To Reduce Stress, Try Tai Chi
The science: Recent studies have shown the stress-busting benefits of Tai Chi, a popular form of an ancient Chinese martial art that is essentially a combination of movements and positions that flow into one another. In fact, Tai Chi was linked to reduced stress in two separate studies last year—one in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and the other in the Journal of American College Health. In Tai Chi, which is traditionally done in a standing position, you repeatedly shift your weight back and forth, engaging the muscles in both your upper and lower body, as well as employing rhythmic breathing. Because the shifts are slow and fluid, they relax your muscles and calm your mind while improving your balance, strength, and flexibility. This “meditation in motion,” as it is sometimes called, is said to stimulate the body’s flow of what the Chinese refer to as Chi (pronounced chee), or life force. Whether or not you believe the force is with you, psychologist Kate Hays theorizes that Tai Chi’s mellow pace and precise actions focus the mind and serve as a reminder to take things more slowly.
How to put it into practice: New to Tai Chi? Consider learning the basic series of movements at home with a DVD, such as Tai Chi Beginning Practice DVD, With David-Dorian Ross ($10, amazon.com). Seek out more advanced study with a teacher (listings are available for some U.S. states at taichifoundation.org). For maximum benefits, strive to practice for up to 20 minutes every morning.