Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga and tai chi can help you achieve the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that counteracts the negative effects of stress. When practiced regularly, these activities can lead to a reduction in everyday stress levels, anxiety and muscle tension as well as an improvement in mood, energy and focus.
An important advantage of yoga and tai chi is that they combine key elements of exercise — aerobic, strength training, core stability, flexibility and balance — into unified approaches. Certain benefits, particularly stress reduction, can be seen in as little as one day. People report better sleep and improvements in digestive health within the first few days. Better digestive health can mean better bowel function and decreased constipation. Practiced regularly, yoga and tai chi may help reverse some effects of aging, such as restricted and narrowed movements.
After 10 to 12 weeks of regular sessions, practitioners often notice significant health benefits in other areas. For example, a study of yoga and people who experience migraines found that those doing yoga had less frequent and less intense headaches than did those taking medication.
In addition, those who practiced yoga saw improvements in anxiety and depression. Yoga and tai chi can improve bone density and cardiovascular health and decrease blood pressure.
Learning the basics of yoga and tai chi is straightforward, but maximizing the stress-relieving benefits requires regular practice. As a beginner, you may benefit by learning from a qualified instructor to ensure you’re performing the poses and movements correctly. You can then continue to practice alone or with others.
The best way to learn yoga or tai chi is by taking a class or working with a qualified instructor. These classes, which teach the art of breathing, meditation and posing, are offered at many health clubs and senior centres and through community education.