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Center for Taiji Studies

Center for Taiji Studies Research
Taiji Research in Kinesiology
KinesiologyHuman DynamicsTaiji ReferencesMeditation References

Under the direction of Dr. Karl Rosengren, the Kinesiology Department of the University of Illinois has been conducting a number of studies that examine the acquisition of Taiji in both young and old adults. The specific goals of this research are to: 1) examine behavioral changes associated with regular Taiji practice; 2) examine the time course of skill acquisition related to Taiji, and; 3) examine how behavioral changes associated with regular Taiji practice relate to other aspects of health and well-being. The department is particularly interested in investigating how regular Taiji practice may lead individuals to adopt different movement strategies and whether these strategies lead to better balance performance and prevention of falls in older adults. The Taiji curriculum for longitudinal Taiji intervention studies was designed, and the classes are taught, by Yang Yang. The Center for Taiji Studies has also provided experienced Taiji practitioners as subjects for cross sectional studies.

Yang Yang is currently engaged in a an extensive intervention study designed to examine possible benefits of Taiji for elderly individuals aged 65 and older. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will be used to examine the impact of the intervention on a number of different variables. Specifically, quantitative methods will be used to investigate the training effect on factors such as balance, gait, and self-efficacy. Qualitative methods will be employed to examine the overall experiences of the participants during the training. The study hopes to identify barriers to participation in Taiji, which will be helpful for implementing future interventions, and to identify benefits participants believe they obtain as a function of Taiji practice. The quantitative and qualitative approach will yield a broader and deeper understanding of individual's participation in Taiji. Click here to read a news article of some of the benefits reported by participants.

Prior to this study, a pilot scale intervention was completed on 16 older participants, which yielded several interesting findings. Two variables measured on the participants were knee extensor strength and force control. In a paper published in the Journal of Gerontology,1 authors Evangelos Christou, Karl Rosengren, and Yang Yang reported improvements of both knee extensor strength and force control in those that participated in the 20 week Taiji training designed by Yang Yang. (Strength was assessed with a maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVC), and force control was measured as the standard deviation and coefficient of variation of force during a constant isometric knee extension task at 2, 30, 60, and 90% MVC.) Significantly, the increases in force control were found to be independent of the increases in strength. This finding supported other research which found that traditional strength training did not yield corresponding improvements in force control of knee extensors.

The improvements in force control in the Taiji participants may be due to the motor learning and skill improvement demanded by Taiji form practice. The implication of improvements in both strength and force control is that the Taiji practitioner can perform movements of the lower body with more accuracy. Force control is an important aspect of Taiji training, and is addressed in detail in Yang Yang's upcoming book, scheduled for publication in Summer 2004.

Dr. Karl Rosengren Another discovery from the pilot intervention study was detailed by Dr. Karl Rosengren in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.2 Dr. Rosengren observed the need for future Taiji intervention studies to quantify the participant's level of learning, in order "to determine whether the benefits derived from Taiji practice come merely from participation or require acquisition of a certain skill." For the pilot study, Taiji learning was quantified by assessing participants' ability to perform four standard forms. The forms were chosen to emphasize balance, weight shifting, range of motion, and overall coordination. Independent coders rated videotapes of the participants performing the four movements using three-point rating scales (0 = lowest rating, 2 = highest rating) for accuracy, stability of balance, weight shifting, range of motion, and coordination. Based upon the rating scores, the forms used to quantify Taiji learning were found to be difficult to perform (mean score = 11 +/- 5.8, out of a possible maximum of 40). In the pilot study participants, a main effect on time was observed (P < 0.001), and post hoc comparisons revealed significant learning improvements between 0-2 and 2-4 months, but not between 4-6 months. After the six month training period, participants had improved their measured skill by more than 200%, but significant room for improvement still remained. These results indicated that at least four months of Taiji training was required for participants to acquire a moderate amount of skill. Dr. Rosengren also notes that "the level of learning that was observed would not be expected in interventions that provide less instruction, as has been the case in past research."

Another study, conducted by Dr. Karl Rosengren, examined the balance strategies employed by individuals with significant Dance or Taiji Experience.3 This study is currently under review, and a summary of findings will be made available after publication.


1 Christou, E.A., Rosengren, K.S., & Yang, Y. (2003). Taiji Training Improves Knee Extensor Strength and Force Control in Older Adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 58(8):763-6

2 Rosengren, K. (2003). Quantification of Taiji Learning in Older Adults. Journal of American Geriatrics Society, (51), 1-2.

3 Rosengren, K.S., Lobel, E.E., Yang, Y. Chuang, L., Dorner, J., Creech, A., & Reed, M. (under review). Comparison of Balance in Individuals with Significant Dance or Taiji Experience.

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