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Medical studies on the benefits of Tai Chi now include :

  • Falls Prevention with Tai Chi Programmes
  • Beneficial effects of Tai Chi on Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Tai Chi's effect on the Immune System
  • Medical Research has revealed that Tai Chi can improve conditions such as Arthritis, Shingles and Diabetes.

Our own Research indicates Tai Chi practise offers :

  • Effective Stress Management
  • Improved breathing for respiratory problems
  • Relief from back and joint pain
  • Effect on Asthma
  • Overall feeling of wellbeing
  • Direct benefit on women's health issue


Below is a compilation of articles on the significance of Tai Chi to health and personal wellbeing :

Written by Christine Gemmell M.A.Psych.


Christine Gemmell above (black dress) leads Tai Chi students

Stress can be defined as any circumstances that threaten or are perceived to threaten our well being and that thereby tax our coping abilities- (Weiten, 1989). It is important to understand this concept because stress can evoke both positive and negative responses. Stress is not necessarily caused by major traumatic events. Many everyday events such as waiting in traffic, dealing with bills, or even shopping in a crowded supermarket are also stressful. You may guess that such minor stresses would produce minor effects, but this is not necessarily true. Research indicates that routine hassles may have significant negative effects on our mental and physical health (Delongis, Folkman, & Lazarus. 1988).

Physiological changes often accompany stress, most commonly the fight or flight response (Cannon, 1932). This involves a physiological reaction to perceived threat in which the autonomic nervous system mobilizes the organism for attacking (fight) or fleeing (flight) an enemy. For example our breathing, heart rate and blood pressure increase, we begin to sweat, our muscles become tense, and we may even feel our heart beating fast. This automatic response was originally adapted for the threat of predators where a swift response of fighting or fleeing meant survival. In the modern world our stress cannot be dealt with that easily. If stress continues long enough without a coping mechanism, our body’s resources become depleted and exhaustion sets in. This can lead to burn out, mental illness such as depression, and a reduced immune system resulting in physical illness.

Many people are not aware that they are feeling the effects of stress and ignore what their body is telling them. Some experience days when they get home and all they want to do is collapse into a chair and have a few drinks to relax themselves. After a while we experience the tension running through our body e.g. neck and muscle pain. The major cause of this, is the stress that has built up during the day. Unfortunately the relief of relaxation where we use alcohol, smoking and/or coffee intake, to get us through stress, can lead to serious health problems.

One effective way of relaxation is the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. Tai Chi if practiced correctly can bring us in tune with, and revitalize our body and mind. According to Chinese philosophy, everyone has a given amount of Chi, which permeates through the body as a life force. Due to stress and other factors, the pathways (Meridians) become blocked, and this leads to illness. Through the practice of Tai Chi, these blockages are cleared, in a similar way to acupuncture, except that the blockages are cleared by the cultivation of the energy flow, (Chi-Gung) (Gemmell, 1992). The flow is correctly regulated to each organ by the Tai Chi movements.

When beginning Tai Chi, the alignment of the spinal cord and posture are important factors in relaxation. The spinal cord as part of the central nervous system, is responsible for the communication between the brain and the body. By relaxing the spinal cord and ensuring correct posture, the nerves (neurotransmitters) send signals to the brain, that everything is functioning correctly and that no stress response is necessary. Therefore by relaxing the spinal cord in Tai Chi we can in turn relax the muscles, which has major significance for our stress levels.

Neurotransmitters are an important part of the spinal cord. They are chemicals that relay messages from one neuron to another within the central and peripheral nervous system. When these chemicals become unbalanced due to stress and other factors, this can lead to mental illness such as depression and/or anxiety. For example people who suffer from depressive disorders appear to have imbalances in the neurotransmitters Norepinephrine, Serotonin and Dopamine. By incorporating Tai Chi as a model of relaxation, and with regular practice, we are more able to deal with stressful events in our lives. This also has the benefit of maintaining the chemical balance in our central nervous system.

Research has also shown that Tai Chi has marked psychological effects including, improvements in self reported tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion and state anxiety (Jin 1989). It is also effective in reducing nightmares (Slater, & Hunt, 1997) and treating posttraumatic stress disorder. (Gruetzner, 1994).

Footnote : Christine Gemmell M.A. Psych. teaches Tai Chi at the Jade Centre, 44 Huanui Street, Porirua, New Zealand.


(Courtesy of Insights into Martial Arts Magazine)

Long life with Tai Chi or long life because of Tai Chi? That is the question.

