Cincinnati Tai Chi Instructor Ralph Dehner explains "What is Tai Chi?"

Just watching the slow, meditative movements of tai chi and qigong are sometimes enough to help relax an anxious soul. But if you're interested in beginning the practice, you've come to the right place.

While tai chi (Taijiquan or Tai Chi Chuan) is an internal martial art, both tai chi and qigong are internal healing practices that originated in China. They are mind-body practices and are sometimes referred to as "moving meditations." We practice slowly, with awareness of the moment, breathing evenly, steady footwork, strength and groundedness, but light and agile.

Internal martial arts like tai chi begin by using the mind to coordinate the movements and balance of a relaxed body as opposed to the use of strength. This helps circulate, develop and release internal "qi" or vital energy. Self defense techniques develop, but so do a person's strength, balance, and internal health.

Tai Chi often is described as "Meditation in Motion" but Harvard Women's Health Watch says this low-impact exercise could be called "Medicine in motion”.

Compelling evidence shows it prevents and treats — often better than standard therapies — an array of age-related health conditions.  It stabilizes bone density, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and improves Parkinson's patients' well-being.  Even if you do well on typical treatments, adding Tai Chi can improve quality of life, says Peter Wayne, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Cincinnati Tai Chi Class & Workshop Information

Ralph Dehner's School of Tai Chi and Qi Gong offers a wide range of classes and workshops. Whether you're looking for a regular exercise, a daily meditative commitment or expanding your martial arts practice, we welcome you to look over the class and workshop schedule.

Shifu Dehner holds workshops in many states across the country helping beginners and experienced Tai Chi students deepen their practice and understanding.  He also does trainings to certifying qualified individuals to teach different Tai Chi for Health programs. He is one of twenty master trainers in the United States in Dr. Paul Lam's Tai Chi for Health Programs.

Shifu Dehner also holds private lessons for students who wish to have training that is further focused and individualized. Feel free to contact him directly for more information. Just click on the Contact link at the left!


It is a well-known fact that exercise is beneficial for health, but can exercise help you live longer? Some preliminary research suggests that the practice of tai chi may affect our very DNA promoting longer life.

Tai chi like movements have been practiced for over a thousand years. There are many styles of tai chi and, today, it is practiced by millions of people around the world. Although tai chi does have pugilistic applications, most practice tai chi as a way of staying healthy and physically fit.

Medical research has shown that tai chi is beneficial for congestive heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia and chronic pain, depression and anxiety. Some research suggests that the practice of tai chi can enhance the immune system, increase flexibility and improve balance. It is also beneficial for increasing joints movement in people with severe osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The practice of tai chi seems to be a complete health program … and it may also improve longevity.

In Asia, it is not unusual for masters in the martial arts to live long, healthy lives. Is it possible that the practice of tai chi can have similar results for the general population?

We know that different factors in our environment can directly affect how DNA functions. One of the mechanisms by which DNA is able to maintain itself is through a process called methylation. As we get older, the ability to methylate our DNA decreases. That exposes the DNA to damage and ultimately to aging. We know certain lifestyle choices such as chronic sun exposure, asbestos, arsenic, alcohol and especially tobacco can lead to premature aging of the body, partially through changes in DNA methylation. Reduction in methylation rates is also linked to an increased risk of common illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease and even autism.

One recent Australian medical study, published in the medical journal Evidence — Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, looked at DNA methylation activity in people who practiced tai chi. In this study, DNA methylation rates in a group of women who have been practicing tai chi for three years or more were compared to a control group of women who had never practiced tai chi. The ages of the women were between 45 and 80 years old. There were 237 women in the tai chi group and 263 women in the control group. What they found is that the ability to methylate DNA in the group practicing tai chi was significantly better than the control group. Their conclusions suggested that the regular practice of tai chi may result in enhanced longevity compared to control groups.

This study was preliminary and far from conclusively showing that the practice of tai chi helps you live longer. However, given the health benefits, adding tai chi to your weekly exercise routine might be worthwhile.

Ÿ Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Health System. His website is


By Shifu Ralph Dehner

Be on time.  One of my teachers said “If you arrive at class at the appointed time you are late”.  You should be in class ready to go at least five minutes before the start of class.  If you have an ongoing conflict; let your teacher know about it so he can accommodate you.

If you arrive late, salute the class when you enter and do the same if you need to step out early.

What to wear to class; in Tai Chi there are traditions associated with proper dress for a Tai Chi class, formal demonstrations and competition.

For class – wear loose, comfortable pants and shirt.  Qi flows close to the surface of the skin; and tight clothing, even if it is spandex, inhibits qi flow.  Tradition says that the shirt should have sleeves (short sleeves are okay) and should not be tucked in so that the qi flows freely as you move.

