes female, the moon, cold, and matter. The yang is male, the sun, heat, and energy.

"Chi" refers to our energy or life force. And "tai chi" means to contain both yin and the yang. "Chuan" is often used in the name. Chuan translates to "fist" or "boxing," and means exercise.

Tai Chi is sometimes described as "moving meditation." It uses slow and careful movements. People learn to focus on each motion and become aware of their bodies and mind. The goal is to combine thoughts and movement.

Achieving and Maintaining Good Health

In Chinese medicine, pain or sickness is believed to happen when:

  • The flow of the chi is blocked
  • Yin and yang energies are out of balance

It is believed that when the chi is moving freely, physical symptoms go away. The joints are seen as gates that control the flow of chi. Tai chi is supposed to ease tension and open these joints with:

  • Slow, gentle, swaying movements
  • Deep breathing
  • Mental focus

Studies suggest that Tai Chi may help:

  • Improve balance in older people and those with Parkinson's disease
  • Manage pain from certain conditions such as:
  • Ease stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Improve mental function in older people

A number of tai chi masters believe that tai chi is good for all health concerns.

Learning to Practice

Tai chi does not involve impact or equipment. It requires only your willingness and ability to stick to it. It is best to study with a qualified instructor. Ask other people about their Tai chi teachers and classes. It is important to find the right one for you.

There are many styles of tai chi and different ways of teaching it. In some classes, there is not much talking. The students learn by watching. In other classes, the teacher may speak throughout. They may describe body movements and guide meditation.

Ask potential teachers about their style, years of practice, and education. In addition, watch several classes before deciding to join one.

Whatever your reason for considering tai chi, you may find it helpful. It may bring peace and energy to your mind, your body, and your life.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health 


Health Canada 

Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism 


Tai chi. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: Accessed June 17, 2021.

Tai chi and qi gong: In depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Available at: Accessed June 17, 2021.

Yang Style Tai Chi website. Available at: Accessed June 17, 2021.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 06/2021
  • Update Date: 06/17/2021