Gywn Rivers

Without going into aspects of Chinese wisdom, physical whys and wherefores, or the medical reasons for feeling good, we decided to talk to a woman who, before taking up Tai Chi under Robert Gemmell had already lived a long, thoughtful, and fulfilling life, but in her latter years felt drawn to this art form. We leave our initial question begging, but decided that in looking at this persons’s life, we may gain a clue, firstly as to why some people remain mentally alive and motivated to remain in touch with what is going on in their life, with art, with music, with writing, and with relationships, and why the practise of Tai Chi should bring such fulfillment and stimulation to someone who has already lived fully, sensitively, in touch with herself and with the world around her.

We talked to Gwyn Rivers using the following parameters as a guideline.

Gwyn, you are now an elderly lady of some eighty five years of age. What are the sum total of your parts? Walk us through your life and point out the cross roads, the influences, the background and the decisions that have brought you to the point in your life where you are today.

I was born, by home birth, on my grandmother’s farm at Foxhill in 1919. My ancestry is of mixed descent, English, Jewish, and gypsy background.

My father, was a kind, loving, quiet and patient man, who never raised his voice. He was an engineer, with an intense interest in making things. I remember when I was seven. It was January 1928, and he took me out in to the night’s darkness where under a clear sky, he held my hand and we both listened for the plane of Hood and Moncreiff, who were flying for the first time across the Tasman. They never came, but I think it was the first time that I knew what it was like to stand under the night sky, something I have done many times since, for the feeling of belonging it gives to me. My mother was of the Victorian era. Her family background was middle class and financially they were well off. Victorianism meant I was brought up to be obedient, honest, clean and well mannered, and to do what I was told.

Perhaps it was this strict upbringing that led me to an inclination to run away, even from a very early age. I have always been happy by myself, and have never felt afraid of being alone with nature.
When I was four and a half, we moved to Paponga, and this was like stepping back in time. No electricity, running water, medical care, and no shopping. I loved being at Paponga right from the start. We lived almost on the beach where the tide flowed in and out over sandy flats. Immediately I went “walk about”, following the tide until my father found me.

Gwyn Rivers doing the sword form

The death of my little brother had a profound influence on me in those early years. He became very sick and we had to take him to Nelson, driving by car, a Model T, for 8 hours over gravel roads, where he was operated on for a mastoid, but unfortunately he died. I just remember a little white child in a little white coffin before my father carried him away in the car to be buried. I felt a great sense of loss and of being left out.

I think that had much to do with my attitude to my health. I learned very early in life not to make a fussover mishaps, of which there were a few. I broke both arms when I was five and my father set them as we were unable to go to a doctor.
However, I was strong because I climbed cliffs, hills and trees, and learned endurance as my father had a long stride and if I went with him I had to keep up.

Being deaf, almost from birth, meant I never really caught up with what was happening and I became a loner. There were no close neighbours and I had no friends. At school there were few girls and certainly no one my age or with my inclinations. At twelve I was sent to Boarding School. I hated it. It was like prison. I suppose I did badly at school, but no one queried my deafness. However became an avid reader and I gained most of my learning from reading. Most but not all. I have always been very observant and always looked for things where ever I went. On my way to School, I knew where the toad lived. I knew how to creep up on the bittern who lived in the swamp, and I knew how to touch trout as they lay supine in a pool.

As I look back, it appears that I learned early on in life to have stamina and endurance, and to stand alone and never give up. There was never anyone to lean on, and I never expected anything of anyone. All of my early experiences formed how I developed later in life. I suppose the most dramatic choice I have ever made was getting married, very much against my parents wishes, and at the beginning of the war. Perhaps if I had made another choice in a different direction who knows where I would have been today. I was pointed towards teaching by my mother. She wanted me to have a certain independence and be able to earn my own living. Although I was relatively pushed into this occupation, I discovered that I loved to teach, especially children. I was happy in the classroom and really had no ambition other than I wanted to paint and be creative. Looking back I realise I could have been an Art Teacher but that didn’t happen to girls in my days at school. But still, I have always been creative in my own way, painting, clay modelling, and fabric painting.
You ask about my philosophy. I don’t really know what my philosophy is. Basically, although I tried to write it down, it appears as a moral guide to living. Honesty, of not lying and being prepared to accept responsibility for actions. Not to be unkind or nasty to anyone. To give rather than to take, and to accept
others who are a different race or colour.

On a deeper note, Buddha in the Four Reliances says ...

Rely on the teacher, not his personality.
Rely on the meaning, not just on the words.
Rely on the real meaning, not just on the provisional one.
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary judgemental mind.

It has come into my mind that I have been led along the Way to finally live where I have the chance to learn Tai Chi.

