A 12-week tai chi program significantly reduced symptoms of depression in Chinese-American patients with mild to moderate depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The participants had a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, no history of other psychiatric disorders, no recent practice of tai chi, and no current use of other psychiatric treatments. Seventeen participants were randomly assigned to receive tai chi intervention, 14 were assigned to a control group that included educational sessions that discussed stress, mental health, and depression, and 19 were assigned to a control “waitlist” group that included repeat assessments throughout the study period.

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“While some previous studies have suggested that tai chi may be useful in treating anxiety and depression, most have used it as a supplement to treatment for others’ medical conditions, rather than patients with depression,” stated lead author Albert Yeung, MD, ScD, from the Depression Clinical and Research Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry in Boston. “Finding that tai chi can be effective is particularly significant because it is culturally accepted by this group of patients who tend to avoid conventional psychiatric treatment.” 

The tai chi intervention included 2 weekly sessions for 12 weeks, in which participants learned and practiced basic traditional tai chi movements. The participants were asked to practice at home 3 times a week and document the practice. The education group also included 2 weekly sessions for 12 weeks, and members of the education and waitlist groups were able to join the tai chi classes after the initial study period.

Participants in the tai chi group showed significantly greater improvements in depressive symptoms compared with the participants of either control group. The investigators also observed sustained improvement in the tai chi group after a 24-week follow-up assessment.

“If these findings are confirmed in larger studies at other sites, that would indicate that tai chi could be a primary depression treatment for Chinese and Chinese American patients, who rarely take advantage of mental health services, and may also help address the shortage of mental health practitioners,” stated Dr Yeung. “We also should investigate whether tai chi can have similar results for individuals from other racial and ethnic groups and determine which of the many components of tai chi might be responsible for these beneficial effects.”


  1. Massachusetts General Hospital. Study finds tai chi significantly reduces depression symptoms in Chinese Americans [press release]. Published May 25, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2017.
  2. Yeung AS, Feng R, Kim DJH, et al. A pilot, randomized controlled study of tai chi with passive and active controls in the treatment of depressed Chinese Americans. J Clin Psychiatry. 2017;78(5):e522-e528. doi:10.4088/JCP.16m10772