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The Way of Tai Chi in Avatar: The Way of Water

by ATCQA Staff, published in December 2022

If you are one of the millions of Americans who flocked to theaters for Avatar: The Way of Water these past a few weeks, you may have caught some familiar Tai Chi or Qigong techniques within the 3 hours and 15 minutes' worth of scenes.

In James Cameron's newly released film, Jake Sully's family seeks refuge amidst the island civilizations of Pandora. Specifically, they land amongst the Metkayina civilization. Of course, with this new habitat comes new skills necessary for survival.

The movie first showcases deep breathing, essential to the Sully family's adaptation to holding their breath underwater. In this scene, the Metkayina leader's daughter, Reya, taught Jake's son Lo'ak how to breathe by putting her hands on his stomach. People like us who practice Tai Chi and Qigong couldn't help noticing the resemblance of the Dan Tian breathing method.

The brief depiction of deliberate breath control in Avatar focuses on the lower Dan Tian of the body, often considered in Tai Chi to be the center of gravity and breathing. The character Reya places one hand over Lo'ak's heart to measure the effect of breathing on heart rate, and the other on his lower abdomen, the muscular region that receives light exercise when the breathing is done correctly. They accomplish this while sitting with an upright posture, but the breathing method can also be practiced while standing.

Later in the movie, during a fierce fighting in water with the enemy, Reya briefly put her hand on Lo'ak's lower abdomen again and reminded him of breathing from there so that he could get his emotion under control.

Reya may not be a scientist, but her belief is backed up by scientific evidence. For example, a study published by Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in September 2010 found a positive effect of the Dan Tian Breathing technique on enhancing human neural activity and connectivity, which may possibly enhance mood state and cognitive functions.

Just as Dan Tian Breathing can enable more controlled movement during practice of Tai Chi forms, the breathing comes to play an important role in prolonged underwater movement in Avatar. Ultimately, breathing is the foundation on which life-saving aquatic maneuvers are later built.

Breathing techniques are just one aspect of the Tai Chi-like movements in this movie. Did you spot any others? Share with us (!




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