Improve Mood with Tai Chi or Qigong Practice
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“adding a mind-body exercise like tai chi that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults. . . With tai chi, we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing patients to additional medications.” – Helen Lavretsky
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population. A characterizing feature of anxiety disorders is that the suffer overly identifies with and personalizes their thoughts. The sufferer has recurring thoughts, such as impending disaster, that they may realize are unreasonable, but are unable to shake. Indeed, Mindfulness practices have been shown to be quite effective in relieving anxiety. Clinically diagnosed depression affects over 6% of the population. Depression can be difficult to treat. Fortunately, Mindfulness training is also effective for treating depression.
Anxiety disorders and clinical depression have generally been treated with drugs. But there are considerable side effects and these drugs are often abused. There are a number of psychological therapies for anxiety. But, about 45% of the patients treated do not respond to the therapy. So, there is a need to develop alternative treatments. Recently, it has been found that mindfulness training can be effective for anxiety disorders and for depression either alone or in combination with other therapies. Mindful Movement practices such as Qigong and Tai Chi have been found to be effective for depression and anxiety. Research has been accumulating. So, it is important to step back and examine what has been learned regarding the application of Qigong and Tai Chi practices for mood.
In today’s Research News article “Qigong and Tai-Chi for Mood Regulation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6519567/), Yeung and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies of the effectiveness of Qigong and Tai Chi practices for improving mood.
They found that the published research reports that Qigong and Tai Chi practice produce significant decreases in anxiety and depression and increases in psychological well-being, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. In addition, Qigong and Tai Chi practice have been shown to be effective in reducing depression that accompanies diseases including fibromyalgia, arthritis, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
The mechanisms by which Qigong and Tai Chi practice improves mood are unknown. But it has been speculated that it may work by increasing mindfulness, reduces perceived stress, improving interoception, producing neuroplastic changes in the brain, improving respiration control, and altering genes. It may be that these practices produce the benefits through a combination of mechanisms or that different mechanisms underlie different benefits. Regardless, the evidence is compelling that Qigong and Tai Chi practice have beneficial effects on the psychological well-being of healthy people and people with diseases.
Qigong and Tai Chi practices are gentle and completely safe, can be used with the elderly and sickly, are inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility or even public park, and can be quickly learned. In addition, they can also be practiced in social groups without professional supervision. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. All of these characteristics make Qigong and Tai Chi excellent practices for the improvement mood.
So, improve mood with Tai Chi or Qigong Practice.
“In 82% of studies, tai chi greatly improved mood and lowered anxiety. Plus, it was shown to be an effective treatment for depression.” – Harvard Health
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Yeung, A., Chan, J., Cheung, J. C., & Zou, L. (2018). Qigong and Tai-Chi for Mood Regulation. Focus (American Psychiatric Publishing), 16(1), 40–47. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.focus.20170042
Qigong and Tai-Chi are traditional self-healing, self-cultivation exercises originating in ancient China. These exercises are characterized by coordinated body posture and movements, deep rhythmic breathing, meditation, and mental focus based on traditional Chinese medicine theories. Although the exact mechanisms of Qigong’s and Tai-Chi’s effects on physical and mental well-being are unknown, these practices may be viewed as meditative movements and share many of the healing elements observed in mindfulness meditation. Clinical studies including randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses have shown that both Qigong and Tai-Chi have beneficial effects on psychological well-being and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Qigong and Tai-Chi frequently involve anchoring attention to interoceptive sensations related to breath or other parts of the body, which has been shown to enhance nonreactivity to aversive thoughts and impulses. Preliminary studies suggest that the slow movements in Qigong and Tai-Chi with slowing of breath frequency could alter the autonomic system and restore homeostasis, attenuating stress related to hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis reactivity and modulating the balance of the autonomic nervous system toward parasympathetic dominance. Qigong’s and Tai-Chi’s effects on emotion regulation could occur through changes in multiple prefrontal regions, the limbic system, and the striatum or in the expression of genes linked to inflammatory responses and stress-related pathways.