GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 8, 2012

Reduce stress with yoga, t'ai chi

Personal Matters Susan Britt
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — If you are feeling stressed in your everyday life, consider two ancient but effective methods of reducing stress: yoga and t’ai chi. Because they stimulate both physical and mental aspects, these gentle forms of exercise help relax the body, refresh the mind and improve overall personal health.

Yoga, in its most limited definition, is a musculoskeletal strengthening and conditioning exercise. But yoga offers more than that. It is also a process for achieving a sense of physical, mental and emotional well-being.

The stretching poses of yoga, called asanas, massage the internal organs, increase circulation, improve physical flexibility and stimulate your internal energy sources. In addition to the physical benefits, yoga teaches you to be quiet, to slow down your racing mind and focus on the present moment. This is the meditative aspect of yoga: you learn to “tune in” to your body, your mind and your inner feelings.

The heart of t’ai chi theory is balance. The Chinese believe that all living things are influenced by the opposing universal forces of yin (positive) and yang (negative.) And, according to Chinese tradition, the mission of human beings as they journey through life is to find the balance between these two forces that pull them in opposite directions. The movements, or “forms,” of t’ai chi help to achieve balance by stimulating the “chi” or life force that flows through the body like a river.

T’ai chi (pronounced tie jee) relaxes the body by slowing down its systems. It improves flexibility, tones muscles and can even relieve or reduce pain. T’ai chi forms, usually performed in a standing position, are so gentle that it can be practiced by people of all ages.

In addition to its physical benefits, t’ai chi stimulates the mental processes and acts as a natural tranquilizer, reducing stress by creating a sense of calm and inner peace.

Practitioners of yoga and t’ai chi say that they experience a physical, mental and emotional restoration that they haven’t found in Western forms of exercise. Special clothing or equipment for yoga and t’ai chi are not required, so once you learn the asanas and forms (movements), you can relieve stress at home, at any time, with these gentle meditative exercises. As you know, many people also enjoy sharing yoga and t’ai chi with others, and participate in the many classes offered on Cape Ann.

One of the benefits of these ancient practices that I think is especially important and meaningful is their meditative approach. They can teach you to stay focused and centered so that you are less emotionally reactive and more emotionally responsive in meeting everyday stressors.

Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve goals, and accelerate personal growth. Contact her at susanbritt1@verizon.net or 978-546-9431.