Many people practice tai chi for balance, meditation, energy, and other physical benefits. But not many people know how tai chi can assist in the healing of depression.

Recently I had a tai chi student, Dr. Joan Listernick, Ph.D., Boston College, who is an instructor in French at Boston University, in Romance Languages, ask me some questions about Tai Chi for Depression. 

I thought it might be useful to share these questions/answers with my readers, as it may benefit any sufferers from depression, anxiety, or other emotional imbalance. In this challenging time, I do recommend people to start practicing tai chi and or qi gong to gain strength, inner peace, and ability to deal with the worldwide and domestic stress.

Dr. Joan ListernickHow do you get feedback from students who do your tailored form of tai chi? Is it verbal/informal feedback? Have you done any surveys? Do you see the results? Is it most effective for students with particular characteristics? What kind of research would you like to see on tailored forms of tai chi for depression?

Dr. Aihan Kuhn - From my observation, students who took this class over a year had significant improvement in their overall emotional health. They laugh more, joke with others, are happier, more positive, have better social skills and are more creative.

Their energy changed in all areas, physical, mental, emotional. Students become more open and enjoyed more activities in their life. It is a journey that people need to continue to practice and move on to a deeper level. But if they stop the practice, their symptoms may come back.

If they begin taking an anti-depressant to help with symptoms, the doctor may ask them to take it for a long time. However, the side effects may cause other problems.

I would like to see some research on tai chi for depression in a long term study to see the results of true healing and at the same time maintaining balanced emotions, but with no anti-depressants. I think the key to achieve this is to incorporate some warm-up exercise or brain fitness exercise, or Tai Chi 16 steps and qi gong. The participants should have a regular practice.

Dr. Joan Listernick - Is this a form you created, or did you take parts of it from existing forms? What forms did you draw on to create this new form for depression?

Dr. Aihan Kuhn - Depression is one of many diseases I have treated. After years of training in tai chi and qi gong with well-known masters in China, observing specific responses from students and patient, I have combined my knowledge of Chinese medicine, natural healing methods, and Daoist philosophy. I've designed this specific form of tai chi to help people recover from depression—or prevent it altogether. I created this specific form drawn from some Yang style and some from Chen style and also from qi gong, martial arts, and meditation, creating a high-quality practice. I decided to use this form for my own little study after seeing so many people suffering from depression and emotional struggles. It worked! Again, they need to practice consistently, not occasionally.

Dr. Joan Listernick - I am trying to understand the relationship between the movements in the form and the effect sought: how the form elevates heart energy and opens liver energy. If this relationship is explained in another book or article, please would you give me the reference. Please would you give an example of how one or two movements affect the organs.

Dr. Aihan Kuhn - It is not just one movement or two movements. It is the complete form that promotes the smooth flow of energy. The smooth energy flow in the body affects the body, brain, spirit, and emotion in a very positive way. You can find some information in my book Brain Fitness and also in my book, Tai Chi in 10 Weeks.

Both tai chi and qi gong activate the vagus nervous system, which has excellent benefits to the organ systems. But my tai chi form seems to have more influence on the vagus nervous system. 

For an easy explanation of the vagus system, I suggest you read, an article "9 Fascinating Facts About the Vagus Nerve" by Jordan Rosenfeld, Nov. 13, 2018, he explains that there are many benefits from a healthy vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is so named because it wanders like a vagabond, sending out sensory fibers from your brainstem to your visceral organs. Not only does it help prevent inflammation, strengthen memories, helps in breathing, control your heart rate, helps balance, but it also initiates your body's relaxation response. He points out that when your sympathetic nervous system revs up and pours stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline into your body, the vagus nerve tells your body to chill-out by releasing acetylcholine. People with a stronger vagus response are likely to recover quickly after stress, injury or illness.

Dr. Joan Listernick - Do you recommend that people with depression, in addition to doing this form, also do other forms or qi gong? Are you concerned that if a student focuses on the tailored forms alone, other comorbidities might not be helped? Or, is this not a problem?

Dr. Aihan Kuhn - Students can either focus on one form to have a deeper understanding or practice other forms to widen their knowledge. Or incorporating some qi gong practice can help them understand how healing works. 

It is about an understanding of how qi works, a smooth qi flow through the whole body that nourishes the organ system. Again, in the western terms, the vagus nerve activation.

But remember, the western learning style views things individually; the eastern learning style views things as a whole. By holistically addressing issues, individual problems become less and less.

The above is an original article by Dr. Aihan Kuhn, CMD, OBT., which appeared in Dr. Kuhn's June 2020 newsletter. Dr. Kuhn is also the co-author of the True Wellness series, with Catherine Kurosu, MD, LAc.