Meditation in Motion: Tai Chi and Stress Management
To the uninformed, the mere mention of the term “martial arts” evokes images of rigorous fighting and violence. However, in China and other parts of the world, thousands are recognizing the health benefits of a Chinese form of martial arts called Tai Chi. Many of its practitioners have adopted Tai Chi not only as a martial art but as a technique to manage stress and anxiety. While its roots are to be found in China, the martial arts has gained wide following in the United States where stress and anxiety are now considered very common ailments.
According to the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety, at least 19 million Americans are now affected by stress and anxiety. The anxiety disorder includes other symptoms of distress such as depression, alcoholism, excessive cigarette smoking, and other forms of subtance abuse. In many cases, the disorder becomes so intense that a person with anxiety could no longer function properly or engage in normal everyday activities. A generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) manifests itself as a chronic irritability, tension, or worry over a situation. The anxiety is often unwarranted or exaggerated when a person is anticipating a certain event or situation. Stress and anxiety are treatable and can be addressed using a variety of therapeutic options. The great number of people afflicted with anxiety disorders has also resulted in the increase in demand for therapy centers and psychiatric services. In these centers, a patient with an anxiety or stress disorder is provided counseling, coaching, and even diet advice. If necessary, the patients are also given anxiety medication to help relieve their worries.
One very popular stress management alternative is Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese form of “soft” or internal martial arts that helps promote health and longevity. Often seen being practiced by groups of people in parks, Tai Chi has grown popularity especially among the elderly and people with chronic illnesses. Often called the “moving meditation,” Tai Chi was developed in China as early as the 12th century by a Taoist monk named Zhang Sanfeng. Tai Chi literally means “supreme ultimate boxing” or “boundless fist,” a name that clearly points out to the combat applications of this slow, graceful Oriental art of physical fitness.
Many Tai Chi practitioners attest to the effectiveness of the art in promoting relaxation. The deliberate, slow movements of the upper torso, hands, arms, legs, and feet are soft exercises that promote flexibility. The practitioner breathes slowly with each graceful movement of Tai Chi. The slow repetitive movements of this unique form of martial arts promote the internal blood and oxygen circulation. It is believed that the emphasis of Tai Chi on proper breathing allows its practitioners to heal damaged internal organs and body cells.
Whether it is done alone or as part of a group, the Tai Chi forms or exercises offer anxiety relief. In fact, there are specific movements that require the practitioner to visualize the act of releasing stress and anxiety. As the Tai Chi practitioner moves his arms inward, it is accompanied by slow, deep breathing. The next move of pushing the arms outward is accompanied by the exhalation of air and the visualization of pushing away all negative thoughts and worries.
Other practitioners have also found Tai Chi to be an effective means of breaking the habit of smoking and excessive use of alcohol. Aside from bringing a sense of clarity and serenity, the practice of Tai Chi also helps the practitioner to adopt a more healthier lifestyle. Advanced forms of Tai Chi include the study and use of traditional Chinese medicine which involves the use of acupuncture, herbal medications, and therapeutic massage.
For serious cases of stress and other psychological disorders, regular consultation with a doctor or psychiatrist is highly advised. While Tai Chi is already a proven alternative form of stress management, some individuals may need to take anxiety medication that is prescribed a health professional.
While it is not always necessary to take drugs to treat anxiety, balancing the collective wisdom from Eastern and Western forms of medicine may be an ideal way of approaching the issue of personal health and fitness. Millions of people around the world have taken up Tai Chi not just as a martial art but as a means to release stress and tension. With more efforts to promote the healing and fitness aspects of Tai Chi, it is expected that more people will learn and benefit from the ancient secrets to longevity and stress-free living.