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Center for Taiji Studies

Center for Taiji Studies Research

KinesiologyHuman DynamicsTaiji ReferencesMeditation References

One of our missions is to conduct research, publish results, and provide consultation services to the academic community for the purpose of investigating and documenting the mechanisms and benefits of Taiji and qigong practice. A summary of published research conduted to date by Dr. Yang Yang and the CTS is available here.

Although the perception of Taijiquan as a "mysterious oriental practice" will always yield a baseline of interest, we believe that only when the benefits and mechanisms of Taiji practice are thoroughly examined and documented in Western scientific terms will Taiji be acceptable to the medical community and therefore mainstream Western culture. (At the same time, we remain committed to the view that that many valuable aspects of the art form are not quantifiable, and that understanding the philosophical, cultural, spiritual, and creative components of the art of Taiji are equally important to good practice.)

Of immediate concern, the common misconception of Taiji as simply a "slow movement exercise" is prevalent in the scientific literature. Of the 90 or so studies published in scientific journals since 1980, not a single article has mentioned the sitting and standing qigong meditation exercises that are a foundation of not only Taijiquan, but of all of the internal martial arts of China. As Yang Laoshi points out in his book, the martial arts of China were long veiled in a tradition of secrecy. While the slow form practice that is most commonly recognized as Taijiquan is certainly a cornerstone of Taiji training, it is only one aspect of the art. Sitting and standing qigong meditation, and other essential Taiji training exercises, were often omitted from public teaching and were known only to the masters of the various styles and their closest disciples. A very famous saying from the oral tradition of Taijiquan illustrates the traditional secrecy of the art:"I will teach you quan (external form movements or technique), but not gong (the essential foundation)."

The standing meditation exercises are now an "open secret," but little information has been disseminated as to how or why the sitting and standing meditation exercises are an essential foundation of all internal martial arts systems. Traditionally, form movement performed without the foundation afforded by sitting and standing meditation was often referred to as "external" or "empty" movement.

It is likely that any reasonable exercise can measurably improve the health of the more sedentary or "at risk" populations that commonly comprise academic study groups. It is also true that the slow movements of a choreographed Taiji form may be particularly suited to certain populations. However, it is traditionally recognized that the benefits of correct practice of all Taiji curricula are exceedingly greater than what may be obtained from any narrow, incomplete understanding of the art. A discussion of the interrelatedness and interdependency of various Taiji exercises, as well as hypotheses of mechanisms that afford the benefits of Taiji practice, is provided in Dr. Yang's recent book.

Dr. Yang has refined both his lifelong traditional training and teaching experience and research experience into an Evidence-Based Taiji (EBTTM) and Qigong program. Five papers have been published in the scientific peer reviewed literature that have used Dr. Yang Yang's EBT program. All of the papers are of controlled, longitudinal studies, and two were fully randomized controlled trials (RCTs). A sixth paper concerning qualitative methods of analysis of holistic mind/body/spirit benefits is currently under final review before publication. An abstract of the papers, including Dr. Yang's comments on the significance of the findings, is available here. The studies conclude that the EBT program is effective for healthy older adults for:

  • lower body strength;
  • force control (a neurological function);
  • improved functional balance;
  • improved vestibular function (a mechanism of improved balance);
  • improved immune function (response to flu vaccine); and
  • complex, holistic benefits combining five dimensions of experience: physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.

    The study on persons with early dementia was a multimodal intervention which included Taiji exercises, cognitive-behavioral therapies, and a support group. This study reports significant improvements in mental ability and self-esteem, but due to the study design it is not possible to discern which, or to what extent, the different intervention modalities contributed to these benefits.

    The CTS remains committed to conducting research on Taiji and Qigong. A RCT is currently being planned in partnership with the Mayo Clinic to evaluate the efficacy of EBT for cardiovascular rehabilitation.

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