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Overview ~ Program elements ~ Program Development ~ Rationale ~ Applications ~ Comparisons ~ Health Benefits ~ Clinical Description ~ Recommended Reading

T’ai Chi Fundamentals


The Tai Chi Fundamentals Program offers a clear system for mastering the basics of tai chi while retaining the integrity of traditional Yang Style tai chi (Cheng Man Ch'ing lineage). This program is designed to make tai chi clear and accessible for beginners with a wide range of abilities, and for experienced practitioners wishing to refine essential groundwork. The program includes training in alignment, grounding and core movement presented in a sequence that progresses from simple to complex moves. It also provides perspectives on the practical wisdom of this ancient exercise and its applications for daily life. Whether you are learning it for the first time, or reviewing in detail, this program can help you develop and maintain a solid foundation for your tai chi practice.

Growing numbers of tai chi instructors are discovering that this program enhances learning for both introductory and advanced level students. Heath care professionals and fitness instructors are also integrating it into a number of their programs.

First, Tai Chi Fundamentals teaches you how to move correctly when you practice tai chi. The Basic Moves, also called Movement Patterns, provide training in the natural, efficient and safe body movement of tai chi. They also provide practice in coordinating breathing with movement and staying relaxed while in motion. Each movement integrates the skills from the preceding movement and progresses in difficulty.

The program then offers step-by-step instruction in the simplified Fundamentals Form. The movements in the Form progress from simple to more complex and correspond to the Basic Moves.

Program Elements

The program is presented in three sections. The first section introduces simple functional movements and the later sections progress to movements that are more challenging. It includes the following three elements:

  1. The Tai Chi Fundamentals Form is an exercise form that adapts the movements and principles of traditional Yang Style Tai Chi Ch'uan into a practice routine that is accessible to a wide range of abilities. In addition, it targets critical elements from the traditional form which enhance balance, coordination, strength and endurance. Each section can be practiced as a complete and challenging program depending on the abilities of the participant. It takes less than five minutes to perform.

    The Tai Chi Fundamentals Form is taught in three sections. It incorporates the most basic and essential functional movement components in the first section, and progresses to more complex patterns in the later sections. It eliminates some of the more difficult details of the traditional form that relate specifically to martial arts applications. This step-by step method provides an accessible approach for developing skills necessary for performing the entire sequence, and a vehicle for clearly learning the movements.

  2. The Movement Patterns (also called Basic Moves) are a series of twelve exercises designed to reinforce important functional movements repeated in the Fundamentals Form. In addition, these patterns integrate expressive arm movements and elements of Qigong energy cultivation into the exercises. Like the Fundamentals Form, the specific Movement Patterns follow a motor development progression. Each Movement Pattern is practiced repetitively as a vehicle for training Tai Chi skills. They are also enjoyable, expressive, complete and challenging as an exercise program on their own. They take 4 to 12 minutes to perform, depending on the number of repetitions.
  3. The Mind/Body Principles describe elements of Tai Chi practice that enhance physical and emotional well-being. These principles are guidelines for healthy human interaction as well.

Program Development

As medical research validates the benefits of Tai Chi practice, health professionals are seeking training in this Chinese exercise in order to evaluate its applications as a complementary therapy. Growing numbers of older adults as well as those with pain and physical limitations are also exploring Tai Chi as an alternative exercise. In addition, many community-based classes and wellness programs are including Tai Chi in their curricula. Individuals of all ages and physical abilities are finding their way into Tai Chi classes. However, this ancient exercise remains elusive to many who find its slow, complex movements confusing and difficult to master.

Tai Chi Instructor Tricia Yu, MA, developed the Tai Chi Fundamentals Program based on 28 years' experience teaching Yang Style Tai Chi. She identified consistent areas of difficulty that students encountered in learning Tai Chi and targeted critical elements from the traditional form that enhance balance, coordination, strength and endurance. She has taught this program for many years to healthy older adults and to those with conditions ranging from arthritis, fibromyalgia and heart disease to gastrointestinal problems, cancer and orthopedic injuries.

Physical Therapist Jill Johnson MS, PT, GCS, analyzed the Movement Patterns of the Tai Chi Fundamentals Program for their clinical application and functional benefits. She found that the Movement Patterns follow a motor development progression and can be used as tools for patient assessment and intervention. A practitioner of Tai Chi herself, Jill uses elements of this program as a therapeutic intervention for her geriatric clientele.


Accessibility: Tai Chi Fundamentals is designed to bring the many benefits of Tai Chi to individuals with a wide range of abilities. It can be taught by health professionals to their clients, in classes for older adults and to those with limiting conditions. This program also can be a creative tool for Tai Chi instructors who are teaching introductory courses. It may be useful in classes of all experience levels for reinforcing practice of basic postures and movements of Tai Chi.

Standardization: The Tai-Chi Fundamentals Program is designed systematically and can be used as a standard to facilitate research which can contribute to a greater understanding of the benefits and contraindications of this exercise. One impediment to replicating Tai Chi research has been the lack of one specific set of exercises or basic movement components that constitute a standard Tai Chi form. The numerous and varied styles of Tai-Chi involve highly complex movement patterns that take months or years to learn. In the past, controlled studies have involved a version of one of these styles that has been personally abbreviated by an instructor in order to provide the subjects with something they can learn in a few weeks.

