“He moves as if entranced in a tango with the Universe.” ~Garri Garripoli, Essence of the Healing Dance
For thousands of years, the ancient art of Tai Chi has been rooted in the idea that health flows from the inside out. By 500 B.C. the practice was already well established in ancient Chinese communities, where it was known as ‘Ne Chi’ or ‘internal energy flow’. This focus on moving energy eventually developed into ‘Tai Chi’ – a balance between opposite energy flows often referred to the ‘ying’ and the ‘yang’.
The combination of stimulating exercise and relaxing meditative breathing that is integral to Tai Chi mimics our everyday biological processes. These processes regularly stimulate and then inhibit the release of key nutrients and signaling agents in a perfectly timed dance meant to keep us in an optimal state of health.
Yet our body counts on us to provide it the right mix of actions in order to ensure that it doesn’t fall out of step and stumble to the music. Tai Chi has a proven track record of enhancing our ability to stay in balance, both physically and mentally, by keeping our body in perfect rhythm in order to naturally and effectively manage our stress and anxiety.
3 Natural Pathways to Reducing Stress and Anxiety
This grouping of ‘pranayama neurons’ (named after the yogic practice of controlled breathing) send varying signals to a part of our brain that regulates responses to stimulus. When breathing becomes quicker and shallower, these neurons signal for alertness. Deeper, slower breathing like that found in Tai Chi practice is believed to generate a signal for relaxation.
Complementary scientific research shows that our breathing patterns actually oversee and coordinate the types of signals sent to our cells, which impacts our emotions, memory, and mental state. Since Tai Chi encourages a focus on serenity-centered breathing patterns during movement, this sets in motion cellular communication aimed at invoking a calmer state of mind, which helps us to reduce our stress and anxiety levels as we go about our day.
Medical experts have now revealed that the flow of smooth, repetitive moves which are part of Tai Chi practice actually generate new neurons in our brain’s hippocampus that are responsible for suppressing the stress response. This ancient art form also reduces our levels of cortisol, which is a hormone responsible for triggering the “fight or flight” response, and is a leading culprit for issues with anxiety and stress.
In addition, Tai Chi has been shown to elevate a neural agent called BDNF that helps positively mediate neuroplasticity – or the brain’s ability to change and adapt. Research highlights how higher BDNF levels have been associated with decreased levels of anxiety and an increased ability to handle social stressors. BDNF also has numerous benefits for cognition, memory, and productivity, which may be why it is so beneficial in assisting us with challenging situations.
The groundbreaking field of neuroscience has enabled us to understand just how meditation can reduce stress and alleviate anxiety so that we’re able to focus more on taking actionable steps towards our dreams and goals:
- It increases theta waves in our frontal lobe, allowing for relaxed, focused monitoring of our other brain regions.
- It increases alpha waves in posterior brain regions associated with a state of resting wakefulness. Neuroimaging indicates that this state allows us to connect data and experiences together more cohesively.
Tai Chi is considered a form of meditation in that it mimics this state of mindfulness by increasing both our alpha and theta waves. This combination assists with keeping our minds and bodies free from stress and anxiety, while still retaining a sharp, focused mind.
Health Benefits of Reduced Anxiety and Stress
The NHS estimated that nearly 75% of the population were so stressed at one point last year that they were not able to cope. Stress is a leading cause of inflammation, which is now understood to be a major risk factor for many chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that there are some amazing health benefits to lessening our stress and anxiety levels through Tai Chi practice:
- Increased immunity to help heal injuries, wounds, and reduce the risk of chronic illness
- Reduced blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major cause of heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
- Improved brain mitochondrial function for thriving mental health
- Improved gene expression to elevate signals for healthy outcomes, such as the removal of toxins from our body
- Reduced risk for chronic diseases due to better life choices
- Reduced chronic pain to increase mood and quality of life
- Improved digestion and gut health
- Improved outcomes for cancer, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and weight management
These extraordinary health impacts of Tai Chi on stress and anxiety may be why upwards of 2.5 billion people worldwide engage in the practice across 150 different countries.
Book your private, online, in-person, or corporate instructional class at Tai-Chi on Demand to begin enjoying this unparalleled wellness routine today!
Kirstie Ganobsik is a content and technical writer and editor specializing in health and wellness topics, including plant-based medicine, telehealth, wellness travel, and holistic practices. She is available to assist with blog articles, website projects, business documentation, e-books, presentations, product reviews, and more. You can view her resume and a snapshot of her digital work here.
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