Tai Chi and Embodiment for Anxiety and Depression

Last week I had the pleasure of recording a conversation with my friend and Tai Chi colleague Dorothy Fitzer.

Drawing on her background in movement, energy arts, and psychotherapy, Dorothy has put together a very interesting group of practitioners from several different modalities to address the question of how embodiment practices can lead to nourishing, healing, and even transformative experiences.

Of course, I was thrilled to make the case that this is at the core of so much of what we do in Tai Chi.

Dorothy and I discussed:

  • Tai Chi’s techniques for synchronizing the movement of the mind and the body – and the grounding effect this has on the mind.
  • How you learn to recognize “doing” as another layer of tension when you practice any form of Taoist Qigong.
  • Different Tai Chi/qigong techniques for getting the mind to quiet down and experience stillness.
  • The Yin and Yang of Depression and Anxiety.
  • How Tai Chi’s interactive practices teach you to resolve interpersonal conflicts without fear and bask in the spontaneity that comes from not going into fear-based reactions.
  • And a few more things…

You can listen in on our conversation on Tuesday, April 8, but Dorothy will be sharing all of the conversations, some live and some pre-recorded, over the next two weeks.

To find out about all the other speakers and get alerts for each event, visit The Embodied Soul Center’s website. The sign-up box is right at the top.


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  1. Thank you for this video. I work full time with people who experience anxiety and depression at a clinical level. I am sadly disappointed by the lack of effort within the Energyarts community to connect with people who seriously need our help. These people are not middle class americans, cannot afford the price of classes, let alone retreats. All of the photos and videos of retreats show wealthy white people smiling for their good fortune yet unconscious of their privilege. I have studied internal arts for over 30 years, 20 of them with BK Frantzis. I have worked with people who have been given diagnosis of serious mental illness, for over ten years AND I have been “advised” that I should not use energyarts methods when working with these self-same people. Your video may be a chink in their armour… When I graduated with a Masters in Clinical and Mental Health Counseling I was advised to be annoying, loud and vociferous in my support of those unable to defend themselves. I am…

  2. Derek, what do you make of the perceived caveats around doing this work? I often thought it had more to do with the experience of the instructor, i.e. folks like you and Dorothy who have proper training can bring the practices into a clinical setting. I would feel irresponsible if I did that, the same way it’s always tricky territory when we tout health benefits….not really a medical context.

  3. Thank you Dan. I am very pleased that you took the time to respond and I totally agree with you. Great care should be taken when working with people who have received a diagnosis of some kind of emotional and/or mental illness or any medical illness come to that. If we consider that over one quarter of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, then the same is true when working with almost anyone. This is dependent on whether we agree with the diagnosis of mental illnesses.

    Please see:

    In mental health communities I have found that I work with African American students most of the time. Interestingly enough, this is not true at Boston University Center for Psych Rehab, where most students are white. Our mental, medical and educational systems appear to be basically racist and I am very disappointed when ever and where ever I witness this personally.

    Thank you again Dan

    Post Script: Thank you for all your work via dankleiman.com of which I am an avid reader. The Dissolving tracks have been a real treat.

  4. That’s a great point about the numbers, Derek.

    Again, in reference to physical conditions, I’ve always tried to be clear that in a group class setting with my limited knowledge/training, there’s only so much I can do for people.

    I would be really curious to hear anything you were comfortable sharing about a direction or guidelines you’ve observed for implementing these practices in a clinical setting.

  5. Derek and Dan,
    I’m so glad you’re engaging in this conversation. I’m a somatic psychotherapist and have been practicing Bruce’s work for nearly 20 years and teaching it for around 15.
    It would be amazing to get this work to people with more severe “clinical” issues – while yet it does require some expertise of the population you’re working with. A big issue is many people with severe psychological disorders are highly traumatized – either from obvious trauma (trauma with a big T), developmental trauma (the smaller day to day occurrences that take their toll on the child’s psyche and nervous system), as well as the high internal stress that gets generated if there’s an “organic” disorder. The beginning stages of Bruce’s work emphasize relaxation – which is fabulous. BUT – relaxing for those with trauma responses embedded in their nervous systems could inadvertently wake up a pandora’s box of incredible proportions.
    I think the trick would be how to get psych-based professionals to be compelled to study this work and begin integrating it into their practice. I’ve been doing that for 15 years and seen it help trauma, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and even borderline personality disorder. Again, this is in the context of one-on-one or small group therapy.
    It would be great if we could find a way to start offering CEU trainings to health professionals. That would be a great foot in the door.
    Derek – I’m currently airing a free telesummit on holistic methods for anxiety and depression

    Check it out as soon as you can while Steve Hoskinson’s (Somatic Experiencing) and Claudia Sinay-Mosias (an incredible overview of the medicalization of psychological “disorders” and her take on anxiety – it’s an absolutely awesome talk) are still airing.

    I prerecorded an interview with Dan on the very topic of chi gung and tai chi for anxiety and depression that will begin airing on Tuesday. You may really enjoy it. It doesn’t address those with more severe levels of disturbance – mostly out of respect because I don’t think it can be talked about lightly.
    I think the trick is, the more we can make it compelling to the health care professionals, the more we can hopefully filter it in to those who can benefit. I know a lot of awesome practitioners working on the “frontline”.

  6. Dorothy,
    Thank you SO MUCH for this specific caveat regarding relaxation work for people w/ bit T & little t trauma:
    “The beginning stages of Bruce’s work emphasize relaxation – which is fabulous. BUT – relaxing for those with trauma responses embedded in their nervous systems could inadvertently wake up a pandora’s box of incredible proportions.”

    I’ve spent my career in education. Currently, it’s becoming quite popular to start classes w/ “relaxation techniques,” particularly for classes that seek to foster deep, critical thinking & transformational learning. Yet, very little – or more accurately, NO – consideration is given to what these techniques might trigger or as you so beautiful put it “inadvertently wake up.” From something as simple as a flashback or a pandora’s box. Unfortunately, both the teacher & the student are left ill-equipped w/ what to do next.

    We need to explore & discuss when & how to use these techniques, and to always remember the lived lives of the people who are coming to our classroom, sessions, etc., and to honor those above everything else! Thank you for making this point so clearly!

  7. Hi Dorothy & Dan,
    Please forgive the hiatus as I have been extremely busy at work. I have every intention of continuing this discussion. I want to give some time and thought to anymore responses that I make as we have already covered a lot of ground. I will respond to ‘being a teacher in a mental health setting’, ‘trauma and internal arts’, ‘mental illness and internal arts’, ‘assumptions about students’, ‘facts about mental illness not myths’ and ‘race and mental illness’. Have I missed anything?
    Dorothy, I have registered at “The Embodied Soul Center” and will be checking out the talks over the weekend. I look forward to the interview with you, Dan and, as I said, I will be adding more to this post.