Written by Helen Cooke and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated June 16, 2016

Tai Chi

What is it?


Tai chi (short for Tai chi Chuan) is a non-combative martial art that combines breathing techniques with sequences of slow graceful movements. It is sometimes categorised as a mind-body intervention1 and referred to as a ‘meditation in motion’2.

Application and dosage

Tai chi is usually taught in groups by an individual who is either trained or experienced in Tai chi. Sessions normally last around 60 minutes in length. The lengths of the teaching courses vary, but they typically last 10-12 weeks. The classes generally include warm-up exercises, a Tai chi practice and a cool-down. Some sessions include breathing and meditation exercises. It is suggested that people carry out Tai chi exercises at home as part of a daily practice.


Tai chi has its roots in ancient Chinese philosophy and martial arts2 and is one of the approaches used in traditional Chinese medicine. It had developed a unique style by the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). Many different styles of Tai chi have evolved during its development. These include Chen, Wu, Sun, Li and Yang Style. Variations have been derived from these styles, including Wudang, the Hao, and the Cheng Man-ching. Whilst Chen is the oldest style, Yang is the most popular. A 24-posture Tai chi form was compiled in 1956 based on a more complicated Yang form style, which involves 105 postures1. Although the Yang style was used in many of the studies reviewed for this summary, not all list the style of Tai chi taught.

Claims of efficacy/ mechanism(s) of action

It has been proposed that partaking in Tai chi may result in energy expenditure equivalent to that of brisk walking, which may improve the aerobic capacity, flexibility, strength, mood and quality of life of cancer survivors3. This has yet to be verified by research. Proponents of traditional Chinese medicine believe there are meridians (pathways) that travel through the body carrying chi (life energy). Tai chi is purported to smooth the flow of chi, to aid relaxation and keep the mind calm and focused4.

Alleged indication

Tai chi is reported to have positive effects on health related quality of life, self-esteem, mood, anxiety, blood pressure, osteoporosis, natural killer cells, cardio-respiratory function, flexibility, balance and strength in the elderly, but studies are lacking across different cancer populations5.

Prevalence of use

A 2010 survey reported that 0.8% of male (n=891) and 2.4% of female (n=1371) cancer survivors in the US use Tai chi6. Precise prevalence figures are not available for Europe or other countries.

Legal issues

Although various organisations offer certification worldwide, there is no standardised training or recognised credentialing/licensing process in place for Tai chi instructors at present. Traditionally, students are taught and authorised by ‘master teachers/instructors’,

Cost(s) and expenditures

The cost of sessions varies between countries, but an approximate cost of €8-15/US $15-20 is generally charged.

Citation Helen Cooke, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Tai Chi [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Tai-Chi. June 16, 2016.



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