To address this issue, the Tai-Chi Fundamentals Form provides a standard movement sequence that follows a systematic motor development progression. It is based in Yang Style Tai Chi, the most widely practiced form worldwide. Designed with discrete, measurable increments in difficulty, it may have broad application for researching outcomes for individuals whose abilities range from limited function to advanced athletic skills.

Assessment and Treatment: The Movement Patterns in this program follow a motor development progression and can be used as tools for both client assessment and intervention. By observing performance of these movements, the teacher or therapist can assess misalignments which might contribute to physical limitations. These precise patterns then can be used in the client's exercise program or as treatment strategies. They also can be prescribed for daily practice to help correct these problem areas.


The Tai Chi Fundamentals program has applications for balance dysfunction, orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation, pain management, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory disorders. aswell as for individuals with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. It can be used in hospitals, sub-acute, outpatient clinics and home care. It can be taught individually or in group settings in community wellness classes, senior centers and long term care facilities.

Comparisons Between Traditional Tai Chi Forms and Tai Chi Fundamentals

Some Characteristics of Traditional Tai Chi Forms

Some Characteristics of Tai Chi Fundamentals

Health Benefits

Tai Chi is a weight-bearing and moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise. Current research suggests that practice of Tai Chi can improve balance, reduce falls and increase leg strength. It also lowers blood pressure, stress hormones, enhances respiratory and immune function, and promotes emotional well-being. It also has been found to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. For a list of over 40 professional research citation, see the T'ai Chi Research Website.

Clinical Description

Tai Chi facilitates postural reintegration, diaphragmatic breathing and promotes physiological indicators of the Relaxation Response. In addition, it facilitates proper body mechanics and increased kinesthetic and proprioceptive awareness. It involves rotation of all major joints, but not to their full range. It is gentle exercise suitable for all ambulatory adults.

Recommended Reading


Tai Chi. Harvard Women's Health Watch. 1996; Nov: 4.

Balance Exercises: Staying Steady on Your Feet. Mayo Clinic Health Letter. 1998; Feb:4-5.

A No-Sweat Exercise with Multiple Benefits. Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter. 1999; Dec:1-7.

Chewning, B.,Yu, T., Johnson, J., "T'ai Chi: An Ancient Exercise for Contemporary Life", American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, March/April 2000.

Chewning, B., Yu, T., Johnson, J., "T'ai Chi: Effects on Health", American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Journal,Health & Fitness Journal, Vol. 4, No. 3, May/June 2000.

Davis, Meryl. Cool Moves. Remedy. 1997; May-June:18-21.

Downs, Linda. T'ai-Chi. Modern Maturity. 1992; June-July:61-64.

LePostolle, Mark. Complimentary Movement Therapies. Advance for Physical Therapists 1998; August 17: 8-10.

Ramsay, Susan Morrill. T'ai-Chi as a Balance Tool, Part One. Advance for Physical Therapists. 1998; August: 5, 35.

Ramsay, Susan Morrill. T'ai-Chi as a Balance Tool, Part Two. Advance for Physical Therapists. 1998; September 7.

Rizzo, Angelo. Before the Fractures. PT Magazine. 1996; May:128.

Sarola, Tony. Taijiquan and Western Physiological Thought, Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness. 1991; Summer: 8-10.

Scott, Abigail. Improving Motion and Emotion. Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. 1998; February:15,16,23.

Shine, Jerry. T'ai-Chi: A Kinder, Gentler Workout. Arthritis Today. 1993; Jan-Feb:31-33. Shoemaker, Abigail. Improving Balance Through T'ai-Chi. Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.1997; July: 8.

Swartzman, Leonard. T'ai-Chi and Parkinson's Disease. Parkinson's Report. 1996; Vol XVII 1st quarter: 22-23.

Thompson, LaDora. Current Literature Reviews: Did you Even Think that T'ai-Chi Could be used as a Therapeutic Intervention? Gerinotes. 1996:V3 no 4: 26.

Woodworth, Barbara. T'ai-Chi-Possibilities for Occupational Therapy. Occupational Therapy Forum. 1990; Vol Vno. 40: 1-4.


Bottomley, Jenifer. T'ai-Chi: Choreography of Body and Mind, in Complimentary Therapies in Rehabilitation: Holistic Approaches for Prevention and Wellness. (C. Davis ed.) Thorofare, New York: Slack Inc.;1997.

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Cheng, Man-Ching and Smith, Robert. T'ai-Chi. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle;1967.

Delza, Sophia, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, in Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines. (N. Allison ed.) New York: Rosen Publishing; 1999.

Jou,Tsung Hwa. The Tao of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. Warwich NY: T'ai-Chi Foundation;1988.

Kline, Bob. Movements of Magic. Newcastle Publishing Co;1984.

Liang, T.T. T'ai-Chi Ch'uan for Health and Self-Defense. Boston: Redwing;1974.

Lo, Benjamin and Inn, Martin. (Translators) Cheng Tzu's Thirteen Treaties on T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books;1985.

Lo, Benjamin et al. (Trans.) The Essence of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books;1985.

Lowenthal, Wolfe. Gateway to the Miraculous. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books;1988.

Lowenthal, Wolfe. There Are No Secrets: Professor Cheng Man Ch'ing and His T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books;1991.

Wile, Douglas. Master Cheng's Thirteen Chapters on T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. Brooklyn: Sweet Chi Press;1982.

Yu, T., Johnson, J.,T'ai Chi Fundamentals for Health Care Professionals and Instructors. Madison, WI: Uncharted Country Publishing, 1999.