The Science of Woo: Tai Chi and QiGong

A while back, I began a series titled “The Science of Woo: How the practices of spiritual disciplines, positive psychology, and other “out there” ideas are backed by science.”
You can read earlier posts in the series below:
I covered forgiveness.
Here you can read about the science of gratitude.
And you can LMAO yourself into healthy sobriety.
Helping others is good for your brain and recovery.
Tai Chi (and its companion QiGong) are ancient practices (I’m calling them spiritual disciplines) that combine movement, breathing, and meditation to flow the body’s life energy. They share Qi (life’s energy) and the same method (intention and slow pace). You are probably most familiar with Tai Chi through images of groups of persons moving synchronistically in a park. Tai Chi is a non-competitive martial art with movements designed for self-defense. QiGong is a way of using the breath to manipulate and work with the life force or life energy. They can be framed as “contemplative movement.”

It’s amazing that a series of small, slow, repetitive movements in a sequence repeated over and over can have health benefits, but the benefits of Tai Chi and QiGong to brain health and in the toolbox of recovery from a substance use disorder are well documented.
Mood and Internal States:
  • Increased self esteem and mood[1]
  • Helps with depression[2]
  • Reduces stress[3]
  • Assists with anxiety[4]
Cognitive (Thinking) Benefits
  • Improved thinking[5]
  • Reduce age related cognitive decline[6]
  • Improves balance[7]
General Health and Wellness
  • Improves outcomes and lived experience for many chronic health problems. [8]
  • Balance, cardiac, bone health[9]
  • Helps with chronic pain (a known relapse trigger and risk area in managing recovery)[10]
  • Improves sleep[11]
  • Improves immune function[12]
Substance Use Disorder Benefits
  • Reduced relapse rate[13]
  • Reduction in craving[14]
  • Help manage sleep in detox[15]

As a professional who guides and supports other professionals in their recovery from substance use disorder, am excited and encouraged about the possibilities of Tai Chi and QiGong as a recovery tool. It’s flexible, versatile, and accessible.

Flexible – Tai Chi can be practiced in a group with others or as a solo. This allows for persons at various seasons of life to participate as well as persons with various temperaments.

Versatile and – It’s common for persons with a substance use disorder to also have anxiety, depression, insomnia, and stress or anger management issues. Tai Chi is shown to assist with all of those, and since they are known to put a person at risk for relapse, using Tai Chi allows the client to be proactive and holistically treat client needs.

Accessible – You don’t have to attend an in person class or be somewhere at a certain time. Tai Chi can be practiced at any time by learning basic sequences, utilizing YouTube or courses online. This lowers the barrier to entry. It’s also a practice that can be used by bodies of many sizes and fitness levels.

When I develop a treatment plan, I encourage my clients to put together as many useful and multifunctional recovery tools as possible. Tai Chi and QiGong are tools that can travel through seasons of life with the client, assisting with early recovery and craving management, with the response to triggers both internal and external in the first weeks and months, and with stress as the client builds a sober life and responds to the needs and demands of a full, rich life.

A little known fact about Your Recovery Therapist: I am a Certified Practice Leader of Tai Chi Easy. Tai Chi Easy is an accessible version of Tai Chi for persons in a range of body shapes, sizes, and abilities. http://taichieasy.org/training/. You can find me here in my training class.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938610/pdf/fnhum-12-00174.pdf
[2] https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/more-evidence-that-exercise-can-boost-mood?utm_source=delivra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WR20190503-Exercise&utm_id=1337598&dlv-ga-memberid=63831636&mid=63831636&ml=1337598
[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/tai-chi-benefits#reduces-stress
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3917559/pdf/nihms542411.pdf
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3917559/pdf/nihms542411.pdf
[6] https://functionalaginginstitute.com/tai-chi-and-brain-health/
[7] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tai-chi-health_b_5434837?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADVfarqoxriw4Rtsmqf-yfgmzFMLh7ecWYsOA0pXVZ6A7Cg3tURlY9kSaIT1Xy8s46KEg6cJY7pPHwkn7s_-xXVGiPcrg2cnB8hAwWO4z_MMQl1UqFMkrHPz6e-FeIQsduRutbuzbqoU_Gh4u6m906Ug437SEvy8PvVmj_Rru3Me
[8] https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/research-were-watching-study-suggests-tai-chi-improves-life-for-people-with-chronic-health-problems
[9] https://harvardmagazine.com/2010/01/researchers-study-tai-chi-benefits
[10] https://www.health.harvard.edu/alternative-and-complementary-medicine/tai-chi-and-chronic-pain
[11] https://www.healthline.com/health/tai-chi-benefits#reduces-stress
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3917559/pdf/nihms542411.pdf
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3917559/pdf/nihms542411.pdf
[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3917559/pdf/nihms542411.pdf
[15] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01476/full

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