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Depression and Tai Chi

Written by sshowalter, Gary Wu, ritasharma.

Tai Chi Chuan (or Taijiquan) is a Chinese martial art form often referred to in popular culture simply as "Tai Chi." Tai Chi itself is a concept in Chinese philosophy denoting the "supreme being" or "life-force" or that which creates the yin and yang. During this Chinese martial art form, the individual focuses both on mindful and slow physical movements coupled with an emphasis on breath and mental awareness. Practiced both for the purposes of defense training as well as health and longevity, tai chi chuan is being studied for its effectiveness in the treatment of depression and other conditions.

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Effect of Tai Chi on Depression

There are five major styles of Tai Chi each named after the Chinese family who originated each particular style: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun style.

These (and all other off-shoot) styles involve two core training features: First, the solo form (which focuses on spine alignment and breathwork) and second, the art of pushing hands (which involves working with a partner.)

The solo form includes slow movements made to have the individual move within (and eventually expand) their range of motion while focusing on abdominal inhaling and exhaling. Physically, these movements are said to help maintain posture, increase circulation and maintain flexibility.

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Research Evidence on Tai Chi

One study found that participants in a 3-month Tai Chi intervention had lower scores on five depressive symptoms measures even when the the study adjusted for age, gender and education.1

Another study found that 66 participants reported less tension, anger, fatigue, confusion, anxiety and general depression as well as felt more vigorous and less moody after practicing Tai Chi.2

Additionally, Tai Chi has been shown to physiologically improve participants' health. One study found that after 12 months of practicing Tai Chi, participating seniors increased muscle strength and flexibility.3 Even without the moving meditation component, the physical fitness aspect of Tai Chi can beneficially effect depressed individuals as simply a form of exercise.

Read more on Depression and Exercise

More funding for the research of Tai Chi as an effective treatment to depression is needed, but clearly warranted.

Other Uses

Tai Chi has been practiced for centuries as both a form of physical activity as well as a moving meditation. In popular culture, it continues to be practiced in either and/or both of these fashions and is currently being studied for its effective use in the treatment of many additional chronic ailments including other mental illnesses, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and arthritis.4


1 Hong, Y. (2008). Effect of Tai Chi on Depressive Symptoms Amongst Chinese Older Patients with Major Depression: The Role of Social Support. Tai Chi Chuan. State of the ARt in International Research. Med Sport Sci. Basel, Karger 5, 146-154.

2 Putai, J. (1989) Changes in heart rate, noradrenaline, cortisol and mood during Tai Chi. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 33(2), 197-206.

3 Lan, C., Lai, J., Chen, S. & Wong, M. (1998). 12-month Tai Chi training in the elderly: Its Effect on Health and Fitness.Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 30(3), 345-351.**

4 Tai Chi and Qigong for Health Information Center (2010). American Tai Chi and Qigong Association. Retrieved from

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