T´ai Chi, Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Massage – Energy Balance Approaches in Chinese Medicine

The idea of energy balance has its basis in medical systems that have been utilized in the Far East for thousands of years. All of these systems assume that there is a subtle nonphysical energy that permeates and circulates throughout the body.

Traditional Chinese medicine calls this “chi”.  The terms that best describe this energy in English would be “life force” or “vital energy”. The difference in energy that you feel when you have the flu versus when you are healthy is an example of fluctuations in this type of energy.

In Chinese medicine, subtle energy is understood to be distributed throughout the body along channels called “meridians”. One of the most important functions of all of the energy-balance approaches is to harmonize and optimize the “flow” of subtle energy by releasing blocks to that flow. Blocked energy leads to tension, anxiety, stress, and ultimately illness. In fact, Chinese medicine traces all disease back to various types and degrees of blockage in the flow of vital energy.

Regular practice of energy balance disciplines such as yoga or t´ai chi helps to release blocks to the natural flow of vitality. So does receiving treatments from healing arts that free up obstructions to subtle energy. This is particularly true for acupuncture, but also applies to various forms of massage and chiropractic treatment.

The invisible “energy body”, sometimes called “subtle body”, that is the focus of Eastern medicine is intimately related to the physical body. It´s thought to provide an energetic matrix or “template” for the physical body.

On a strictly physical level, energy balance practices help to relieve muscle tension, promote increased oxygenation of tissues and the brain, improve arterial circulation, promote elimination by the kidneys and colon, and stimulate increased production of hormones and neurotransmitters.

However, the fundamental purpose of the energy balance approaches is to promote mind-body integration a harmonious interdependence and balance among the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical aspects of your total being.

“Wholeness” is equated with wellness. To the extent you function in an integrated, whole manner, you can experience the fullness of your being and genuine health. To the extent that you are out of touch with the wholeness of your being, you remain out of harmony with yourself and are subject to stress and disorder, including anxiety.


T’ai chi is an ancient form of movement and exercise intended to unite body and mind. It is said to have originated when a thirteenth-century Taoist monk in China watched a serpent and a crane in battle. As the crane attacked the snake, the snake would smoothly move its position, never allowing the crane to touch it. From this scene the monk developed thirteen moves which have been augmented down through the centuries. Presently, t´ai chi is practiced by millions of people in China and is popular throughout the rest of the world.

T´ai chi can best be described as a form of moving meditation. It consists of a series of movements that proceed slowly and gracefully, flowing one into another. These movements strengthen and ground the body while promoting the flow of “chi” or life force. Students say that it teaches qualities of fluidity and grace; qualities that can extend to the way you live your entire life.

Because the movements are done slowly, it also teaches you how to slow down, both in your body and your mind. Like meditation, it helps you to achieve serenity, clarity, and concentration. Unlike meditation, however, it instills an ability to carry mental poise and concentration into movement.

Like yoga, t´ai chi helps you to work through blocks to the flow of your life energy, along with promoting physical benefits such as opening the joints, especially the knees, strengthening the spine and lower back, and massaging the internal organs. Because it´s practiced with your entire body and with full presence of mind, t´ai chi is a very practical and effective way to foster mind-body integration.

You can find t´ai chi classes offered at some health clubs as well as some martial arts schools, though t´ai chi is generally not used as a form of self-defense. If classes are not available in your area, there are several excellent videos that teach the basic movements. Because it promotes the flow of “chi,” the exercise is sometimes prescribed as an adjunct to acupuncture treatments.


Acupuncture originated as a healing modality in China about three thousand years ago. Currently it´s practiced in most advanced countries throughout the world. As with t´ai chi, it´s based on the assumption that health is determined by the free and proper flow of chi, the vital or subtle energy that pervades all living things. Chi flows along channels in the body called meridians, each of which is linked to a specific organ.

When the flow of energy is neither restricted nor excessive, the individual enjoys good health. If the energy flow is unbalanced in either direction, both physical and mental symptoms of distress or disease may result. For example, fear is understood to be due to blocked or excessive energy flow along the kidney meridian. Acupuncture treatments that aim to balance the kidney meridian, and other supporting meridians can help to relieve fear fullness.

