Tai Chi Chih
Alternative Medicine
T’ai Chi Chih for Tension Headaches

By Michael Isaacs


Most of us have too much to do and too little time to do it. A tension headache often is a result. These headaches, also known as “stress headaches,” are the most common type of headaches, affecting an estimated 30-80% of adults at one time or the other.[1]  Although no singular cause of tension headaches exists, chronic stress, anxiety, poor posture, and lack of sleep often triggers them. Improper breathing also causes these annoying aches: When we spend most of our time shallow breathing instead of taking full deep breaths, we recruit the neck and jaw instead of the diaphragm. This in turn creates tension that refers to the head.

But you don’t have to suffer needlessly. Simple movements based on a form of t’ai chi called t’ai chi chih® [2] can help you tame your headache. T’ai chi chih works by unlocking the life force, also called chi or prana.

“No matter what the medical reason for the headache, from an energy standpoint, there is always a blockage of energy and blood flow,” says Richard Brier, an accredited t’ai chi chih teacher for more than 27 years in Corte Madera, California.

An American named Justin Stone originated this non -martial art, which consists of nineteen simple and flowing movements and brings benefits by moving the life force toward bodily weakness for healing. Luckily for headache sufferers, this brings fast relief: “I’ve helped many people free themselves of headaches by regular practice of one or two t’ai chi chih movements,” says Brier.

By accumulating, balancing, and circulating the life force, t’ai chi chih helps reduce stress and deepen the breath. Although you’ll get the most benefits by practicing the entire series, you can start with three simple movements [3] that help the muscles relax, the chi to flow, and the blood to circulate. Practice them regularly for maximum headache relief. As Stone writes, “The prana (chi) knows well enough what to do without an intellectual road map. All the practitioner has to do is enjoy it and reap the benefits of renewed life force.”

BOX: Resources

Videos, DVD’S and Books: Good Karma Publishing (888) 540-7459

National T’ai Chi Chi Directory: www.taichichih.org


Start in a standing position with the legs slightly bent. As you elevate the arms with the palms upward, rise up on the toes. Turn the palms face down as you descend the arms, coming down flat on the feet and then lifting the toes. Avoid rocking back on the heels—this can result in losing your balance. Repeat 9 times, 18 times, or in any multiple of 9.


Start in a standing position, with the left foot slightly in front of the right. Begin to rock forward, with the back heel slightly raised as the weight shifts to the left leg. With the wrists loose and pliable, extend your arms in front of you with the fingers slightly spread and the hands about a foot apart. Imagine you have a bass drum at your chest and that you are circling your hands around the outside. When you come back to the chest position, bring the weight again on the back right foot with the left toes raised. After circling 9 times, step back and drop the hands gently from the chest position and then come to a graceful close with knees bent. Repeat to the other side.


Start in a standing position. Softly raise cupped hands to the top of the head, fingertips facing up. Flare the wrists out as you rise onto the toes. The hands come back to the original position above the head as you come back flat on the feet. Do this sequence 3 times, followed by a slight pause as the hands are still. Now slowly make circles with the wrists for a few seconds, hands facing each other. After another slight pause with the hands, flare the wrists out again 3 times and come down with the arms to the sides by bringing the hands down the center of the belly area, right hand under left. Repeat this sequence, this time with the hands starting at the temples.

Michael Isaacs is an accredited t’ai chi chih teacher in San Francisco, California



(2) T’ai Chi Chih is a federally registered trademark

(3) Movement descriptions adapted from Justin Stone’s explanations in his 1999 edition of   photo text “T’ai Chi Chih, Joy Thru Movement.”

* Published by CLIO’S PSYCHE, March 2010, Volume 16, Number 4
Michael S. Isaacs, MSW, NCPsyA, JD
San Francisco, California

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