Tai Chi's Active Ingredients

Tai Chi’s “Active Ingredients”

There’s a book I’ve been reading entitled The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi by Wayne and Fuerst. It’s pretty good so far and I wanted to pass along something from it I thought was significant.

The author is a medical researcher and related tai chi to medicine in that there is an active ingredient(s) in a drug that makes it work. He lists them as follows.



Structural Integration

Active Relaxation

Strengthening and Flexibility

Natural, Freer Breathing

Social Support

Embodied Spirituality

He has a chart in which he shows the connections and it’s circular, showing they are all connected – not separate pieces. He goes on to spend several pages detailing each and I recommend getting the book for a deeper description than what I’ll do here.

Awareness - We teach being mindful in practicing tai chi. Feel what your body is doing and note what the mind does as well. “Scanning” the body will give insights into posture and movement. Moving slowly gives you time to see, feel, analyze, adjust or correct. Using the meditative aspect allows us to sense what the monkey mind is doing and decide how to corral it. Mindfulness is a term the author uses, just as your teacher probably does. Try not to go on autopilot when practicing.

Intention – To simplify what he says, it means you mean to make this effective for you. Belief in the benefits is important, if not crucial.

Structural Integration – “When one part moves, all parts move.” Everything is connected.

Active Relaxation – Moderation is key. Don’t try to hard or “too soft”. Balance everything.

Strengthening and Flexibility – Tai chi does make us stronger and more flexible. It may not allow us to do the splits but it will give us better range of motion through the aforementioned awareness of movement and mindfulness in practice. This is a good thing for many reasons and injury prevention and facility of movement are at the top of my list. Leg strength does improve due to the emphasis on a strong base and the leg muscles tone accordingly.

Natural, Freer Breathing – The focus on diaphragmatic breathing is a huge benefit.

Social Support – It’s been shown that working in a group has many benefits, too. There’s an energy in groups one does not have access to when solo. It is the fourth component with exercise, memory and sophisticated movement that really helps us.

Embodied Spirituality – Philosophy and ritual are what he addresses here. Accept, adapt and be resilient. The practice of tai chi contains these elements in that you will likely have to adapt and change how you think and move to improve yourself. Many people quit because the challenge is too great. This is where the resilience comes in.

There are 35 pages on these eight divisions, so I just barely touched on them. However, your teacher should touch on the subjects as you learn and some you will discover on your own. I recommend the book.

Until next time,