I feel that I have been moving towards this for some years and sometimes I think I have known Tai Chi in another life. My age, I am eighty five, means nothing to me. I live each day as it comes. Of course I will die. I am not afraid. I never think of dying just living out my span here.Originally I had moved to be close to my family. I was already interested in Chinese philosophy, Buddhism and Tibet, and when I saw the advertisement for Tai Chi I decided to give it a try.
At first I was rather shocked. I felt I was too old, and not physically up to it, but I persevered, because I wanted so badly to do this. I needed something to focus on, because after my retirement I missed being occupied. Plus I wasn’t interested in the usual retirement activities. Then I began to also do Tai Chi at home outside of the usual class environment, not for advancement but because I liked doing the movements. I feel very good when I do Tai Chi.
I don’t say practise because that is not what I am doing. Whether it is one Form or a series, I am doing it, not practising. Internal or External, the feeling is always there now. I just feel an inner well being which seem to flow with me as I move or whatever I do. An outward flow from an inner source, very calm, very peaceful. I have no inner me, I am just being.
I don’t think I view the world differently. In some ways I feel detached from the world and the people around me. It is as if I have a centring which remains untouched. Through Tai Chi I have been strengthened physically and emotionally. I also feel as if I have found myself. I do not need to struggle in any way, just live each day happily adjusting to whatever is or will be.

ULTIMATEContemplative Gwyn

As Gwyn took us through some of the aspects of her life, we can perhaps pick out those elements which helped form her character, her attitude and her determination to “live out her span”.Tai Chi came for her, later in life, and although she appeared relatively well prepared, having had an interesting and balanced life, and had come to terms with some of her own personal drawbacks, never the less the study of Tai Chi still enhanced her life’s quality and gave it a depth and dimension she may never have experienced without it.
Gwyn also has a word specifically for women and how they can meet some of their lifestyle challenges by the practise of this unique art form.


observations by gwyn rivers

Having been associated with Tai Chi classes over some years, I have become aware of the many people who have gained from this study.
Some more than others of course, but I think this is more a matter of how life has treated them.

The women who train, have gained so much in self confidence and self worth, because they are achieving a mastery of something, even in a minor way.

For hundreds of years, generally speaking, women have been subservient to men, and their own children.


My generation was brought up at the end of the Victorian era.
Being a wife and a mother, can dim a women’s personality.

Now in their older years, these women have the time and a chance, not to blossom, but to find
their inner self again, the girl who was once a personality.

They move easily, lose that questioning demeanour and feel like achievers.
There is immense satisfaction in gaining some mastery in Tai Chi and that becomes self esteem.

Footnote : Gwyn Rivers learned Tai Chi under the guidance of Robert Gemmell. She assists other students at the Insights Centre in Picton, New Zealand.




In keeping with the philosophy of Tai Chi, relaxation is an important aspect in coping with stress. In today’s changing society it is a fact of life that we will regularly have to deal with stressful situations. The philosophy of “Sung” (relax, let go), in Tai Chi is important in dealing with the build up of stress. A story is recounted about a pine tree and snow. When the snow falls onto the tree, its branches bend allowing the snow to slide to the ground. The branches then return to their original strong upright position ensuring their survival.

This story can be likened to our own lives where the snow is the stress that falls upon us. When we practice Tai Chi we are gently letting the stress fall off us. We go with the flow and resume our lives. (The tree is resuming its original position). Tai Chi need not be a long process as we can easily adapt it into our daily routine. We can take individual techniques that we have learned and apply them during the day. For example the “monkey washes face” technique (see figure 1) is a good way to relax and “let go” (Sung) when we are aware of the tension that stress brings. By washing away the stress with the hands as the monkey washes its face, we incorporate the idea of sung. It takes less than 30 seconds and can be done virtually anywhere. And the benefits, if practiced correctly, are instant.


    Monkey Washing Face   Monkey Washing Face




"I started Tai Chi at the beginning of this year and am enjoying it immensely. I work full-time as a pharmacist, have a number of additional part-time teaching jobs and am still studying. So life is full on, and although enjoyable is always hectic, and rather stressful at times. Stress levels have risen sharply this year for a number of reasons, and Tai Chi has helped me to cope with them.

Not only has Tai Chi helped me to cope with tension and pressure, but it has also lifted my energy levels. I have gone to gyms fairly regularly over the last twenty years but in the last eighteen months or so I noticed a sharp drop in my energy levels mid-afternoon which lasted about an hour. That stopped shortly after starting Tai Chi.

My one regret about Tai Chi is that I didn’t start it ten years ago when I initially intended to."
Marilyn Tucker

(Marilyn trained with Christine Gemmell at the Jade Centre in Porirua.)


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