Tai Chi for Stress Management: Learning Tips

Tai chi is all about relaxing.

There are ways of practicing tai chi that won’t easily foster inner relaxation—doing tai chi full out against 5 opponents is one of them.

But, more importantly, there are a number of ways that tai chi can be done for stress management and to foster relaxation.

Here are some tips and strategies for learning and practicing tai chi for stress management and relaxation.

woman on beach

Simply relax. Start by relaxing. Scan your body for tension and try to release it. If you’ve been staring at a computer screen, try to relax your eyes.

If you’ve been lifting heavy objects or sitting in a chair for hours, try to relax the muscles in your back and legs.

If you’re carrying the weight of the world in your shoulders, try to lower them and let them simply relax them downward.

Consciously try to relax before doing your tai chi. Then, as you’re going through your form, check to see if you’re still relaxed. Or, are your muscles tensed as you’re about to strike? Do you find yourself glaring at an imaginary opponent? Has your mind jumped back to an urgent task you need to do? If these apply, or if you’ve found other sources of tension in your body or mind, take action to simply relax.

Take time to slow down. Slow your tai chi movements and you’ll find that your thoughts and nervous system will also slow down. Slow and steady movements give your awareness a chance to sink deeper, and to initiate deeper relaxation in your mind, body, and spirit.

Follow the 70% rule. Only do a tai chi movement 70% as well as you really could. Don’t push toward that 100%, despite what all of your previous schooling may have told you.

For example, avoid stretching your arms out 100%. Even when stretching and opening, only stretch your arms out to 70% of what you’re capable of.

tai chi elbow extension
Follow this rule during all of the tai chi movements, for all parts of your body.

Striving beyond where you’re comfortable will only create more stress—not a good idea when your goal is to relax and to manage and to reduce stress.

As you progress, your capabilities or 100% will increase steadily upwards. This means your 70% is also continuing to improve, but in a way that’s helpful for your body and which doesn’t create stress.

In the long run, by following the 70% rule, you’ll be better able to learn new tai chi movements and how to better execute them.

Your body will also be better able to store qi, your life force, which you can use in the future during a stressful situation in real-life. Don’t burn up this qi unnecessarily by aiming for perfection.

Practice Being Rooted Grounded. The Chinese have a saying about an over-stressed mind—the brain eats the body. In stressful situations, energy rushes to the brain, leaving other parts of your body depleted. The excessive energy can remain trapped in the brain,resulting in tension, rapid, conflicting thoughts, and an inability to focus.

Practicing tai chi allows the energy to naturally drop back downward to the ground. When relaxed, we feel better rooted and more balanced.

You can easily test this by asking someone to give you a gentle shove when you’re feeling stressed.

Then, take a few deep calming breaths. Have the intention of your energy sinking to your feet. Starting from the top of your head, keep your awareness on the downward flow of energy. When you’re feeling grounded, as your friend to give you an identical shove.

Compare the results. If you were able to drop your energy, you should have felt more solid, stable and much harder to push. Your head may also feel clearer and better able to make decisions and to focus.

Don’t be a tai chi perfectionist. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing some moves well. Or for not being able to remember them. Don’t compare your learning rate to others. Negative thoughts won’t help you to relax.

Be gentle and patient with yourself.

You don’t have to be perfect to get the stress management benefits from your tai chi practice. You don’t even need to be a tai chi expert. Even poorly done tai chi can leave you feeling more relaxed and less stressed. As you practice and gain more experience, these benefits will grow.

Relax even when you’re not doing tai chi. Let these stress management benefits and techniques grow outside of your tai chi practice as well. When faced with stressful situations—when stuck in a traffic jam, confronted by a rude person and so on—practice some of these techniques. Take deep, calming breaths. Drop your energy from your head to your feet. Relax

Next: Read about how to practice and to learn tai chi for martial arts.