Tai Chi Does Not Heal
The ‘ask the teacher’ question this month is from an email I received which advised how Tai Chi:
"healed my childhood knee problems and bad tendonitis in my arm, neither to return again, despite not continuing Tai Chi"
"Can it repair and strengthen ligaments that were injured or are weak / loose from sports many years ago?"
"I know you can't make guarantees, but I'm wondering if it is possible...if that is what an increased energy flow is capable of?”
Read my reply and discussion below on Tai Chi and healing.
Thanks for your message. It's not a simple yes or no, as there are many considerations.
It's not a case of what Tai Chi can do for you, rather how you and your body respond to the movements. There are so many variables e.g.: physical condition, fitness, physiological health, mental health, habitual posture, lifestyle, routine, nutrition, external stresses, environment, age etc.
Tai chi itself does not heal, it's a method of slow movement that uses aligned body mechanics, applied relaxation and body awareness to help the functions of the body to work better. "Improved function" covers both the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine and physiological and postural health. You can get similar effects with other mind/body practices like yoga.
It is a case of trial and error with what works for you, and it may be a multi prong approach with other professionals e.g. physiotherapists, physical therapists etc. The body mechanics in Tai Chi that create the health benefits take a long time to learn, it's not a quick fix. You can expect to train frequently and continually see any benefit.
Here are some of my articles which may be of interest which discuss injury and healing in detail:
It also depends on who is teaching you, as sadly the industry is full of watered down versions of Tai Chi, that are no more than dancing slowly.
I hope that helps, good luck in your journey.
The point I would like to make in this blog post is that Tai Chi does not heal. I have had many similar conversations with students, and my answer and reasoning is it is not passive healing / rejuvenation / recovery. This response is sometimes not welcome.
Injuries can heal without you doing anything to help, injuries can remain persistent whilst you are doing the upmost to help. It’s too simplistic to say Tai Chi healed something or the other. In fact, it’s completely unethical, and any Tai Chi or Qigong instructor who promises and ‘guarantees’ healing should be avoided.
I do my best to manage the expectations of students when they begin, so they know what they are getting into, what they can expect both good and bad, the purpose and reason behind the movements, the relationship with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as the relationship with physiological and anatomical health.
- Yes, you can aid the speed of injury recovery by practising Tai Chi and Qigong frequently and accurately.
- Yes, you can aid all physiological systems to function better by following the principles of body mechanics.
- Yes, you can improve the flexibility, resilience and mobility of the connective and soft tissue.
- Yes, you can aid the breaking down of previous scar tissue and sticky lesions from injury.
- Yes, you can stimulate the body with the movements from a TCM perspective to clear stagnation, free blockages and aid Qi and blood flow.
- Yes, you can improve your mental health through mindfulness movements, deep breathing and body awareness.
With the caveat, that you are part of the process.
Tai Chi and Qigong are not something that is outside of yourself. They are active, meaning you perform the action to improve body functions (healing / rejuvenation / recovery). Therefore, your input is vital and for the most part you are responsible for your progress. What you put into your training is everything.
With that said, Tai Chi is not an easy journey to embark on. It will take time and applied effort to progress and experience the benefits. There will be small success and many failures in your training. Chasing the result with a preconception of the result is fruitless.
In some cases, you may not recover from an injury or illness due to X, Y or Z, however by practising the mindful movement arts, you will be able to cope better and you will be putting your mind, body and spirit into the position to improve your quality of life: posture and alignment in movement and stillness, fascia elasticity, muscular strength as a unit, physical symmetry, body awareness and sensitivity, organ function, oxygen intake, central nervous system balancing, circulation, hormones, digestion, lymph and cardiovascular system and so on.
Adding context to this topic, on a foundation level the meaning of the name “Qigong” is:
- Qigong translates to = healthy blood flow achieved through applied effort over time.
- Tai Chi = the principles of Qigong + martial arts = healthy blood flow achieved through applied effort over time + martial arts.
Tai Chi does not heal, actually you do and your body does! The healing comes from your actions. Think active not passive.