Deal With Stress

4 T’ai Chi Tips to Reduce Stress

tai chiIf you’re looking for a way to relax, clear your mind, and improve your energy and positive feelings, T’ai Chi might be your answer. Over the past 20 years, T’ai Chi has slowly gained popularity in Western culture because it’s a gentle, feel-good exercise that is appropriate for all ages. Doctors are recommending it for stress reduction, physical therapists for improvement of balance, coordination, and joint health, and psychotherapists for calming the mind and emotions. In this article, we’ll explore four T’ai Chi tips to reduce stress.

Although its’ origins are shrouded in legend, T’ai Chi developed as a martial art that incorporates traditional Chinese medical concepts for health and well-being. As a “soft” marital art, it applies Taoist principles of non-aggression to diffuse, deflect, or re-direct violent force. As a physical discipline, it relaxes muscles, reduces hypertension, lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, and boosts your immune function. As a meditative practice, it focuses and quiets the mind. As an energetic exercise, it opens, clears, and revitalizes the smooth flow of Life-Energy or “chi” through your body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine smooth energy flow is the key to health and vitality.

At first, most Westerners approach T’ai Chi from the stress-reduction angle. However, once you get hooked, you start to see how your T’ai Chi practice begins to have a positive effect on many areas of your life. Not only do you learn how to consciously relax and improve your health, but you also begin to approach others more effectively in conflict situations, and how you view life in general from a more relaxed, easy-going perspective. T’ai Chi practice is a great way to learn to let go and let be.

There are many different styles of T’ai Chi, each with their different emphasis. For example, you might see classes titled “Yang Style Short Form,” “Simplified 24 Movement Form,” “Chen Style,” “Wu Style,” or “Sun Style.” Each instructor will bring their own interpretation to the forms as well. If you’re looking for a class, it’s a good idea to visit and observe to see if the form itself and the instructors style appeal to you.

No matter what form you might choose, there are some principles that are common to all styles. These are what make T’ai Chi unique and effective for stress reduction. Here are four T’ai Chi tips you can use right away to help reduce stress.

1. Focus your attention down into your feet and relax the soles of your feet.
If you are standing, feel your weight evenly distributed around the entire perimeter of your foot. This reduces stress by bringing your attention down out of your mental chatter and into feeling physical sensations. Relaxing your feet and feeling your weight in your feet has a “grounding effect” on your whole body. This can help calm you and bring you into the present moment.

2. Take slow diaphragmatic breaths through your nose only. Feel as if your breath expands from your lower abdomen upward into your chest as you inhale and that it empties out from top to bottom as you exhale. Slow, deep, nasal breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, your natural relaxation response.

3. Imagine a string attached to the top of your heading drawing your spine gently upright. While stress generally puts you in a hunched forward position with your chin jutting forward, upright posture aligns your spine and releases muscle tension associated with your “stress posture.” Sitting upright also helps you feel empowered and capable of handling what you need to.

4. Soften your hands. Allow your hands to become soft and sensitive, like cotton. Softening your hands helps to relieve tension in your fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, and neck.

Practice these four tips frequently throughout the day to bring you down out of stress mode into calm, centered clarity. If you feel the benefit of these tips, you might want to check out a local T’ai Chi class to go more deeply into your practice.

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