Evolving from ancient martial arts, the core principles of Tai Chi are based on Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy which stresses a natural balance between two opposing forces called yin and yang.
Think of yin and yang as the complementary but opposite sides of a coin that together form a perfect whole.
“Yang is your mind, it’s a cerebral activity. It’s your emotions. Yin is your body,” Fung said. “By practicing Tai Chi, you connect these two parts, and you balance the yang energy with the yin energy.”
“When these two things balance, then harmony is achieved,” she continued. “When harmony is achieved, then transformation follows. And the transformation is — you feel better.”
When you are in balance you feel your “chi” or life force which traditional Chinese medicine considers a form of energy that can heal mind and body. When chi is unlocked and flowing through the body, Fung said, it can address the body’s injuries.
Significant blood pressure reduction was a key finding in most studies, showing the ancient practices to be as effective in reducing hypertension as weight loss, a low-sodium diet or reducing alcohol use. Some randomized clinical trials, the gold-standard for research, have found Tai Chi can reduce cholesterol levels; other studies have seen improvements in blood sugar control.
Inflammation: A few small studies have shown Tai Chi can reduce levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, a cardinal sign of inflammation. If that research is replicated, it could explain some of Tai Chi’s health benefits due to a reduction of disease-causing inflammation in the body.
In Hong Kong, where Fung lives, the practice of Tai Chi is common.
“All around the parks in Hong Kong, every morning, you have some people just getting groups of people and teaching them how to Tai Chi,” Kwok said. “It is all for free.”