Shoes are required in a Tai Chi class.  They should be flat and have backs that keep the heel in place.  Sandals are okay if they have heel straps.  For those who like to be bare footed there are shoes called “five fingers” that are a good option.

Cell phones should be turned off in class.  If it is important to have your phone on in class, put it on vibrate and remove yourself from the classroom to answer.

Formal demonstrations; clos (your teacher will tell you which, either a school shirt and black pants or a formal Tai Chi uniform (your teacher will tell you which) should be worn during demos.

Tai Chi uniforms should be worn for competitions.  Your teacher can advise you on where to obtain one.


PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – your teacher can only lead you in the right direction.  The level of your Tai Chi skill will be directly correlated to the effort you put into your daily practice.  It is not how many moves you know but how well you know them that define the level of your skill.  The secrets of tai Chi are unlocked through repetition.  Strive for quality, not quantity.

There are several Chinese words for pin yin, pronounced jing (also spelled jin), these including; quiet, force, and semen. The tai chi character for 'mental quietness' is the same as the Chinese character for 'quiet'; internal force is often call the internal jing, and semen is considered closely related to qi. In this article, we will discuss jing as an internal force.

In classic tai chi it is said, "The yi drives the qi, and the qi drives the jing." This means that the mind, body and spirit work together, as an integrated force, with the yi being your intention or mind-power, the qi your life energy, and jing your internal force. The practice of tai chi is a means of getting to this stage of integrated force. In the West, we often consider the end-result to matter most. Wholesome jing is the ideal end result of using the internal principles and external forms.

I perceive wholesome jing as a direct and pure internal force, and, just like wholesome food is good for you, wholesome jing is the true essence of tai chi that is good for all tai chi practitioners. In a sense, it can be seen as the “real tai chi”.

Wholesome jing has several essential ingredients:
The mind is focused. Your mind must be quiet in order to foster the qi. A stressed and jittery mind is no where near as effective as a mind focused on the tai chi moments.

– As well as being mindful – be aware of what we are doing, the environment and the self.

The state of Jing mind is also an clear alertness that is like in the still quietness of a deep rain forest, any sound no matter how small, will be crystal clear. In this state the qi flows unimpeded, thus deliver the maximum Jing. This is enhanced by the controlled smooth, slow movements. Focus at executing the movements as exact as possible enforce this clarity.
The eye is the window of the mind. Your vision indicates your intention (yi). Thus, there is a strong correlation between your inner self and the direction and quality of your gaze. During tai chi practice, looking eye level – at the point where you intend to deliver energy – is helpful in creating wholesome jing. The quality of gaze relates to whether it is intense, tranquil or detached…

The vision is focused at the dominant force; hence your vision will enhance right energy circulation.

The dan tian directs. Jing comes from the feet through the dan tian and is then expressed by the hands or feet. The dan tian is the commander. Coordinate your whole body with the dan tian and song (loosen) all joints and muscles to allow the qi – which is stored in the dan tian – to flow through, the more song the better qi flows.

Key is to eliminate other movements such as head, neck and shoulders. Allow direct communication between the dan tian and the hands to execute wholesome qi and hence jing.

Spirals are everywhere. Look carefully, no matter what style or which movement, within each there can be a spiral force. A powerful wholesome jing is most effectively expressed in spiral. Spiral force is known as the silk reeling force and  is the core power of Chen-style tai chi. In Chinese, it is named chan suu jin. During tai chi practice, imagine the spiral of a screw thread path. The spiral can be any length of that path's curve, generated by movement of the dan tian. The spiral can be tight and sharp, almost like a circle, or a gentle curve that can be barely visible in the form of a gentle spiral. When you have spirals in your mind, you will create spirals.

As your ability to make spirals progresses, connect the movements into a continuous path; as a horizontal figure 8 in three dimensions.  This can be practiced during the Wave Hands in Clouds movement.

In summary, incorporating tai chi principles fosters the qi (life energy) to be strong and wholesome. The dan tian (commander) coordinates the qi so it is efficient. Chen (sinking) gives a firm supporting base for power, and Huo (agility) enables moving the power which, ultimately, is most resilient and powerful in a spiral. These are the components of wholesome jing, a direct and pure internal force.

ACSM Recommends Tai Chi in their 2011 Guidance for Prescribing Exercise

The American College of Sports Medicine, in their 2011 Position Stand, Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults:

Guidance for Prescribing Exercise, recommends people perform 20-30 minutes of neuromotor (functional fitness) training 2 – 3 times a week. 

ACSM states that tai chi is the most widely studied functional fitness program and that it has been shown to be effective in improving balance, agility, motor control, proprioception, and quality of life.

Although limited by the number of tai chi studies on younger populations, evidence suggests that exercises, such as tai chi, which involve balance and agility, may reduce anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and reduce recurrent ankle injuries in men and women athletes.  Tai chi really does have something to offer just about anyone.

