Any form of exercise, from walking to running to charging hard on the elliptical for 30 minutes, helps to burn off steam and reduce stress.
However, Eastern-inspired exercises including yoga, tai chi, and qigong that focus on linked breath and movement in addition to physical exertion are particularly powerful for reducing stress and alleviating anxiety.
Yoga’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, as the ancient Indian practice has stormed the U.S. and created devotees and casual practitioners alike. From 2008 to 2012, the number of people practicing yoga jumped 29%, according to study conducted by Yoga Journal.
Types of yoga include the gentle, restorative practice of yin yoga, where postures are held for longer periods of time, to the flowing, strength-building, sweat-inducing practices of vinyasa, hatha, and Bikram.
No matter which type you try, yoga has healing benefits that transcend physical strength and flexibility. More vigorous practices offer the opportunity to learn how to remain calm and focused on the breath during stressful circumstances.
Studies have found yoga’s method of linking breath with movement reduces stress. A review of studies published in Alternative Medicine Review found that 25 of 35 trials examined linked “significant” decreases in stress and anxiety to yoga. Another study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health, found that employees who participated in one, 60-minute yoga class a week for six weeks experienced greater feelings of self-confidence during stressful times, as well as improved mood and well-being.
Tai chi is a martial art first developed in China about 2,000 years ago for self-defense. The practice involves flowing movements that allow practitioners to still the mind through focusing on the body.
Tai chi is subdivided into several types, including Yang, Chen, Wu, Sun, and Woo. Some of the styles focus on fitness while others highlight the martial arts component. Because of its low-impact, tai chi is an excellent option for people with limited fitness capabilities who need gentle exercise. Many people find the slow movements meditative, although tai chi also helps improve balance, flexibility, and muscle strength, in addition to reducing stress.
Similar to tai chi, qigong is an even older form of moving meditation that also originated in China. The two practices are related and offer similar health benefits.
While tai chi began as a martial art, qigong focuses on healing. Qi refers to the energy that traditional Chinese healers believe runs through the body in meridians. The practice combines movement, breathing, and mental focus in a slow and gentle way, making it accessible to most people.
Qigong is generally less precise than tai chi because it’s not a martial art, and often less rigorous. Some exercises involve only breathing. Movements involve flowing and help practitioners build balance.
Have you tried yoga, tai chi, or qigong to manage stress?
Image by Fabrice Florin via Flickr