Grounding Schizophrenia Through T'ai Chi


Before finding taiji (t'ai chi) and qigong (ch'i kung) in 1988, I had been recovering from five years of multiple episodes of psychosis from schizophrenia, including being homeless at one point. It is not easy to recover from losing everything you have in life, including your mind, your person­ality and even losing your "place" in your family (if you understand family dynamics, you'll know what a great loss this was for me)—so it took me a while to find the path forward. For me, that path was through taiji and qigong.

I started learning the practices of taiji and qigong as a method to quit smoking and I immediately fell in love with these arts. Not only did I quit the nasty habit of smoking just five weeks after beginning taiji and qigong, but I also found that the unique movement-based Qi-inspired relaxations from these practices were helping me to heal and recover from mental illness. Qi is your life-force energy or vital energy that, when balanced and aligned, brings harmony to the mind and body.



As I was learning taiji and qigong, I noticed that these ancient ­Chinese mind/body/breath exercises were ­helping to "ground" me, something I sorely needed.

Many things need to come together to help a person recover from mental illness. This includes finding the right medicine without over-medicating. (When the doctor over-medicates, it is like asking vulnerable people to dive head first into shallow water and many patients just give-up when dealing with intolerable side-effects.) Also, access to good mental health support services, family support and time to heal are all very important. But the last key step is grounding.

Having mental illness serves to completely "unground" someone. Grounding was important in growing my emotional and mental balance, which went along with finding my physical balance through the practices of taiji and qigong. I believe that the process of grounding helped me to stay on the path of recovery and to not re-enter instability.

Gaining Confidence

My Shīfù (師傅 or 師父: Honored ­teacher, Master), Shifu Kam Yuen, always gently encouraged me and, eventually, I learned how to speak to groups and to teach. Taiji grew my confidence by giving me a reason to do things that required walking through my very great fear of being in front of a group. One time Shifu told someone in front of me that I was his best ­student—in response I said, "He's just saying that." I meant it, but he angrily said, "I'm not just saying that!" I was surprised, but I took in the praise.

The key to much of my personal growth is that these practices seemed to develop my intuition, giving me ­better direction in life and directing me to better choices. Though this may seem like a side benefit, it is really a part of the core energy Qi work, which is an internal response in the practices of taiji and qigong.

Giving Hope

Not until 2001 did I know that the study and practice of taiji and qigong had given me many of the skills I would need to fulfill another important mission in my life.

In that year, I received a spiritual calling to reach out to families affected by mental illness. I had "been there" and was primed to help families with ill loved ones to gain understanding of what the illness is like from the inside looking out, rather than from the outside looking in, and to give them hope.

I started going to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meetings for the families of ill loved ones to do just that. I walked cautiously through this, not really knowing if it would be appreciated or even knowing what I might say. My heart was warmed when my participation was always well-received and appreciated and I was asked to return.

I have felt guided whenever I've answered this calling and I learned to trust that. I would never have been able to answer my calling, nor likely receive it, if I weren't ready. And a huge part of being ready was directly because of the personal growth I had made through studying, practicing, demonstrating taiji or qigong and being urged by my Shifu to teach a small class or to assist him in large classes. 

Reaching Out

Later, feeling compelled to more directly reach out to persons with mental illness, I eventually taught a self-esteem workshop for over a year at a day treatment facility for people with mental illness—mainly schizophrenia, bipolar, depressive disorder, and OCD. This allowed me to offer support directly to my peers. It was rewarding to work with them while witnessing their success. They touched my heart.

My workshop was based on my mother's book, Secrets of Self-Esteem with a 30-Day Program for Self-Esteem Development, by Shirley J. Mangini, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Mom and her life-based work on self-esteem were a big part of my recovery and my calling. (Mom is now passed, but her book has been credited by many readers as having changed their life, while others have said that it "saved" their life.) During this workshop, I was affectionately called "grace under fire" by my workshop participants.

It was taiji and qigong that gave me the poise I needed to lead such a workshop without any previous experience, not to mention walking coldly into a NAMI meeting to talk about what mental illness was to me without any preparation to do so—simply put, these arts have been a force for change in me.

For anyone who has experienced mental illness, the recovery journey lasts a lifetime. For me, recovery has become continued personal growth—once a growing person, always a ­growing person. Taiji and qigong have given me a positive focus from which to grow. As my taiji and qigong grow, I grow. Without a positive focus in the life of anyone suffering from mental illness, their growth may stagnate or stay shallow. There are many avenues of positive focus in the world, for me, it was and is taiji and qigong.

Previously published by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in January, 2021.

Caroline HatfieldCaroline is an ac­­credited and a Level III (out of IV Levels) certified taiji and qigong instructor. Caroline's article, "Healing Asperger's through Qigong," was published by the Autism Asperger's Sensory Digest—a leading publication on the subject of autism, and has also been posted online by the Tai Chi, Qigong & Feng Shui Institute, a world­wide teaching organization founded by Master Wing Cheung. As ­collaborating/contribu­ting ­author, ­Caroline assisted her mother in ­re-writing her Mom's well-loved book, Secrets of Self-Esteem [by ­Shirley Mangini], mentioned in Caroline's article. It is available on Amazon.

Published in Qi Journal, Summer 2022