Tai Chi: Healing Exercise, Medicine in Motion
Clinically proven to relieve an astounding array of illnesses, Tai Chi triggers the body’s relaxation response to restore health. Tai Chi Master Tommy Kirchhoff shares how this gentle martial art can benefit seniors, including those recovering from COVID-19.
For 17 years, Tai Chi Master Tommy Kirchhoff has been refining Healing Exercise, a therapeutic/medicinal movement program based on the Chinese martial art that’s clinically proven to relieve a long list of illnesses. Then the pandemic struck.
As 29 million Americans got sick and many struggled with “long-haul” COVID-19 symptoms, Kirchhoff felt a growing sense of urgency. He spoke with a researcher who found Tai Chi boosts immunity to shingles virus in older adults. The doctor told him Tai Chi would likely have similar benefits for COVID patients. Kirchhoff’s sense of urgency grew.
“When you can get someone to relax, all these magical things start to happen — with the relaxation response, the body starts to heal itself more like when you were younger,” Kirchhoff says. “We have all these clinical studies showing that it helps with breathing, energy level, and pain relief. That is COVID long-haul in a nutshell.”
The pandemic has intensified Kirchhoff’s mission to educate seniors, doctors, and everyone about the health benefits of Tai Chi. He believes the crisis presents an opportunity to get Americans, particularly seniors, to change how they view taking care of their health.
“There is an old saying — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. How can we get people to start investing 20 minutes a day in themselves to prevent all these problems?”
Medicine Through Motion
Tai Chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but might well be called “medication in motion,” Harvard Medical School notes. “There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems.”
The list of ailments Tai Chi can relieve includes arthritis, back and neck pain, chronic pain, high blood pressure, COPD, dementia, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and Parkinson’s Disease. Tai Chi improves posture and balance while preventing falls. It can help people suffering from heart disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and immune system disorders to regain health, and has outstanding advantages for seniors recovering from COVID-19.
“Tai Chi is a proven technique for improving physical function and psychological well-being in my patients,” says Dr. Barry A. Ogin, a Denver Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation provider in who specializes in chronic pain management. “It has demonstrable benefits for multiple conditions including osteoarthritis, chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia, headaches and depression and anxiety. It is a very useful adjunct that avoids the unwanted side effects accompanying most other treatments such as medications, injections or surgery.”
Tai Chi is among evidence-based complementary and integrative health approaches included in the Veterans Health Administration’s Whole Health System of care and included in veterans’ medical benefits packages when deemed clinically necessary. The VA even compiled an Evidence Map of Tai Chi outlining studies on its benefits for pain, PTSD, and fall prevention, available for download here.
People wonder why Tai Chi is so effective across so many illnesses. The key, Kirchhoff notes, is its ability to trigger the body’s relaxation response that benefits the entire body.
“Almost everything in Western medicine is one-to-one: If you have high blood pressure, you take medicine for it; if you have appendicitis, the doctor removes your appendix. But in Chinese medicine, nothing is one-to-one. Tai Chi is a holistic practice with breathing, relaxation and proper mobilization, so it affects the whole.”
Forget “Fitness”; Focus on Mobility
Unique in the exercise universe, Tai Chi requires deep relaxation and breathing rather than muscle tension. It forbids the use of strength, and deemphasizes weight loss, maintaining a youthful appearance, and other factors associated with the idea of “fitness.”
“Fit and fitness are dirty words,” Kirchhoff says. “We are trying to help people with their health problems. We don’t want people sweating and trying to lose weight. That kind of stress only exacerbates illness.”
Maintaining mobility is crucial in healthy aging, and joint health is crucial to maintaining mobility. “Mobility is the first indicator of health, and mobility is about joint care and stepping in balance.”
But as we get older we unwittingly develop problems with the way we step and walk (gait) that can further damage our joints.
“Asymmetry is what wears out the joints,” Kirchhoff says. “But when you learn proper posture and movement you can start fixing the asymmetry.”
While even yoga requires strength to achieve floor-based stretches and poses, Tai Chi can be practiced sitting or standing, making it ideal for older adults, even those in wheelchairs.
Kirchhoff has outlined the health benefits of Tai Chi for seniors on American Health Journal on PBS and other major networks. His popular Tai Chi videos — such as “Balance Boost & Better Stepping,” “Gentle Sitting Tai Chi,” and “Standing Energy Tai Chi” — have sold more than 50,000 copies in 65 countries.
Boosting Balance & Posture
Our ability to remain in balance comes largely from our inner ear and our vision, Kirchhoff notes. Awareness of our body’s position and movement in relation to our surroundings is called proprioception. Tai Chi and Healing Exercise focus on teaching people to improve proprioception through posture, balance, and movement.
In his videos, Tommy teaches people how to maintain proper posture and balance while focusing on breathing. This crucial combination allows people to achieve high-level relaxation.
“It is the deepest state of relaxation — that’s why posture is so important,” he says. “Otherwise you’d fall over.”
A Master’s Message: Massage Your Gut
Tommy became a certified Tai Chi Master and developed Healing Exercise under the private tutelage of world-famous Grandmaster Victor Fu (ShengLong). Fu is the third-generation lineage holder of Fu Style Wudang Chuan, which includes the internal martial arts Tai Chi, BaGua, Hsing-I and others. Tommy describes Fu as “my teacher” and “the backbone of the company.”
“My teacher taught me to think about health in the gut,” he says. “From your neck to your waist, all of your most important organs are in there– other than your brain. But when you sit too much and you’re stagnant, the viscera (gut) stagnate too.”
“When you move and walk around your viscera get shuffled somewhat. But our exercises are designed to properly mobilize the hips and waist, and that kind of movement leads to thorough mobilization of the viscera. My teacher always says, ‘your gut gets a massage.’”
Tai Chi: Stress Relief and Self-Care for Better Health
Today, more people are embracing Tai Chi to relieve stress and maintain health and wellness. As researchers study and verify the myriad benefits of Tai Chi, seniors who practice Healing Exercise testify to its effectiveness in helping them overcome health problems.
“So many times I have heard seniors describe our program as the most appropriate,” Kirchhoff says. “That is a huge accolade, and a lot of that has to do with how gentle it is.”
He hopes more seniors will discover the health benefits of Tai Chi as part of their daily self-care routine, during the pandemic and beyond.
“Tai Chi is self care, like brushing your teeth,” Kirchhoff says. “It is something you can do every day to take care of yourself.”
Download Tommy Kirchhoff’s One Pager.
PRESS RELEASE 4/7/21Tai Chi: Healing Exercise, Medicine in Motion
Learn more at healingexercise.org.