This marked a historic occasion, as Harvard Medical School and the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine jointly hosted a groundbreaking science conference on Tai Chi & Qigong (TCQ) in the context of holistic well-being. The conference unfolded on September 18-19, 2023, in the vibrant city of Boston.
It's remarkable to comprehend the reason behind the profound benefits of TCQ, as evidenced by initial studies examining cellular and molecular levels, the intricate interplay between the brain and organs, psycho-physiological interactions, fasciae, and more. Numerous research findings indicate that TCQ is as effective as, if not more effective than, conventional exercise, physical therapy, and cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). The event left an indelible impression on me, igniting a burning desire to share the remarkable insights it offered with the world.
However, in the days immediately following the conference, I found myself overwhelmed by the vast ocean of information that had been presented. The sheer magnitude of this task left me in a state of inertia, unable to rouse myself from my bed. Lacking any formal medical or scientific background, I felt disoriented and uncertain about where to commence.
Fortunately, I was not alone in this endeavor, as I had the privilege of engaging in insightful discussions with a few fellow Tai Chi instructors who had also attended the conference. Through the exchange of our notes and reflections, I began to delineate the boundaries of my reporting. Two days after the conference's conclusion, I ventured to the laid-back but energetic Christopher Street Pier in Manhattan, New York, where I had the pleasure of meeting Sifu Sharon Smith. Here, against the backdrop of the Hudson River and the unhurried passage of clouds in the azure sky, we conversed and practiced our respective Tai Chi forms. This encounter rejuvenated my inner serenity.
Subsequently, I devoted over 80 hours of my time to meticulously organizing the photographs of the presentation slides, attentively studying each one, jotting down questions and musings, conducting online research, and seeking insights from resources such as ChatGPT and the new Google AI Chat App, Bard. I delved into the archives of the National Institutes of Health's PubMed to explore the studies presented at the conference. Gradually, I synthesized my findings and insights into a comprehensive set of presentation slides. To share this knowledge, I convened a Zoom meeting with my students and a select group of close friends. I extend my gratitude to Dr. Roger Janka and Dr. Ruth E Taylor-Piliea for their presence, as well as the esteemed sifus who attended.
Given the keen interest expressed by many of my readers in gaiMarning insights from the conference, I have undertaken the task of summarizing my key takeaways in the sections that follow.
Overview of the Conference:
• Nearly 300 people from 35 states and 12 countries attended.
• The conference featured five plenary sessions presented by 15 prominent scientists and one legal expert in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Tai Chi & Qigong (TCQ).
• Numerous Poster Presentations covered various TCQ and TCM studies, as well as other related topics.
• Twelve Oral Abstract Presentations focused on TCQ studies conducted by scientists from medical schools in the U.S., Australia, and China.
• Eleven Experiential presentations showcased innovative TCQ programs tailored for unique medical populations.
o The conference also included separate discussions on the following topics:
o Virtual TCQ Delivery System
o Listening to Your Body: Interoceptive Awareness of Breath, Body, and Movement, a Key Process in Tai Chi
o Supporting Well-being through the Integration of Qigong, the Arts, and Social Justice
o The Training and Credentialing of TCQ Instructors: Is There a Need for (Inter)national Guidelines?
o Getting Involved and Contributing to TCQ and Mind-Body Scientific Research: Practical Guidance for Instructors
o Diverse Community TCQ Practices Symposia Parts One & Two
o Qigong in the Treatment of Depressive Symptoms"
The Holistic Benefits of TCQ Practice:
TCQ is a holistic health practice with a wide range of benefits.
Meta-analyses and literature reviews have validated TCQ's effectiveness.
TCQ is proven to be more beneficial or at least equally effective as conventional exercises and physical therapies.
Preliminary studies at the cellular and molecular levels provide hypotheses of TCQ's effectiveness.
TCQ offers multiple health benefits simultaneously, such as improved physical balance, cardiovascular and pulmonary functions, and emotional well-being.
TCQ can be used as a standalone intervention or in conjunction with other treatments, without any side effects.
TCQ is a cost-effective intervention that could help alleviate the strain on healthcare systems. The ROI on Tai Chi is at least 500 times.
Falls among older adults have put significant financial burden on both the health systems as well as the individuals, and TCQ can help reduce these costs.
Mindfulness in Practice:
Mindfulness during TCQ practice is crucial for its effectiveness.
Brain and Fascia Health:
TCQ practice thickens cortical brain regions. People with 6 - 22 years of TCQ experience have thicker cortical regions.
