Tai Chi and Stress Management


Tai Chi and Stress Management

After almost 30 years of practicing QiQong (Chi Kung) and Tai Chi, I’ve come to appreciate how much these practices have contributed to my physical, psychological and emotional well-being. Studies have shown that long-term practices of Tai Chi can significantly improve our response to stressful events. Here are my thoughts on why:

We are stressed because we live in our heads. Tai Chi reorganizes the body-mind matrix so that we move from feeling fragmented to becoming integrated and whole. Long-term practice of Tai Chi can enhance our ability to step back from stressful situations and make conscious choices about how to respond, leading to a state of psychological resilience with improved coping strategies. In Tai Chi we begin to strengthen our ability to trust ourselves to be more nimble in stressful situations.
Stress is characterized by speed: our heart, our breath, our thoughts all speed up in response to the fight or flight reaction. The gentle Tai Chi movements change the prevailing rhythms and slow us down, allowing us to respond to stressful events with more awareness rather than to simply react in the moment.
In Tai Chi we move from being “up tight” to being rooted, grounded with a rebounding lightness of being.
Where we put our attention is where energy flows. When we are stressed, our attention is focused on our anxious thoughts which only amplifies them. In Tai Chi we deliberately redirect our attention from our thoughts to our bodies, which leads to feeling more energized.
Most of us live in a state of constant urgency, so that we never relax. Tai Chi encourages active relaxation, where we simultaneously flow between active and relaxed states of being.
In contrast to our achievement-oriented culture, Tai Chi encourages a “less is more” attitude.
Tai Chi is a practice of kindness and gentleness which can influence how we treat ourselves and each other.
Stress is a response to fear. In Tai Chi we listen to our fear and never go beyond 60-70% of our capacity. We also redirect the fear into a gentle, but powerful, inner strength.
In Tai Chi we pay attention to sensation and maintain a safe and healthy attitude toward the body.
How we carry ourselves physically affects how we feel about ourselves. Tai Chi practices place us in body postures that enhance our levels of confidence and decrease stress hormones.
Metaphor and imagery in Tai Chi provide ways to create calm and relaxed mental states.
The Tai Chi practice develops a freer, more natural breathing pattern.
Tai Chi develops a greater sense of physical, mental and emotional balance which can lead to a general sense of well-being.
The meditation in movement that’s generated through the Tai Chi practice enhances our ability to have a present moment awareness rather than being preoccupied with worries, anxieties, concerns, and to-do lists.
In Tai Chi we learn to stay “soft” in the face of adversity or strong emotions so that we don’t automatically go into the fight or flight reaction but rather learn to “go with the flow”.
While traditionally Tai Chi is a form of physical self-defense, it also provides us with tools for emotional self-defense, which for many of us might be most useful, given the Type A environments that can be so pervasive in our culture today.
In Tai Chi you can discover a sense of embodied spirituality as you activate and move the chi (Qi) often described as your vital energy or spirit.

—Carla Kimball

Carla  Kimball has a commitment to contemplative movement modalities including yoga, dance, and Tai Chi. For 40 years she has maintained a regular practice that combines the three. She is training to become a teacher of the Eight Active Ingredients of Tai Chi . She teaches Tai Chi Basics at Open Door .