Tai Chi and Qi Gong to prevent tissue loss under conditions of weightlessness in Space
by John Messing
Coordinated muscle movements can help to prevent or reduce health risks from exposure to weightlessness in space. Gravity on earth forces bodily fluids such as blood and lymph to collect in the lower body while standing. The heart and other organs recirculate the bodily fluids again.
In the absence of gravity, the fluids flow differently. The same need to overcome gravity does not exist. With their functions diminished, the heart and other mechanisms tend
to atrophy, sometimes quite rapidly and with possible residual health effects, even after return to earth. See e.g., https://davidson.weizmann.ac.il/en/online/sciencepanorama/dangers-zero-gravity
The challenge therefore is to produce a normal flow of blood and lymphatic
fluid in the absence of gravity. A specially adapted treadmill, stationary bike and free weights have been added to the International Space Station, and astronauts are required to exercise with them several hours a day.
A complementary suggestion is use of Tai Chi to help normalize the flow of bodily fluids in space. A Tai Chi movement includes expansion and contraction of the whole body,
followed by another movement that has its own and expansion and contraction cycle, and so on. This could be analogized to a pump for bodily fluids, avoiding or reducing stagnation of the blood and lymph fluids in outer space.
Tai Chi is a moving martial art, like a meditation in motion. Qi Gong is mostly static, closer perhaps to yoga poses. Parkinson's disease, neurological complications of certain types of chemotherapy, anxiety, and depression seem
to respond particularly well to both. Tai Chi aids considerably with agility, balance, and flexibility. Both help to strengthen the core and improve overall toning. One
study suggests it boosts the immune system.
They work together, related, but differently.
Qi Gong often includes extreme stretching motions, to work the tendons, and isometric-like exercises, where body resistance is applied to a point, and held, to build the muscles.
Tai Chi movements are a little like dancing, but again, not exactly. The joints are rotated
in circular motions to improve strength, health of the fascia of muscles and organs, memory and balance. They are often accompanied by music, but the movements are not set to the rhythms or lyrics, or derivative of any of them.
They come from separate traditions serving different communities. Tai Chi began as a martial art, for self-defense. Qi Gong was a way for Buddhist monks, who were often sedentary, to keep limber despite periods of inactivity.
They share a common mindset on the part of the practitioner, which is perhaps the link between them. I drew a picture and wrote a poem to try to convey what I am talking about because it isn't easy to explain.
My poem is: "-- Feel the moonlight, inhale the floral scent, heed the call of the butterfly dance, and respect the dead tree. Now begin.--"
A first goal of the Tai Chi instructor is to teach a beginning student to begin to "feel their Chi."
It has been described as "an electric-like current that courses healingly through the body like flowing water, calming the spirit and clearing the mind."
At least one Tai Chi master prescribes it for deep massage, except that it is internal, and self-generated, directed, and applied.
One of the first signs of flowing Chi is that the person's hands become unusually warm, radiating energy.
Chi energy during a practice session is commonly transferred from the hands to the lower back,
center of the eyes, scalp, and a point below and on the outside of each knee, called the "120 year acupuncture point," so named because it is believed that stimulation of this point with aroused Chi produces longevity.
Highly trained practitioners can feel where Chi accumulates and distributes itself throughout the body. Controlled movement of Chi is associated with healing and harmony.
Chi energy also is a basis for fa-jin, which is the controlled release of explosive energy.
Sometimes, particularly while lying down at night, the body experiences an involuntary and sudden release of energy, causing a spasm, like a hiccup or a sneeze. Then it relaxes.
Fa-jin is a technique for calling forth, upon command, the energy of the muscle spasm, and combining it with a full body movement, to land a very powerful blow, even from persons who are small or of slight build.
I, with others, believe that Chi circulates in the lymphatic fluid of the body, as it flows through pathways of the Interstituim, which is a layer of tissue
that resides as the outer layer of the organs and is fluid-filled with lymph between itself and an organ, providing a kind of cushion for it.
To produce the conditions for resistance of the body to other muscles or joints, in the absence of gravity, one could simply have the practitioner wedge the body between two bulkheads and push with one part of the body, say the feet, in the direction of another part, say the lower back,
and once snuggly in, use modified Tai Chi movements to force a flow of lymphatic fluid through the Interstitium, so that the fluid recirculates throughout the body and does not stagnate.
This suggestion is an adjunct to other types of physical exercise, and is not itself a permanent solution, which probably will require
artificial gravity in space, created either by centrifugal spinning of space craft and space stations, or by employing other technologies not yet discovered.
This is another simple technique to keep bodily fluids flowing more closely to normal, in the absence of gravity.
A series of modified Tai Chi movements could be developed. Until suitable testing equipment is developed, benefits may have to be measured subjectively
by determining whether the practitioner can feel
the "Chi flowing". Ideally, this would be done first on earth, and later in space, to see if the same or comparable results can be obtained in zero gravity.
Such a method requires little equipment or floor area to implement, which is advantageous in space.
1By the term Tai Chi, I also intend to include Qi (pronounced "Chi") Gong This usage may be technically incorrect, as they are not identical and one is not neatly a subset of the other. I just find it is easier to refer to them by the single name,
Tai Chi, and to be fair, my training with both a Chinese master and a sifu (teacher) supports this usage. They had us do Qi Gong as a warm-up to Tai Chi.
John Messing was twice awarded the gold medal as a Senior Olympian in Tai Chi. He has taught Tai Chi as a way to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson's. Space travel is an interest of his.