Testing a Chinese mind-body exercise as a therapy for Gulf War Veterans

Meditation in motion


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Above: Tai chi instructor Brian Muccio demonstrates a movement with the help of a few VA employees who are also Veterans. The participants shown are not part of the ongoing Gulf War illness study. (Photo by Mackenzie Adams)

This article originally appeared in VA Research Currents.

VA researchers are studying whether an ancient Chinese mind-body therapy can help relieve the chronic pain, fatigue, and other symptoms experienced by thousands of Gulf War Veterans.

The VA Boston Healthcare System is hosting a randomized trial to test the effectiveness of tai chi in the context of Gulf War illness (GWI).

Practiced for centuries, tai chi was first developed as a form of self-defense. It has since evolved into a graceful form of exercise that is known to improve balance and coordination skills, with a series of slow and deliberate balletic body movements. The movements combine flowing postures with breathing, meditation, and stretching. Sometimes, peaceful instrumental music is played in the background as one performs the exercise.

Tai chi is often referred to as “meditation in motion.”

Dr. Barbara Niles, a research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston, is leading the trial. She’s also an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University. Her research focuses on promoting health-enhancing behaviors, such as exercise and mindfulness meditation, in traumatized people.

One of her long-time colleagues at VA Boston, Dr. Deanna Mori, is the co-principal investigator on the study.

Use of tai chi as a therapy at VA facilities has been on the rise, part of VA’s larger whole health approach. That concept is based on helping Veterans take charge of their health and well-being, in part, by encouraging them to participate in tai chi, yoga, and other mind-body therapies. However, evidence to support Veteran use of those programs is lacking, Niles says.

“There are no published randomized trials of tai chi for Gulf War illness, which is why we are doing our study,” she says. “But there are also no randomized trials of tai chi for PTSD, a much more common Veteran ailment. We’re interested in research in this area to provide a better evidence base that can inform VA providers and policymakers on decisions about the treatments that should be given to Veterans.”

To read the full article, click here to visit VA Research Currents.

Author

Michael Richman

Mike Richman is a writer and editor in VA’s Office of Research and Development. He joined VA in 2016. He previously worked at the Voice of America, one of the U.S.-funded broadcast agencies.

Comments

  1. Ramon Melendez    

    Hi

    I am Persian gulf veteran and now I Can,t made any excessive for my pains , but I am living in Puerto Rico , How I can get this program to try if I can feel better really I need it.

    Thank you for all your support

  2. Larry Higgins    

    Why don’t you show more than 4 comments?

  3. Kevin Canan    

    I took a tai chi class two years ago at the VAMC Chillicothe, OH. It was a great course of study both informative and therapeutic and a lot of fun. My only complaint is that originally it was to be a twelve week course and after two weeks it was cut to an eight week course. This caused the instructor to have to speed up the course of study and by the eighth week we had the tai chi form down but it would have been better to have had at least another two weeks of practice under the instructor’s supervision to feel completely confident in practicing alone.

  4. Scott Campbell    

    I did it for 3-5 hrs a week…for 5 months. For me it was just like any other form of low impact exercise. I think that is where it’s advantages come into play…it’s a low impact that you do standing up…using your own body as the “resistance bands”. Wouldn’t mind being in the study if it helps other vets…lol just not traveling 150 miles to va at little rock to do it.

  5. Charles Davis    

    My name is Charles Davis. I am interested in the Tai Chi research program. I am veteran of the Gulf War and have been diagnosed with PTSD and Parkinson’s disease. I am interested in participating in the research program if it is offered in the San Antonio, TX. If so, who would be my point of contact? It is my understanding that Tai Chi is an effective method of relieving stress, increasing range of motion, and, balance. You can contact me at (redcated)

    Charles Davis
    USAF MSgt (Retired)

  6. Sandra Lee Smith    

    WHY is this, and other similar religious practices, allowed in the VA that BLOCKS even Christian prayer? THIS IS WRONG! ALL these “martial arts” and so-called “exercise” practices were developed as worship forms in the ancient past, and are stil worship to those ancient deities. Either ban all or allow our prayers and practices BACK in! Hiding religious discrimination behind such labels is STILL discrimination. A Christian veteran can’t even receive a military funeral wherein the name of Jesus is invoked but vets are being taught to worship alien deities in the name of “exercise” and “meditation”!

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