For a majority of the human race stress has become a way of life. We are constantly rushing, keeping up with schedules and deadlines, living up to social expectations and demands, and trying to cope with the frustration, anxiety and helplessness that comes along with this lifestyle. As a result, harmful levels of stress are now the norm and a major factor leading to the myriad of physical, emotional and mental diseases prevalent today.
Stress is similar to pain, it isn’t always a bad thing. Stress is a normal physical response to visible or perceived danger, enabling the body to switch into the automatic process known as “fight or flight”. This protective response increases performance under pressure and can even save one’s life in cases of emergency. During this emergency mode internal mechanisms like hormone concentrations and blood pressure and flow to different body parts, are altered from the normal internal balance required to sustain an optimal healthy state. So we can see why constantly operating in this toxic internal environment is like a ticking bomb. That is, unless we can recognize what path we are on and take daily measures to avoid those factors and the impact they have on our quality of life .
For centuries various arts of internal exercise and relaxation have been used to deal with the effects of stress on the body. The practice of Tai Chi and Qi Gong is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways continually bringing the body back to this internal balance, a daily renewal of the body, mind and spirit. Medical studies are continually being done to investigate the psychological and emotional benefit of Tai Chi practice. With its slow, gentle and flowing movements, in coordination with deep breathing, Tai Chi is often described as ‘meditation in motion’.
A series of studies involving 3817 subjects at Tufts Medical Center in Boston on the psychological effects of Tai Chi, found significant reductions in stress, anxiety, depression and enhanced mood. Several studies also showed positive effects on self-esteem (1). Research by the American Psychological Association confirms that practice of Tai Chi raised heart rate, increased noradrenaline excretion in urine, and decreased salivary cortisol concentration (showing reduced physiological stress factors). The test subjects reported less tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion and state-anxiety; they felt more vigorous, and in general they had less total mood disturbance. (2) Investigations have also been done involving the the effect of Tai Chi practice on stress related symptoms and the stress management during chronic illness. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles studied examined the benefits of tai chi for individuals suffering from tension headaches. The researchers note that tai chi has a number of benefits compared to pharmaceutical intervention. Virtually all pharmaceutical-based interventions include some level of risk of side effects and some patients find them only partially effective and/or may unable to tolerate them. Tai chi does more than alleviate pain or provide symptomatic relief; it benefits health related quality of life. This suggests that tai chi may address the underlying cause of the pain associated with tension headaches, namely stress. (3)
Even without scientific study and research, practitioners of Tai Chi and Qi Gong worldwide consider the personal health benefits and enjoyable experience of Tai Chi practice, indisputable as an exercise that empowers their body and mind in its response to stress and generally improves their quality of life. The low impact, low risk and gentle movements of Tai Chi put minimal physical stress on the body, making suitable for all ages. It is an inexpensive exercise that can be done anywhere, at any time, with no equipment and at ones own pace. Take some time away from the hectic ‘race of life’ and slow down while enjoying the wonderful benefits of Tai Chi practice!
(1)Wang C, Bannuru R, Ramel J, Kupelnick B, Scott T, Schmid CH. Tai Chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 May;10:23. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-10-23.
(2) American Psychological Association - Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1989 V. 33 (2) 197-206
(3) Abbott RB, Hui KK, Hays RD, Li MD, Pan T .Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. A randomized controlled trial of tai chi for tension headaches. 2007 Mar;4(1):107-13.