Tai Chi Stress Relief – Rediscovering Mindfullness in a Hectic World

(c) Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit

Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word in recent times with lessons and classes popping up everywhere. It seems that our fast paced world has created something of a monster, with stress related ‘dis-ease’ almost endemic amongst our population. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that an answer to the daily stress we feel may have been with us all the time. The ancient art of Tai Chi provides a simple and readily accessible activity that allows people to decrease stress and anxiety by slowing the pace at which theeir mind and body functions. This article explores the benefits of using Tai Chi stress relief solutions as an alternative to some of the less healthy activities we often indulge in!

So Busy Making a Living That We Forget To Make a Life.

We live such hectic lives, rushing through the day from work, to collecting the kids and then hurriedly racing home to make dinner for the family. How often do we actually stop and just breathe? This fast paced lifestyle certainly takes its toll on our health and general wellness as we constantly seem to be on alert, working out what we have to do next. Can I get this report finished on time? Do I have time for lunch? Ahhh! This traffic jam will make me late for my meeting?

We spend so much of our day in this hyper-alert state that our stress response is running almost flat out. As we hit a chronic state of fight, flight or freeze, joy itself seems to evaporate from our lives and happiness becomes a distant memory; something we left behind in our childhood but definitely not something that is a permanent part of our adult life.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms on a regular basis the likelihood is that you are suffering from chronic stress:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Accelerated breathing pattern
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nervous energy expressed by pacing, nail biting and fidgeting

The Solution? Pause and Take a Breath

One of Tai Chi’s foundational components, deep breathing, immediately slows the body and the mind by disengaging the fight, flight or freeze response and activating the relaxation response. The mindful awareness achieved when performing the slow movements of Tai Chi allows a person to disengage from stressful stimuli and stressful thought patterns and facilitates a calm and relaxed mind.

Connecting with the breath is one of the first activities performed during a Tai Chi practice. Once a practitioner establishes their stance, they allow their breath to deepen and slow and endeavour to maintain this style of breathing throughout the practise. This type of breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, eliciting the relaxation response in the body.

This has the opposite effect to the sympathetic nervous. The sympathetic nervous system activates the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system soothes and calms the body. Practising deep breathing alters the way the body reacts to stress; fight,flight or freeze ceases to be the default response to any stressful stimuli.

And Move….

By Sergio Luiz Villasboas [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Tai Chi practitioners perform each of the poses in the various Tai Chi forms slowly and with great focus. They will narrow their perception to their immediate actions and surroundings. For example, they focus on where their feet meet the ground or the sensations associated with shifting their weight from one foot to another. As they lift their arms, they may note the way their hands look and the way the muscles of their shoulders and upper back feel as their arms rise and fall.

With practise this elevated concentration becomes effortless. Once memorised by the mind as well as the body, muscle memory comes into play, which allows long-term practitioners to find a meditative state. Their attention shifts from the mechanics of the practice to its content; from the how to the what of being in the present moment. The intellect ceases to name an object, idea, or activity and the practitioner experiences an expansive awareness. In this way Tai Chi becomes a moving meditation experience! 

Don’t Be Mislead Though

Just because Tai Chi is practised slowly and as a form of moving meditation doesn’t mean it is a soft or weak option. It still has many of the same physical benefits as traditional Western exercise. These benefits include building strength and flexibility, stress reduction, improved cardiovascular function, improved immune system function, improved sleep and a general sense of well-being. And it accomplishes all this with far lower physiological impact. Unlike many traditional exercise systems, your body will thank you for it as you age!

Tai Chi Stress Relief – The Bottom Line

Tai Chi’s slow and repetitive nature makes it simple to learn. The practice does not require any special equipment and you only needs a few feet of space in which to move. It provides an effective and proven approach to physical fitness, mindfulness, and meditation and does this by combining deep breathing with focused movement. It is suitable for all ages, all fitness levels and in many cases can even be practised by people with limited capacity for movement.

Finally, practising Tai Chi can definitely reduce the way your body reponds to the stresses and strains of life, leading to greatly increased levels of physical and mental well-being.

Thanks for stopping by, I wish you all the best as you research your own path to reducing the stress in your life. Please, keep in touch. Share a comment or questions and I will get back to you. Click here to read The Big Idea – it may help you to understand our healing philosophy.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Tai Chi Stress Relief – Rediscovering Mindfullness in a Hectic World

  1. Hi Steve. I feel like I suffer from most of the symptoms you mention, so it looks like Tai Chi could suit me and help me relieve my stress. I like that I don’t need much space to practice too as I life in a small studio flat.

    Is there a place (e.g a website) or course where I could learn more about Tai Chi and start learning how to master it?

    Thanks!

    • Think so many people are in the same boat! It’s the underlying problem behind so many of our modern maladies. The best way to learn is to find a local teacher or class that you can join. Once you have the basic form down then you can practise on your own. There are also lots of videos on YouTube. We will have some video here in the next couple of months so please bookmark us and come back soon.

  2. Tai Chi seems to be just the thing I need in my life! I am a full time college student and I also have a 20 hour a week job so at times my stress levels are through the roof. This is especially true when finals come around. Looking at the above comments, I will definitely come back once you have your own videos.

    Thank you so much for the awesome information and article!!

    • Thanks for your comment Katie. I’ve actually run programs for college students approaching their exams. Definitely important to balance things out! We will work on our videos even quicker now!

  3. Hey Steve,

    This is a little unrelated to your article, but I can honestly say that meditating has worked wonders in my life. Constantly, I have done it weekly, and then when I got stressed, I was able to calm my mind.

    But, Tai Chi and the deep breathing is a form of meditation, correct? However, I do have another question for you. Do you find listening to music helps with Tai Chi? I have always been really big on music in my life. Certain music can really change your mood.

    • Hi Garen – many thanks for your post. For me, practising Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation so I guess it serves a very similar purpose to me as meditation does for you. It certainly calms the mind. Yes, sometimes we do use music in our training – but calming music, not heavy metal! You’re right about music setting your mood.

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