It improves executive function and brain health by increasing oxygenated hemoglobin.
TCQ practice contributes to healthy fasciae.
Cognitive-Motor Control & Fall Prevention:
Cognitive-motor control of gait and balance is essential for mobility and cognitive health.
Tai Chi training enhances isometric leg strength, mobility, and sensory perception.
It improves executive function and brain health by increasing oxygenated hemoglobin.
TCQ has a positive impact on falls in older adults.
Mental Health Benefits & Stress Reduction:
TJQMBB, a specific Tai Chi system designed by Dr. Fuzhong Li, reduces fear of falling, incidence of falls, and injurious falls, especially in Parkinson's patients.
TCQ has a positive impact on various mental health aspects, including depression, stress, anxiety, self-esteem, Parkinson's disease, sleep disturbance, substance abuse, and cognitive ability. It performs better than non-mindfulness exercises in reducing anxiety and depression.
TCQ is effective in easing stress, anxiety, and depression.
TCQ instead of walking can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
It is proven the TCQ has at least the same effect as Cognitive Behavior Therapy for treating insomnia.
Mind-body therapies like TCQ have shown increases in grey matter volume and are used for mental health and cognitive disorders.
Fascia and Immunity:
Fascia indirectly affects immunity. TCQ helps maintain or restore mobility in myofascial units and may improve immunity via healthier fascia.
TCQ in U.S. VA Services:
VA’s studies show that TCQ practice have positive effect on general health, well-being, and stress; chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis; balance; cardiovascular disease, stroke, and COPD; cognitive function and Parkinson’s; osteoporosis; mood dysfunction; cancer.
In 2017, the U.S. VA, the third largest health system in the U.S., added acupuncture, TCQ, yoga, and meditation to its comprehensive and integrative health services. Since then, the usage of TCQ of veterans grew more than 5 times in 2022.
Biomedical research informs the principles underlying 'Qi' and TCQ, with studies on Motor Imagery (MI) explaining the concept of 'Yi' or intent in TCQ practice.
Waist Circumference and Body Weight Reduction:
TCQ is effective in reducing waistlines and body weight in adults aged 50+ and obese.
Reducing Blood Sugar for Diabetic Patients:
Many studies show that TCQ can reduce blood sugar for diabetic patients.
There's a need for more studies on TCQ's impact on women's health.
Chronic Pain Management:
TCQ is as effective as or more effective than aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia patients, with longer practice duration yielding better results.
Tai Chi is equally effective as physical therapy (PT) for treating Osteoarthritis at the same improve patients’s depression while PT increases patients’ depression. Tai Chi also improves other physical conditions much more than PT.
The positive impact of TCQ on fibromyalgia patients persists even 12 weeks after the intervention.
Tai Chi practice can maintain HD cholesterol at a health level even after 38 weeks while conventional exercises can’t.
TCQ improves aerobic endurance, psychosocial well-being, and cardiovascular risk reduction in patients with coronary heart disease.
Tai Chi groups showed a large and significant improvement in aerobic endurance compared with both active and non-active control interventions. Tai Chi groups also showed a significantly lower level of anxiety and significantly better quality of life compared with non-active control groups.
TCQ augments viral-specific immunity and reduces cellular and genomic inflammation in older adults.
A growing literature document the effect of TCQ on COPD.
Simplified TCQ Forms:
Simplified TCQ forms, like Tai Chi 24, the Tree of Life Tai Chi, Tai Chi Easy, Tai Chi Chih, have proven to be effective in clinical trials.
Need for Qualified Instructors:
The demand for TCQ is growing, necessitating more qualified instructors.
The extensive list of benefits can be overwhelming for many to absorb, but there is compelling evidence that TCQ is the most efficient and cost-effective exercise system for enhancing both physical and mental well-being simultaneously supported by thousands of clinical studies. My website will devote more effort to delve into various topics later. With the ever-growing interest in the healing arts, more qualified TCQ instructors are needed.
• I am not medically trained.
• I am not a scientist.
• These are my notes reflecting my own understanding, which may not be true representation of the actual presentations. In case you attend the conference, please share your notes and reflections.
• I was not able to attend all sessions due to many of them taking place concurrently.
• I was a presenter in two different sessions and could not attend others’ sessions.
• I had to catch a flight and left the conference early and missed the closing Plenary sessions. However, I got photos of some slides from a friend.
The above are notes from Violet Li, who is a Tai Chi teacher and journalist working to promote health, happiness, and harmony through the awareness of the healing arts of Tai Chi, Qigong, and Meditation. You may read more from her at website.