Stress Management with Yoga, Meditation, and Tai Chi

Importance of Yoga, Meditation and Tai Chi in Dealing with Stress

Stress Management with Yoga, Meditation, and Tai Chi

Mindfulness is bringing your whole attention to what you are doing right now. By doing this, you have taken your mind out of the past and future and reduced your stress emotions.

After teaching Tai Chi for 25 years, it still surprises me the number of people who train, study, or even teach in this field that aren’t fully aware of some of the benefits from regular practice of a meditative art. Often students and teachers alike say, “It just makes me feel good.” There’s so much more to why the regular practice these disciplines. Stress management with yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi all starts with understanding what stress is and what it does to your body.

What is Stress?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines stress as a “mentally or emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized by increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and depression.”

Stress activates our fight or flight systems, causing hormones to flood our bodies. It can lead to everything from blood pressure issues to digestive troubles. One of the most amazing aspects of yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi is that they all have the power to de-stress us. Normal exercise can be used as a coping mechanism for stress because it raises endorphin levels in their body, but obviously, that only works if you are currently exercising.

Helping Stress

On the other hand, practicing yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi give us a new group of de-stressing habits. This essentially offers us a whole set of coping mechanisms which we can use whether or not we are exercising. The things that these practices all have in common are mindfulness and focus upon the breath. Mindfulness is a huge buzzword when it comes to meditation, but few people stop to explain what it is and how it helps.

The secret lies in the fact that all stress emotions occur when we invest ourselves in the past or the future. We are either worried or fearful of things that haven’t happened yet, or we are sad or angry about things that have already happened. This gives rise to stress. But the truth is that there is no stress in the moment we are in right now. Even if someone is robbing you and you are freaking out about having a gun pointed in your face, you are not truly worried about the gun, but rather, you are imagining what it might do to you in the future. It may be the immediate future, but it’s not happening now. Mindfulness is bringing your whole attention to what you are doing right now. By doing this, you have taken your mind out of the past and future and reduced your stress emotions.

Furthermore, exercises like yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi all call upon the practitioner to regulate their breathing. This further helps to calm us down because breathing and emotions have a direct link. When we are happy, we laugh. That’s a quick inhale and a long exhale (usually while we say “ha, ha, ha!”). When we are sad, we cry. This is the opposite breath pattern from laughter. We take that deep shaky inhale, and then we bawl, quickly exhaling.

Breathing

The thing about emotions and breath that’s truly interesting is that the connection is two-way. Our emotions make us breathe in a certain way, but our breathing can affect our emotions also! This is why singing makes us happy! Singing and laughter are the same breathing pattern. When singing, you take a quick inhale and then hold a note, exhaling longer.

The only breathing pattern that helps us remain calm is deep, calm, and even breathing. You don’t even have to count to keep your breathing even, you just make sure you’re not obviously breathing out longer than you breathe in, or vice versa.

By paying attention mindfully to our breathing, and making our breath calm and even, we can develop skills that eliminate stress emotions out of our life, training our minds and bodies to relax. And because those concepts are central to yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi, those exercises can help de-stress us more than any others!