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A New Approach to Tai Chi To Optimize Wellbeing

man practicing tai chi
man practicing tai chi

A New Concept

At a new class I teach at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California, class participants learn the most evidence-based behaviors most strongly associated with wellbeing and health. The focus of the course is to learn how to incorporate the new behaviors into daily life to improve wellbeing and physiological functioning.

Students Versus Participants

I refer to the students as participants because this is a course that people take to learn how to participate in life in a more vibrant way. They are not there to learn about something.

This new type of class is making a difference in the lives of many people. The class is based on tai chi chuan. Yet, this is not like a typical tai chi class. Here, tai chi serves as a vehicle through which class participants learn Taoist, mindfulness, positive psychology, and psychophysiological self-regulation practices.

Meaning and Purpose

Living life in harmony with the Taoist principles of tai chi can provide a sense of meaning and purpose to life.

Mindfulness in Motion

taiTai chi practice as I teach it is a practice of playing with being fully alive, aware, and present throughout the day. Participants learn how to transfer the tai chi concepts to physical movements they do throughout the day. The practice can even be seen as a source of play when participants mindfully open a door, move an object, or even just walk across a room. They learn to play at being totally in harmony with their moment-to-moment environment.

This mindfulness in motion practice is similar to traditional sitting mindfulness practice, except that you will be getting exercise as you are practicing mindfulness. This is important, given the new information on the dangers of being sedentary and the importance of moving throughout the day as much as possible. Throughout the day, putting your conscious attention on every step and every physical motion, you will gradually reprogram your entire nervous system. Thoughts of all kinds will come into your conscious awareness. As they do, the practice is to consciously return your attention to your physical movements—whatever they are.

Good practices to ask throughout the day, in all physical movements:

  • Am I standing over and moving from my center of gravity?
  • Am I fully aware of my immediate environment?

Interpersonal Relationships and Tai Chi

Tai chi is based on the philosophy of Taoism. It is about yielding rather than meeting force with force. It is a practice of going with the flow. This does not mean allowing others to take advantage of your good nature. It is about resilience—the ability to bounce back. When others push against someone physically or verbally, it is more a satisfying and productive exchange when that person yields rather than resists. Yielding could simply mean listening and reflecting back what the other person said, as opposed to getting defensive. Once yielding is practiced in this way, the other person will be more open to hearing the opposing side of the argument.

Through tai chi people learn to hold themselves in a more relaxed and open posture—both physically and mentally. This results in others feeling safe around them. Holding oneself in this relaxed stance helps them to feel more open to others. They soon find themselves with a larger and more meaningful circle of friends.


This mindfulness-based approach to tai chi develops the ability to introspect without judging. In becoming aware of self-judging, it becomes possible through tai chi to relax into those harsh, self-critical thoughts. Resistance or suppression of such thoughts only strengthens them. Acceptance of those undesirable thoughts, learned through the tai chi principle of yielding, results in diminution of the thoughts.


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A New Approach to Tai Chi To Optimize Wellbeing

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Berkelhammer is a retired mind-body medicine psychologist. He writes about mindfulness-based practices with a unique emphasis on optimization of wellbeing and health. Dr. Berkelhammer also lectures at San Francisco State University and UC San Francisco, and is currently teaching a class in Marin County through College of Marin. He is the author of the book "In Your Own Hands; New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions".

See his extensive website:

In Your Own Hands: Mindfulness-Based Practices to Optimize Wellbeing - College of Marin Community Education

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APA Reference
Berkelhammer, D. (2015). A New Approach to Tai Chi To Optimize Wellbeing. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Jun 2015
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