Stress Relief with Tai Chi

In January 2003, I began going to Tai Chi classes that were offered at work during the lunch hour. My aunt had been doing Tai Chi for a while, and she told me that it was really great for relieving stress and being more mindful in certain situations. I definitely wanted to learn more about it, so I jumped at the opportunity when it came. The experience was more than I could ever imagine.

The first day, we warmed up every muscle group in the body, from the neck and shoulders all the way down to the ankles. I work at my desk most of the day (when I am not in a meeting somewhere), and moving my body around like that felt amazing. And that was just the warm up! Then we did some imagination and mindfulness work. I was thinking to myself, “Okay, this is not going to be a big deal.” How wrong I was!! Not only were we using our minds to imagine, we were also watching our breath rate, and standing completely still! That kind of multitasking is fine when you are not concentrating on it, but doing all three and concentrating on each was a challenge. The class is slow moving and you focus in on each activity that you do, whether you are feeling each piece of the steps you take or you are drawing diagrams in the air around you. The instructor then allowed us some “play time”, where we could go through the movements we learned on our own and make them ours. When the hour long class was over, my mind felt like it had gotten a well-deserved break, and my body felt relaxed and refreshed. I was ready to tackle my afternoon workload.

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Since that day, I have done Tai Chi in my work clothes and in my workout gear, in sneakers and in bare feet, outside in the fresh air and sunshine, at work, at home, in my car, in the grocery store lines, anywhere I can find a minute to be mindful of my breathing and my movement.

So, what is Tai Chi? It is a mind-body practice that developed in ancient China. At first, tai chi was used as a means of self-defense. It is now used to create balance in the body and has multiple health benefits if practiced regularly. Some of these include improved flexibility, increased energy and agility, reduction of stress and anxiety, and feelings of calm and well-being. There are multiple variants of Tai Chi, from what I found out through reading, but they are all based on the same principles of balance and energy flow through the body. The class I attend at work is New Forest Tai Chi, and the instructor is Leigh Fechter, one of my fellow employees. She is a master student of Grand Master John Bright-Fey here in Birmingham, Alabama.

I have now been doing Tai Chi for over 6 years, and even though the class has decreased in size and we are now at 30 minutes on Tuesdays at lunchtime, I cannot see myself stopping. For me, Tai Chi provides the ultimate in stress relief, and it prepares me to face the world in a calm, mindful state. I absolutely love it!

Mayo Clinic Staff, Tai chi: Improved stress reduction, balance, agility for all. MayoClinic.com.

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