How to Integrate Tai Ji Quan into Physical Education Programs: This Ancient Exercise Can Benefit Students' Body and Mind

Article excerpt

Tai ji quan, also known as "tai chi," is an ancient Chinese exercise characterized by soft, slow, and meditative movements. It consists of a set of continuous, evenly paced, carefully choreographed, but natural, body shifts. "Tai ji" is an ancient Chinese philosophy, while "tai ji quan" refers to a type of physical activity based on tai ji philosophy. Tai ji quan is currently among the most commonly recommended exercises for promoting lifelong health and for coping with illness. Many physical educators have already embraced it, and many others plan to add this Eastern movement discipline to their curriculums in the very near future (Lu, 2004). Expanding on ideas presented in previous JOPERD articles about this discipline (Chen & Sherman, 2002; Honda, 1995; Yan, 1995), this article intends to further assist teachers in developing the knowledge, skills, and confidence necessary to integrate tai ji quan in school physical education programs.

Evidence-based Research on Tai Ji Quan

A number of studies have reported specific benefits of practicing tai ji quan. In general, there seem to be three major areas (i.e., physical, psychological, and therapeutic) that register immediate and/or lasting benefits as a result of practicing tai ji quan.

Studies focused on the physical aspects have reported that tai ji quan enhances the following physical qualities: muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, suppleness, balance and coordination, postural alignment, fatigue relief, and stamina (Docker, 2006; Jones, Dean, & Scudds, 2005; Li, Hong, & Chan, 2001).

Many studies centered on the psychological aspects reveal that tai ji quan can improve the following areas: general mental health, memory, concentration, relaxation of body and mind, body awareness, self-esteem, calmness, and positive mood (Jin, 1992; Sandlund & Norlander, 2000; Taylor-Piliae, Haskell, Waters, & Froelicher, 2006).

Tai ji quan is also used as a therapeutic and preventive means to reduce the risk of, or to treat, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, pain, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and depression (Chen & Snyder, 1999; Mustian et al., 2004; Venglar, 2005). It is recognized that tai ji quan is also a safe and appropriate exercise for people of all ages in a wide range of health conditions.

Although the majority of research on tai ji quan involves adults and seniors, there are a few empirical studies of tai ji quan for school-age children and youths. One study involving children in fourth through sixth grade reported students' increased feeling of well-being and their enjoyment of the tai ji quan experience (Baron, 1998). Another project described that teens who participated in tai ji quan at a middle school experienced increased well-being, calmness, and relaxation; improved sleep; less reactivity; increased self-care; better self-awareness; and a sense of interdependence with nature (Wall, 2005). An investigation involving 13 adolescents, age 14.5 years old, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that participants displayed less anxiety, fewer inappropriate behaviors, less hyperactivity, and improved conduct as a result of learning tai ji quan (Hernandez-Reif, Field, & Thimas, 2001). Baron and Faubert (2004) also reported that tai ji quan helped to reduce anxiety and positively enhance mood among upper elementary children with severe learning disabilities.

Tai Ji Quan in Physical Education Programs

In addition to the aforementioned physical, mental, and therapeutic benefits, there are other fundamental reasons to support the integration of tai ji quan into physical education programs.

1. It helps students to achieve the current physical education program goal. Despite the diverse nature of physical education in North America, the goal of current physical education programs generally focuses on enabling individuals to develop an active and healthy lifestyle (Rink, 2006; Turkington, 2001). …