Practising Bodily Attention, Cultivating Bodily Awareness – a Phenomenological Exploration of Tai Chi Practices

by Sara Kim Hjortborg and Susanne Ravn

Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
(September 2019) 


Tai Chi (Taijiquan, T’ai Chi Ch’uan) is a martial arts form which aims at developing conscious awareness through the physical medium in specialised movement practices. In this article, we investigate how bodily attention is practised and might possibly affect the way the body is present to the bodily awareness of Tai Chi practitioners. The article draws on phenomenological clarifications of attention and awareness in an analysis of ethnographic fieldwork carried out during 10 months in two different Tai Chi practices, a) a modern sporting practice also known as Wushu Tai Chi, which is practised in China, and b) a traditional non-sporting practice in the Yang-style, Huang Sheng Shyan system, as it is practised in Denmark. The two types of Tai Chi practices differed in their execution of movements and practice aims. Nevertheless, both types are based on practices of bodily attention through the continuous and deliberate processes of engaging the moving body. Hence, despite the different ways of orchestrating bodily attention, bodily awareness was cultivated and opened up for a transition from a mediated body to an interconnected and unmediated awareness of the body as a whole. The present study has particularly expanded on perspectives of how athletes can assist and actively use bodily attention during skilled movement practices to improve and expand their movement expertise in their cultivation of bodily awareness.

Keywords: Bodily attention, bodily awareness, tai chi practice, taijiquan, phenomenology, ethnographic fieldwork, mind-body practices

Authors’ information:

Sara Kim Hjortborg has a Master’s degree in Sports and Health from the department of Sports Science & Clinical Biomechanics, the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark and is currently doing a PhD at the department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University. Her research focuses on martial arts in relation to interdisciplinary research in phenomenology and qualitative research as well as philosophy and cognitive science.
Susanne Ravn is Associate professor and Head of the Research Unit Movement, Culture and Society at the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark. Her doctoral work (2008) focuses on the phenomenological approaches to skilled movement in dance practice. She has published widely on the phenomenology of dance and on the integration of qualitative research methodologies into phenomenological analysis of different kinds of movement practices. Ravn has been the leading investigator on several funded research projects on topics such as improvisation; phenomenology and skilled performance in sport, respectively.


Jin Yong and the Kungfu Industrial Complex

by Paul B. Foster

Chinese Literature Today, 8:2, 68-76,


This article is a general introduction to the cultural impact of Jin Yong’s works beyond original serialization as they contribute to the construction of the “kungfu industrial complex”—a complicated, multi-dimensional cultural/business matrix related to the production and consumption of Jin Yong’s (and other martial arts writers’) works and legacy. Three selected overlapping areas of impact of Jin Yong’s novels introduced in this article include: kungfu cultural literacy; rhetorical kungfu; and kungfu star power. Kungfu cultural literacy presents a broad look at the cultural content of Jin Yong’s works. Examples highlight Jin Yong’s contributions in each of these areas. Rhetorical kungfu is demonstrated through analysis of Jin Yong’s humorously subversive language in The Deer and the Cauldron and The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. Analysis of kungfu star power sketches the role of Shaw Brothers Studios and their TVB actors training program with particular attention to the careers of “The Five Tigers of TVB.”

Author information:
Dr. Paul B. Foster received his Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the Ohio State University (1996). His specialty is the study of Lu Xun 鲁迅, the icon of Modern Chinese Literature. Dr. Foster is the author of Ah Q Archaeology: Lu Xun, Ah Q, Ah Q Progeny and the National Character Discourse in Twentieth Century China (Lexington Press, 2006), as well as a number of journal articles and conference papers. Dr. Foster’s current research is on the “kungfu industrial complex,” analyzing kungfu fiction, film and popular culture, with a special focus on the martial art fiction master, Jin Yong 金庸.

Promoting study abroad is a particular priority for Dr. Foster, who views this experience as a crucial part of students’ overall education. Dr. Foster designed, developed and co-directed the University System of Georgia Summer Study in China, and designed, developed, and alternately co-directs or coordinates GT School of Modern Languages’ intensive summer Chinese language program in Shanghai and Qingdao, the China LBAT.

Dr. Foster teaches the spectrum of Chinese language courses and enjoys introducing students to contemporary Chinese culture at the upper level through varied media, having created courses to teach language and culture through Pop Music & Culture, Kungfu/Martial Arts Fiction, Strategy & the Art of War, Kungfu & Wuxia Film, and Lu Xun & Modern Chinese Literature. 


