Qigong and Tai-Chi for Mood Regulation

NHS Networks, 5 February 2021
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 and Tai-Chi are traditional self-healing, meditation, and self-cultivation exercises originating in ancient China. The practice, which is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories, is characterized by coordinated body posture and movements, deep rhythmic breathing, meditation, and mental focus.

According to TCM theories, a subtle energy, or Qi, exists in three main Dantian energy centers and circulate throughout the body by way of 12 main meridians or pathways. A free-flowing, well-balanced Qi system is believed to reflect good health, whereas psychosomatic illnesses are the result of Qi blockage in certain areas of the body. Qigong and Tai-Chi, as mind-body techniques, are believed to promote the equilibrium of Qi and to alleviate Qi blockages, which may potentially prevent or delay the progression of diseases.

Many Western scientists challenge whether Qi exists. To address these queries, tools with the intent to measure Qi have recently been developed. An electrodermal device has been designed to measure skin electrical conductivity as a proxy index for Qi levels. It has been shown that the patterns of electrical conductivity correlate with the expected patterns of Qi. Compatible with TCM theories, studies have shown that electrical impedance levels are lower for many acupuncture points compared with the surrounding nonacupuncture skin areas, and conductance is higher between points on theoretical acupuncture energy channels than between points not on these channels. In addition, the practice of Qigong was shown to increase conductivity along acupuncture channels.


Preliminary evidence suggests that Qigong and Tai-Chi may be potentially beneficial for management of depressive and anxiety symptoms in healthy adults and patients with chronic illnesses. Both Qigong and Tai-Chi are easily adaptable forms of mind-body exercises that can be practiced at any place or any time without special equipment. Thus, Qigong and Tai-Chi should be widely promoted for the improvement of emotional well-being. Given the limited numbers of RCTs and their methodological weakness, the results should be interpreted with caution. In the future, more rigorous studies with physiological evidence are warranted.

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