Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese martial art, is comprised of slow and graceful movements. Its popularity has grown as millions of people have improved their health by learning and practicing this “moving meditation.”
As Jane E. Brody wrote in the New York Times, “Beneficial results from Tai Chi are often quickly realized. Significant improvements involving a host of different conditions can be achieved within 12 weeks of Tai Chi exercises done for an hour at a time twice a week.”
Brody cited a book from Harvard Health Publications, “An Introduction to Tai Chi,” which surveys more than 500 scientific studies of Tai Chi and a related health practice, Qi Gong. Of these studies, 94.1% found positive effects such as better balance, fewer falls, fewer injuries from falling, decreased fear of falling, less muscle and joint pain, stronger bones, better posture, more flexibility, greater range of motion, better circulation, better proprioception, better breathing, clearer thinking and focus, less stress and anxiety and uplift spirits.
New clinical studies show that participation in Tai Chi had a positive influence on quality of life and psychological health for cancer survivors in Randomized Control Trials (RCTs). The stories of two local women illustrate how Tai Chi, and the complimentary ancient practice of Qi Gong, made a positive difference in their treatment and recovery.
“I had been doing Tai Chi and Qi Gong at Body Balance for almost two years prior to receiving my diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer,” wrote Pat Nash. “I attribute my stamina throughout my treatment to having previously strengthened my body by practicing Tai Chi at least three days a week. Though weakened, I continued to go to Tai Chi as much as I could while I was receiving chemotherapy and radiation, and I believe that because of the deep breathing and body strengthening aspects of the practice, I recovered faster each time I received a treatment. I felt I slept better than I would have because I was getting exercise. In addition to the physical support that Tai Chi gave me, I can’t overlook the emotional support and good will of my classmates. Their care and concern improved my outlook on life during this difficult time of treatment. I have continued to participate in classes post recovery and it has helped me return to health.”
Tai Chi has also been part of Linda Byrne’s cancer journey. She wrote, “During recovery from surgery (the removal of a lobe of my left lung) I would lay in my hospital bed and breathe while imagining doing the form. This helped me relax and exercise my breath in a body forever changed. During chemo, friends and teachers from Body Balance stayed in touch and brought food or offered encouragement by phone. Attending Tai Chi has brought back my strength and helps to keep me strong. I am grateful I have had Tai Chi and this wonderful community of people as a part of my healing journey.”
There are more than 14 million cancer survivors, across all types of cancer, worldwide, according to a 2016 article from Future Science by Lin Yang at the Center for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Austria. Yang categorized survivors from the time of their clinical diagnosis and looked at RCTs to explore the potential of Tai Chi’s benefits specifically for cancer survivors.
“Tai Chi is an understudied but promising tool to increase light physical activity levels with additive meditative benefits in cancer survivors, thus improving survival outcomes.”
Research cited in the article shows that regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of developing cancer. Also reduction in the risk of recurrence of breast, prostate and colorectal cancer and improvement of long term survival.
Yet, during and after completion of treatment, survivors often experience debilitating fatigue that is a barrier to participation in physical activity, even though studies show that engaging in light intensity physical activity reduces fatigue. It’s a conundrum, but restorative Tai Chi and Qi Gong sessions are known to be relaxing and rejuvenating for people of all ages, fitness levels, and potentially, cancer survivors.
After chemotherapy treatment for cancer, about a third of cancer survivors will experience ‘chemo brain,’ the neuropsychological difficulties following cancer treatment, such as lack of concentration and short-term memory loss.
According to Yang’s research, even “chemo brain” can be improved with this gentle health practice. “In a study of 23 U.S. women with mild to moderate cognitive impairment a year or more after chemotherapy, taking a 60-minute Tai Chi class twice a week for 10 weeks resulted in improved immediate memory, delayed memory, verbal fluency, attention and executive function.”
Susan Yaguda, RN, MSN, gave a positive review of Tai Chi for cancer survivors in her commentary in “Conquer: The Patient Voice.” “Tai Chi and Qi Gong are ancient forms of exercise that fit the bill for helping patients with cancer get moving and improve their overall sense of wellbeing.”
Healing Cancer with Tai Chi and Qi Gong is a new, local program for cancer survivors and those in treatment. The class is led by Summer Lujan and meets weekly at 4 p.m. Fridays at Body Balance Academy in Grass Valley. Information about the program can be found at http://www.lifelonghealthinc.org.
Catherine Stifter is a movement educator. She has studied Tai Chi for nearly 20 years and has been a Tai Chi and Qi Gong teacher at Body Balance Academy for 10 years. Catherine teaches Restorative Exercise and MovNat classes and workshops at Center of Movement in Grass Valley. Her local coaching practice is Your Movement Project.