Harvard Medical School and Tai Chi
By John Graham
May 31st, 2014
I am delighted to recommend, “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart and Sharp Mind,” by Peter M. Wayne, Ph.D. (Boston: Shambhala Publishing, 2013).
In his forward to Dr. Wayne’s book, Harvard’s Associate Professor of Medicine, Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, says: “Western patients are now asking for more prevention and health sustenance. Many want “soft touch” in addition to hard technology. While many acute problems seem to be under control, it seems that there are not enough solutions for living with or gracefully managing chronic illness. . . Part of the quest for new answers is re-examining older approaches to illness. I’ve had a ringside seat on this emergent global perspective with my own work building links between Asian medicine and modern medicine. Sorely missing has been a book that bridges the wisdom of Tai Chi with the scientific insights of biomedicine. This exceptional book has finally been written, remarkably within the context of a leading medical school; it provides the needed platform to link East and West.”
The reader will be introduced to the understanding of ancient and still-practiced concepts of Chinese medicine, philosophy and science. Concepts such as Yin and Yang and how the Eight Active Ingredients of Tai Chi can be “integrated into personal and professional relationships, improve work productivity, enhance creativity, and boost sports performance” (see illustration below).
The Eight Active Ingredients of tai Chi are: (1) Awareness, mindfulness, focused attention, (2) Intention, belief, expectation, (3) Dynamic Structural Integration, (4) Active Relaxation of mind and body, (5) Aerobic Exercise, musculoskeletal strengthening and flexibility, (6) Natural Freer Breathing, (7) Social Interaction and Community, (8) Embodied Spirituality, philosophy and ritual.
The book offers a 12-week plan of how to implement these eight ingredients into your life for health and well-being. Photographs and text provide a nice explanation of each movement from warm-up to cool-down. Next, the health benefits of Tai Chi are enumerated in chapters with titles such as: Ease Your Aches and Pains, Strengthen Your Heart, Deepen and Enrich Your Breathing, Sharpen Your Mind, Enhance Psychological Well-Being and Sleep Quality, Enhance Your Creativity, Social and Community, and Lifelong Learning. Wayne often mentions the role spirituality plays in health and medicine (see page 63).
In my mind, Harvard is the institution that first introduced western medicine to the importance of the mind-body connection. In 1975, Herb Benson published his book, The Relaxation Response, in which he enumerated the health benefits of spending 20 minutes a day in quiet relaxation. It was a breath of fresh air to those caught in the grip of anxiety and the rat race of trying to get ahead in this ever more maddening world. Benson showed how the mind and body are linked and said that the majority of illnesses seen by the physician were caused by stress. Since that time, Jon Kabat Zinn has introduced the public to mindfulness and Time magazine has had cover pictures of people engaged in meditation, mindfulness, and Yoga. This vital health message began at Harvard and for that we should be grateful.
Next March 6-8, 2015, our Institute for Spirituality and Health will join Harvard, the University of Chicago, and other institutions for the fourth annual Medicine and Religion Conference which will be held in Cambridge, MA with Harvard as the host institution. I am hopeful one of the talks will be that of Dr. Peter M. Wayne presenting his message on the health benefits of Tai Chi. Even better, in my imagination I can see 200 souls on the lawn outside Harvard going through the 24 movements of Tai Chi. Wouldn’t that be something to experience?
John K. Graham, M.D., D.Min., President and CEO