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Meditative Movement for Depression and Anxiety

by Peter Payne(1) and Mardi A. Crane-Godreau(1,2,*)

Frontiers in Psychiatry
(July 2013) 


This review focuses on Meditative Movement (MM) and its effects on anxiety, depression, and other affective states. MM is a term identifying forms of exercise that use movement in conjunction with meditative attention to body sensations, including proprioception, interoception, and kinesthesis. MM includes the traditional Chinese methods of Qigong (Chi Kung) and Taijiquan (Tai Chi), some forms of Yoga, and other Asian practices, as well as Western Somatic practices; however this review focuses primarily on Qigong and Taijiquan. We clarify the differences between MM and conventional exercise, present descriptions of several of the key methodologies of MM, and suggest how research into these practices may be approached in a systematic way. We also present evidence for possible mechanisms of the effects of MM on affective states, including the roles of posture, rhythm, coherent breathing, and the involvement of specific cortical and subcortical structures. We survey research outcomes summarized in reviews published since 2007. Results suggest that MM may be at least as effective as conventional exercise or other interventions in ameliorating anxiety and depression; however, study quality is generally poor and there are many confounding factors. This makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions at this time. We suggest, however, that more research is warranted, and we offer specific suggestions for ensuring high-quality and productive future studies.

Keywords: Qigong, Chi Kung, Taijiquan, Tai Chi, exercise, basal ganglia, default mode network, interoception

Author information:

(1) Microbiology and Immunology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, NH, USA
(2) Research and Development Service, Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, White River Junction, VT, USA
Edited by: Felipe Schuch, Hospital de Clinicas de Porto Alegre, Brazil
Reviewed by: William R. Marchand, University of Utah, USA; Petros C. Dinas, FAME Laboratory, Greece
*Correspondence: Mardi A. Crane-Godreau, Microbiology and Immunology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, 1 Medical Center Drive, HB 7936, Lebanon, 03756 NH, USA e-mail: ude.htuomtrad@enarc.idram

Full Article:

A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi

by Roger Jahnke, OMD, Linda Larkey, PhD, Carol RogersJennifer Etnier, PhD, and Fang Lin

American Journal of Health Promotion
(July – August 2010) 



Research examining psychological and physiological benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi is growing rapidly. The many practices described as Qigong or Tai Chi have similar theoretical roots, proposed mechanisms of action and expected benefits. Research trials and reviews, however, treat them as separate targets of examination. This review examines the evidence for achieving outcomes from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of both.

Data Sources

The key words tai chi, taiji, and qigong were entered into electronic search engines for the Cumulative Index for Allied Health and Nursing (CINAHL), Psychological Literature (PsychInfo), PubMed, Cochrane database, and Google Scholar.

Study Inclusion Criteria

RCTs reporting on the results of Qigong or Tai Chi interventions and published in peer reviewed journals published from 1993–2007

Data Extraction

Country, type and duration of activity, number/type of subjects, control conditions, and reported outcomes were recorded for each study.


Outcomes related to Qigong and Tai Chi practice were identified and evaluated.


Seventy-seven articles met the inclusion criteria. The 9 outcome category groupings that emerged were: bone density (n=4), cardiopulmonary effects (n=19), physical function (n=16), falls and related risk factors (n=23), Quality of Life (n=17), self-efficacy (n=8), patient reported outcomes (n=13), psychological symptoms (n=27), and immune function (n=6).


Research has demonstrated consistent, significant results for a number of health benefits in RCTs, evidencing progress toward recognizing the similarity and equivalence of Qigong and Tai Chi.

Keywords: tai chi, taiji, meditation, qigong, mind body practice, meditative movement, moderate exercise, breathing

A substantial body of published research has examined the health benefits of Tai Chi (also called Taiji) a traditional Chinese wellness practice. In addition, a strong body of research is also emerging for Qigong, an even more ancient traditional Chinese wellness practice that has similar characteristics to Tai Chi. Qigong and Tai Chi have been proposed, along with Yoga and Pranayama from India, to constitute a unique category or type of exercise referred to currently as meditative movement. These two forms of meditative movement, Qigong and Tai Chi, are close relatives having shared theoretical roots, common operational components, and similar links to the wellness and health promoting aspects of traditional Chinese medicine. They are nearly identical in practical application in the health enhancement context and share much overlap in what traditional Chinese medicine describes as the “three regulations”: body focus (posture and movement), breath focus, and mind focus (meditative components).

Due to the similarity of Qigong and Tai Chi, this review of the state of the science for these forms of meditative movement will investigate the benefits of both forms together. In presenting evidence for a variety of health benefits, many of which are attributable to both practices, we will point to the magnitude of the combined literature and suggest under what circumstances Qigong and Tai Chi may be considered as potentially equivalent interventions, with recommendations for standards and further research to clarify this potential.

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