In an acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist inserts thin needles at specific points in the body. Most people feel only a slight prick or no pain at all from the procedure. Typically the needles are left in place for twenty to thirty minutes, after which it´s common to feel very relaxed and rejuvenated. Repeated treatments, twice a week for a few weeks, are often needed to correct an ailment such as migraine headaches, allergies or back pain.

If you wish to utilize acupuncture to help anxiety, regular treatments on a weekly or biweekly basis for several months are advised. Often the acupuncturist will provide herbs in the form of teas or capsules to use at home to enhance the effects of the treatments.

For people who are uncomfortable with the use of needles acupressure may be a viable alternative. Acupressure, and its cousin Shiatsu, rely on the same principles as acupuncture. However, energy flow and balance along the meridians is promoted by manual pressure rather than needles. Acupressure is a simple and inexpensive form of energy balance practiced by many massage therapists. In fact, you can utilize acupressure on your own.


Most people think of chiropractic as a healing art that aims to relieve back pain induced by stress or injury. At a more basic level, though, chiropractic strives to promote health by optimizing the flow of nerve impulses up and down the spine and to other parts of the body. Because of the various stresses to which the spine is subject, individual vertebrae can move out of alignment.

These misaligned vertebrae block the flow of nerve impulses between the brain and body as well as between the spinal cord and various bodily organs. When nerve transmission to a specific organ is reduced or limited the organ is likely to dysfunction and might produce symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to illness. Misalignments of the spine may be caused by injury, but most frequently they are caused by stress.

Muscles tightened under chronic stress tend to pull the vertebrae out of alignment. Even if the muscle tension is relieved through exercise or massage, the spinal vertebrae may not easily resume their normal configuration. Thus a chiropractor seeks to identify and correct vertebral misalignments in order to promote optimal nervous system function and thereby functional integrity of the body as a whole.

Chiropractic can be a helpful strategy for relieving chronic tension, whether or not accompanied by pain. An occasional visit to a chiropractor is likely to improve your overall experience of well-being. In locating a qualified chiropractor in your area, try to get a referral from a friend or relative. If you prefer not to receive direct manipulations to the spine, there are some chiropractors who practice a nonmanipulative form of adjustment sometimes referred to as “gentle chiropractic”.


Therapeutic massage is a healing art designed to promote deep relaxation through skillful manipulation of muscles and soft body tissues. Professional massage therapists usually obtain 500-1,000 hours of formal training in anatomy, physiology, and various forms of bodywork including Swedish massage, deep tissue work, reflexology, acupressure, and Shiatsu.

Receiving a one-hour massage every week, or even twice per month, can promote deep relaxation by relieving chronic muscle tension that you may have been holding in your body for a long time. Massage can enhance and deepen the benefits you obtain from practicing progressive muscle relaxation. PMR tends to release acute superficial tension in the outer muscles of your arms, legs, neck, and torso.

Massage, particularly “deep tissue” massage, can undo chronic long-standing tension held in the deeper muscles of the body. In addition to releasing muscle tension, massage can help cleanse your body of toxic accumulations by promoting lymphatic circulation and mobilizing a sluggish colon.

On a more psychological level, receiving a massage is a wonderful way to nurture yourself if you feel stressed. Massage can also provide a corrective emotional experience for survivors of abuse. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family where you either weren´t touched or were touched inappropriately, massage can help you work through any painful feelings or resistance around being touched, increasing your ease with what is an innate need for all human beings.

There are several types of massage to choose from. Swedish massage, developed by Peter Ling in the 1800s, uses kneading, stroking, and shaking to induce the body to relax. This is the most common type of massage practiced. Deep tissue massage involves greater pressure on deeper muscles than Swedish massage and generally focuses on specific problem areas.

Neuromuscular massage is a form of deep tissue massage that works with specific “trigger points” to release chronically tight muscles. Acupressure, while certainly relaxing, intentionally seeks to promote enhanced energy balance. Through firm pressure applied to specific points for three to ten seconds each, acupressure strives to release blocks to the flow of subtle energy through the acupuncture meridians.