What do Will Smith, Oprah, the chief technology officer of Twitter, and the CEO of AOL have in common? Aside from the fact that they all lead highly productive but stressful lives? They all practice tai chi (pronounced tie-chee) because tai chi relieves stress so they can continue to enjoy their demanding lives but tai chi can relieve stress in all of us.
It’s no surprise that the Mayo Clinic and the Harvard Medical School recommend tai chi for stress relief for patients and in workplace wellness programs. It is reported that 70–80% of all doctor visits today are due to stress-related issues. That means almost all of our healthcare problems can be traced back to stress, which is probably something most of us can relate to.
Being stressed is so common these days that we tend to dismiss its effects, but bodily functions change the instant we feel stress. The fight or flight response kicks in and adrenaline starts to pump. Our blood vessels constrict, which forces the heart to pump harder and faster to move the blood through the veins, which raises your blood pressure. Prolonged elevated blood pressure puts you at higher risk for heart disease.
Under stress the airways also become restricted, which contributes to asthma, even so far as to suggest that chronic stress in childhood can lead to this condition. Your breathing gets shallow, so you breathe less oxygen, and your guts seize up, which can lead to indigestion and even ulcers. Headaches and muscular tension are also common effects of stress.
Many studies also show that long-term stress leads to depression, as well as emotional eating and obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and faster aging. Insomnia can also become a problem. However, it is important to realize that all these stress-induced conditions can be helped and even cured by finding a way to repeatedly and even permanently lower our stress levels. The practice of tai chi is a cheap and effective solution.
Tai chi can also help deal with workplace stresses. The simplicity of its “moving meditation” is ideal to combat the information overload of today’s workplace. Jonathan Miller, then CEO of AOL, said, “I work in a high-stress environment—turning around a major Fortune 400 corporation. Stress tends to disperse one’s energy. I have found that tai chi enhances one’s focus. My family notices when I practice.”
What about yoga? Isn’t yoga just as good for relieving stress as tai chi? The yoga trend took off hard after Hollywood showed an interest in it. As a way of lowering stress, yoga is a definite improvement over pills and alcohol and maybe even a way to achieve a higher spiritual state. However, as the trend continues, more evidence is surfacing that yoga is often extremely stressful on the joints. There are also concerns about novices attempting to attain higher energy levels than their bodies aren’t ready to handle. Plus evidence suggests that too many instructors in America are teaching yoga improperly, perpetuating dangerous practices merely because that was how they were taught.
On the other hand, tai chi is safe for almost anyone. Even if tai chi is taught by a beginner or practiced at a beginner’s level, it is virtually impossible to hurt yourself while learning and getting stronger. Tai chi’s slow relaxed movements are not only a safe, low-impact aerobic exercise, but they are also a moving meditation and regular practice will bring about a calmer state of mind.
As with any other exercise regimen, however, before starting, be sure to check with your doctor about any concerns you may have.