Tai Chi and Depression

Tai chi can help alleviate depression

Is Tai Chi good for depression? Most research studies and anecdotal evidence support the notion. There is evidence that Tai Chi can help to improve the mood and decrease depressive symptoms.

Depression is, sadly, fairly common. Approximately 5% of adults have the condition, according to the World Health Organization. People of all ages, nationalities and ethnic groups are affected. Depression doesn’t distinguish between those who are well off and those who have little, or those in between.

There are several types of depression. It cannot be classified as one disease. The disorder has different degrees and multiple symptoms. It is not simply fluctuations in mood. It can be a very serious health condition.

Depression takes the joy out of life and interferes with daily functioning. Symptoms may include overwhelming feelings of hopelessness or struggles with worry or anxiety. In addition, low energy, difficulty focusing, and problems connecting with others are common.  Depression can also worsen other underlying medical conditions (co-morbidities) and result in a lower quality of life.


Treatment for depression include behavioural activation, cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and/or antidepressant medication. Unfortunately, treatments are not always cost effective or accessible for some individuals.

Exercise is frequently recommended in order to reduce depressive symptoms, but not all forms of exercise are appropriate or feasible for everyone. Fortunately, it has become apparent that Tai Chi and Qigong can improve our mood, as well as decrease anxiety. Tai Chi is an accessible form of exercise which has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms.

One reasons for this is that the meditative aspect improves the mental and emotional state. Regular practice can even help “rewire the brain” in response to certain experiences. These new connections strengthen our emotional stability, meaning our brains are better able to cope with daily stresses. We are also able to feel more in control during difficult times or situations. The “moving meditation” is what affects our nervous system and brain. Tai Chi clears the monkey mind, decreases anxiety, and calms the spirit. In fact, research shows that those who meditate are better able to redirect negative and harmful thoughts altogether.

Recent Research

Frustratingly, most studies on Tai Chi are conducted with relatively small the sample sizes. As we have acknowledged repeatedly, there is a need for use of strong methodologically designed Randomised Controlled Trials and larger sample sizes. Nevertheless, Tai Chi and/or Qigong have been shown to decrease depression and anxiety!

A study from the University of Arizona found that Tai Chi participants showed a decrease in depression, anxiety, and stress. The study author, Dr. Ruth Taylor-Piliae stated “Tai Chi practice allows the individual to quiet the mind by dwelling in the present and setting aside unnecessary negative emotions, such as depression.” Moreover, an article in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, February 2022 indicated that Tai Chi positively affected both anxiety and depression for patients dealing with cancer, stroke, and heart failure. Ecnouragingly, a study published in July 2022 in Integrative Medicine Reports noted that the study subjects enjoyed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Tai Chi as therapy

Psychologists are often encouraged to incorporate Tai Chi into their clinical practice because “Tai Chi can help reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate depression”. But, as the Tai Chi community will point out, there is no quick route to this. It takes years to understand Tai Chi and a short seminar or course is NOT going to make a psychologist into a skilled practitioner!

Fortunately, at Movement In Mind, our lead practitioner is both a qualified psychotherapist and an experienced Tai Chi Instructor. Therefore, we are able to incorporate Tai Chi into the therapy practice, and teach Tai Chi in a way which makes the most of its therapeutic aspects.

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