Tai Chi: Healing From the Inside Out

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By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Tai Chi photo by Scott Sandars The best forms of healing don't always come in a bottle, a pill or any kind of external medicine. Sometimes, internal healing works best to promote overall health, and, for some people, it can be achieved through the practice of tai chi.

An ancient Chinese martial art, tai chi was first used as a form of self-defense, but research has shown that this practice of meditation can actually be an effective form of medication for cancer patients.

Tai chi is a "moving meditation" in which participants perform a series of slow, graceful motions that often resemble movements in nature. Individuals concentrate on deep breathing and precise posture, which helps to relax the mind and strengthen the body.

Recent studies have indicated that tai chi enhances the immune system and relieves pain, anxiety and stress in cancer patients and survivors. Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor in the departments of Behavioral Science and General Oncology and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson, says he often recommends tai chi to patients because of its overall health benefits.

"In terms of the evidence that's out there and the scientific literature, practices such as tai chi have been found to help improve patients' quality of life," Cohen says. "There are some studies showing that these types of mind-body practices can also have an impact on physiological functioning, improving aspects of immune function and decreasing stress hormones."

Internal balance for a healthy body

As a form of complementary medicine, tai chi is believed to create a positive energy force by balancing the concepts of yin and yang, the opposing internal forces within the body. This healthy balance aids in the flow of qi (chi), which in ancient Chinese beliefs is a vital energy of the body.

Additional health benefits of tai chi include:
•    Improved balance and reduced risk of falls, especially in the elderly
•    Improved coordination, flexibility and overall wellness
•    Decreased blood pressure
•    Decreased pain and stiffness
•    Lower risk for depression

Doctors and researchers are continuing to study the effects of tai chi on cancer, including the incorporation of such meditation practices into cancer treatment plans. Cohen is currently conducting an National Cancer Institute-funded study examining the benefits of tai chi incorporated into the treatment plan for people with prostate or rectal/anal cancer undergoing radiation therapy.

MD Anderson resources:

MD Anderson Integrative Medicine Program

Tai Chi (Video)

Additional resources:

Tai chi: An introduction (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (National Cancer Institute)

Tai chi (American Cancer Society)

1 Comment

Qigong--mind/body exercises--is a better choice for cancer patients than tai chi chuan. Tai chi takes a long time to learn: balance, movement transition, breathing. Qigong exercises are the ancestors of tai chi and have the benefit of being simple to learn and practice. One can get the benefits of the deep abdominal breathing more quickly. Qigong in the form of standing post meditation helped me beat four bouts of "terminal" lymphoma in the early nineties (stage four). I used it as an adjunct, or complement, to chemotherapy.

Qigong isn't only great for stress and the immune system; daily practice reinforces the will to endure the chemo and empowers one to participate in one's own recovery. Clear 14 years and still practicing every day!

Bob Ellal
Author, 'Confronting Cancer with the Qigong Edge'

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