Final paper for Sun Style Tai Chi with Dr Jacques MoraMarco
by Cleo Wolf
Numerous studies have been done to assess the impact of the practice of Tai Chi Chuan on health, because the practitioners of the art have acclaimed it for benefiting their own well being in diverse areas of their lives. These studies present a massive body of statistical evidence supporting the claims of practitioners of Tai Chi that it really makes a difference in their well being. Mark Twain said of statistics, “Lies and more damn lies.” Our own dear Dr Thornton teaches us the fallibility of statistical evidence in even highly respected randomized clinical trials. I do not look to statistics and studies to evaluate a practice for health. The Fully Self Awakened One, the Buddha taught, “If something is presented as beneficial, try it and see for yourself.”
However, because the directions were to research articles and studies proving the benefits of Tai Chi, I did look some up. In the following very comprehensive recent article from the Journal of Sport and Health Science, Volume 3, Issue 1, March 2014, Pages 3–8, Special issue on "Tai Chi Chuan: From traditional applications to contemporary practice" http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254613000999 the authors review more than thirty studies showing the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan practice to all aspects of life from cardiovascular disease to T cell immunity.
Additionally, regarding this a study was conducted of thirty cardiac patients with ejection fractions less than 40% by western medical professionals from Harvard and Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center: Enhancement of sleep stability with Tai Chi exercise in chronic heart failure: Preliminary findings using an ECG-based spectrogram method; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3281294/ published in 2007.
I have been taught that those who live long enough will likely develop some degree of congestive heart failure. The heart muscle weakens, becomes enlarged, the contractile force diminishes, and then there is experienced fatigue, respiratory distress, edema, discomfort and less restful sleep.
These people were given a 12 week course in Yang style Tai Chi. Eighteen of the participants made it thru the exclusionary criteria to provide data. The effect of Tai Chi practice was evaluated by a standard and respected questionnaire, heart rhythm evaluation and blood work.
The measurements spanned heart and lung function, endocrine levels as well as subjective experience. The study was carefully crafted. The data obtained was thoroughly presented in written and graphic format.
The conclusion was that Tai Chi may be effective at improving sleep in those with heart failure. So even the very aged and infirm will benefit from learning and practicing Tai Chi Chuan. The authors went on to suggest that improved sleep may lead to improvement in other areas of health and life. To extrapolate the benefits of Tai Chi to healthy people or those with other disease processes is only natural to those who are inclined to think highly of it anyway.
Studies set the bar outside our own experience, they may obtain recognition and sometimes lead to further employment for the conductors. However the information gathered is never entirely without bias and does not indicate with any certainty the experience a given individual will have. They also fail to identify variables that may impact the results of the study one way or the other. For instance in the above study the individuals were given a class, therefore there was a social aspect to the practice that was not given weight, but do we need to know whether Tai Chi Chuan would have had the same impact if learned from a video or some other means? Everyone of us has different needs and the site, timing, socialization, color of the sky all may have had different impacts on each one of the participants. We can most easily try it for ourselves and discover if we like it, it is the discernment of preference versus true benefit or harm that we should develop to ascertain whether something is of value. This discernment is obtained gradually by persistently following the Noble Eightfold Path. But most people are not interested in doing this deliberately, and some of them may be interested in what studies have to say.
Science as a business and the media encourage the public to rely on studies rather than their own gut feelings or intuition. In the recent past self awareness was shunned as a means of decision making, favoring so called scientific evidence, elevating science over discernment. Perhaps today discernment is regaining acceptance in public opinion to a mild degree since there is a vocal, educated, and passionate minority of the population who recognize its value. Because the world is in a phase where exposure to non patriarchal belief systems is becoming more widespread more people rely on their own assessments than outside expert opinion. Meditation and mindfulness are only two means of strengthening discernment, there are many others, Tai chi itself is one.
Studies have been and continue to be used as marketing tools. This marketing works best on those with just enough education and money to make them feel familiar with the places, people and language surrounding the studies. Above and below that class the conclusions of any given study are suspect and irrelevant. Even we as medical practitioners must beware that the preponderance of evidence is of little value without proper application. We have a responsibility to ourselves and our patients to avoid becoming bags of hot air, spouting meaningless statistics. Instead we can each practice and investigate on our own to find what works best for us and makes us better people. This is more easily done when not focused on research or numbers.
Speaking for myself, I feel an increased enjoyment of waking and walking in the morning. I am more flexible, more physically and mentally competent, more in my body, more content with this life as a spiritual practice and so healthier. I have better energy, not only more in quantity but more cohesive in quality, I feel vibrant and I enjoy living. What has that to do with Sun style Tai Chi Chuan or Yi Jin jing? I do not know, but I know that the other day over a week ago I hesitated to commit to practicing that day and the answer came quite clearly - this is what is making me feel better, this is improving my health more than herbs or acupuncture - though I enjoy those too. The slow pace in rhythm with breathing is not only relaxing and natural, it improves mindfulness. The ebb and flow of the movements produces a pleasant sensation of pumping - moving matter and energy. The centeredness that results contributes to a sense that renewal is occurring and the mind is more open, welcoming and happy. I expect to continue to use the practice daily and as often as possible throughout the day and to continue to experience more and more benefit from it.
Statistics would never convince me to try a practice like they might influence my choice of car or toothbrush but seeing someone moving deliberately and embodying peace certainly does.