The position statement also states that a program of regular exercise that includes cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercise training beyond activities of daily living to improve and maintain physical fitness and health is essential for most adults. 

Multifaceted physical activities such as tai chi involves varying combinations of neuromotor exercise, resistance exercise, and flexibility exercise. Neuromotor exercise training is beneficial as part of a comprehensive exercise program for older persons, especially to improve balance, agility, muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.


Here is a link to a summary:

Here is a link where you can read or download the entire 2011 ACSM Position Statement:


Several studies among breast cancer survivors suggest that exercise may help in multiple ways, including improving women's quality of life and reducing risk of recurrence. It's not just conventional exercises that may help, suggests a small new study published in Clinical Breast Cancer.

The study focused on the physiologic effects of the martial art Tai Chi Chuan on breast cancer survivors.  In the study, 19 breast cancer survivors were randomly assigned to either a Tai Chi group or a group that focused on coping strategies. None of the women were moderately active more than once a week. After meeting three times weekly for 12 weeks, researchers analyzed blood samples taken at the beginning and end of the study.

Compared to the women who participated in Tai Chi, the women in the comparison group had higher levels of several biomarkers linked with increased risk of breast cancer. For example, while insulin levels remained stable in the Tai Chi group, it increased in the comparison group. The results are only preliminary, conclude the authors, but they are encouraging.

Source: Michelle C. Janelsins et al. "Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Insulin and Cytokine Levels in a Randomized Controlled Pilot Study on Breast Cancer Survivors." Clin Breast Cancer. 2011 Jun;11(3):161-70. Epub 2011.

Ralph doing tai chi just before his daughter's weddingFORMAL TAI CHI
By Ralph Dehner

One day many years ago I was struck by the title of videotape I saw on the shelf of my local library – "Tai Chi Anywhere" by Dr. Paul Lam. Long before I became involved with Dr. Lam's program I took that title to heart. I would often encourage my students to practice their Tai Chi in unusual places, like the mall or while waiting in line at the grocery store or the bank (people will usually let you go ahead of them in line, thinking you might be dangerous or daft).

While doing a walkabout with Dr. Lam in Indianapolis last summer, I found that he too took that title very seriously. We took pictures of ourselves doing Tai Chi forms in the most unusual places, in fountains, on boulders, bridges, in front of museums and unusual rock formations. He even does Tai Chi in his seat while flying on airplanes. I am not so bold. I usually act more discretely on planes, opting to do single form practice in the laboratory.



However, I really never expected do take it to the next level, from unabashed public practice to the therapeutic emergency intervention that occurred this autumn. My daughter, Jill, is the only of my three children to take advantage of the fact that her dad is a Tai Chi fanatic and learn the art. She is quite special. So special that she agreed to come and do caricature art at a TCA workshop I hosted (see Dr. Lam's Caricature in this article). She is so special that she even agreed to learn to do the Yang 88 Form San-Shou (two person form) so we could do it as a father-daughter dance at her upcoming wedding. Now, how special is that!

As circumstances would have it, wedding plans soon monopolized much of her free time and I never finished teaching her the San-Shou. I was disappointed but hopeful that we could at least do push-hands together during the reception.

Jill's caricature of Dr LamHer wedding day arrived and it was a bright, sunny day and warm day. We were all at the local Arboretum for bridal party pictures before the ceremony when I started getting nervous thinking about that long church isle I would soon walk my little girl down, to give away, FOREVER! So instead of going into a panic, I said to myself, "what would Dr. Lam do"? The answer came immediately – the 42 Forms! No easy task in a tuxedo.


We made it to the church in plenty of time and I joined my lovely Jill in the back of church to wait our turn to walk down the isle arm in arm. The second longest church isle in the city, almost 75 meters long! Suddenly I noticed some unusual pressure on my right arm. It was my daughter squeezing with great gusto. I turned to see that she was pale and defiantly NOT BREATHING! Jill has had a history of anxiety-induced asthma since childhood.

I said to myself, what would Dr. Lam do. The answer came in a flash – Tai Chi breathing! I began coaching her through that deep abdominal breathing and soon she relaxed her grip, she was breathing, she had color in her cheeks but she was not moving. So I asked the question that all good dads are obligated to ask before strolling down the isle – "are you sure you want to go through with this"? She nodded yes and reminded me that she gets really nervous in front of crowds. So it was time to take it to the next level – Tai Chi step drill down the isle – well not exactly. We did, nonetheless, breathe slowly, in unison, to my whispered "inhale, exhale" most of the way down the isle…TAI CHI TO THE RESCUE!!!


No, I did not get to do San-Shou with my daughter at the reception (I did some push-hands with my wife on the dance floor) but Tai Chi once again lived up to its "Tai Chi Anywhere" reputation.