Slowing Your Mind and Body In A Fast Paced World With Tai Chi
In my twenty plus years of studying Healthy Life Tai Chi I can tell you from firsthand experience that mindfulness focused activities allow people to decrease stress and anxiety by slowing the pace at which the mind and body function. Modern life often causes people to spend much of their day in a hyper alert state because of spending too much time on electronic devices.
We live hectic lives, racing through the day from work, to making dinner to family, we rarely stop to smell the roses so to say, and this along with all the stress involved in this kind of lifestyle takes its toll on our health and general wellness. The stress response becomes commonplace, and a chronic state of fight or flight can even begin to affect our joy and happiness.
The mindful awareness achieved in meditation allows a person to disengage from stressful stimuli and stressful thought patterns and therefore benefiting greatly from a calm mind. Tai Chi includes mindful meditation using the breath and movement, which significantly increases the benefits.
The symptoms of stress show a body and mind functioning in overdrive:
Elevated heart rate
Inability to focus
Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
Accelerated breathing pattern
Nervous energy expressed by pacing, nail biting and fidgeting
Some of these symptoms also correlate with fight or flight response functions, increased heart rate, increased energy for rapid threat response and accelerated breathing pattern.
One of Tai Chi’s foundational components, deep breathing, immediately slows the body and the mind by disengaging the fight or flight response and activating the relaxation response.
Stress Versus The Relaxation Response
Connecting with the breath is one of the first activities performed during a Tai Chi practice. Once a practitioner establishes their stance, they allow the breath to even deepen a slow. They will maintain this style of breathing throughout the practice.
This type of breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system by stimulating the Vagus nerve. It has the opposite effect of the sympathetic nervous system on the body.
The sympathetic nervous system activates the “fight or flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system soothes and calms the body. Practicing deep breathing alters the way the body reacts to stress; fight or flight ceases to be the default response to any stressful stimuli.
When performing Tai Chi, practitioners engage in high levels of concentration. They narrow their perception of sensory inputs to their immediate actions and surroundings. For example, they focus on where their feet meet the ground, or the sensations associated with shifting their weight from one foot to the other. As they lift their arms, they may note the way their hands look and the way the muscles of their shoulders and upper back feel as the arms rise.
Practitioners perform each of the poses in the various Tai Chi forms slowly to cultivate and enhance elevated levels of concentration. Although performed slowly, Tai Chi exercises provide many of the same physical benefits as traditional Western exercise.
These benefits include building strength and flexibility, stress reduction, improved cardiovascular function, improved immune system function, improved sleep and a general sense of well-being.
However, it accomplishes these equivalent results with lower physiological impact.
Tai Chi exercises’ slow and repetitive nature makes it simple to learn. The practice does not require any special equipment. A person only needs a few feet of space in which to move and a firm knowledge of the style and form of Tai Chi to be practiced.
Meditation occurs when concentration becomes effortless. The intellect ceases to name an object, idea, or activity and the practitioner experiences an expansive awareness. Tai Chi offers a moving meditation experience.
It is part of the reason the practice evolved into a variety of styles and forms to be memorized and consistently practiced. Once memorized by the mind as well as the body, muscle memory comes into play, which allows long-term practitioners to find a meditative state. Their attention shifts from the mechanics of the practice to its content–from the how to the what of being in the present moment.
Tai Chi provides an effective and proven approach to physical fitness, mindfulness, and meditation. It does this by combining deep breathing, prescribed and choreographed movements, and meditation.
The practice provides a way to attain physical and mental health as well as a general sense of well-being or in other words a lifting of the spirit. It is suitable for all ages, all fitness levels and in many cases can even be practiced by people with limited capacity for movement.
About the author: Richard Hackworth is a full-time professional martial arts, Tai Chi Instructor and Life Coach in Ocoee, Florida who helps people restore their health and improve all aspects of their lives. He is the U.S. Director for the World Martial Arts Congress and was the first American to become certified as a teacher of the Yang Sheng (Healthy Life) Tai Chi system by graduating from the Masters Course in Beijing, China. https://healthylifetaichi.com