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How to Practice Yoga & Tai Chi

Tips on Using Relaxation Exercises to Relieve Stress


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.

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.

Yoga

There are many different types of yoga. As well as the popular types listed below, there are many yoga classes modified for different needs, such as prenatal yoga, yoga for seniors, and adaptive yoga (modified for disabilities). Most yoga sessions begin with a series of poses to warm up the body, and most sessions end with some type of relaxation exercise.

Type of Yoga Involves Best For Not For

Gentle yoga or Satyananda

Focuses on slow stretches, flexibility, deep breathing

Beginners, stress reduction

Those looking for a vigorous workout

Hatha

Reasonably gentle. Involves stretching, breathing work

Beginners, older adults, stress reduction

An aerobic, calorie-burning workout

Iyengar

Focuses on precise body alignment and improving balance. Uses blocks and straps to maintain poses longer

Those looking for more fitness benefits as well as deep relaxation

While more vigorous, still not a total body workout

Kundalini

Fast-paced routine of poses focusing on different ways of breathing, chanting, and meditation

Combining a good workout with spirituality

Those uncomfortable with chanting or the spiritual aspect

Hot yoga  (Bikram or Moshka)

Takes place in heated rooms (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Focus on stamina and purification

Intense, sweaty workout for those with higher fitness levels 

Anyone with high blood pressure, heart conditions, or those who may react adversely to hot conditions

Power yoga or Ashtanga

Vigorous, fast-paced to build flexibility, strength, concentration, and stamina

Strong workout, improving fitness and weight loss

A relaxing, contemplative experience

Types of Yoga

GENTLE YOGA or SATYANANDA

  • Involves: slow stretches, flexibility, deep breathing
  • Best for: Beginners, stress reduction
  • Not for: Those looking for a vigorous workout

HATHA

  • Involves: Reasonably gentle stretching and breathing work
  • Best for: Beginners, older adults, stress reduction
  • Not for: An aerobic, calorie-burning workout

IYENGAR

  • Involves: Precise body alignment and improving balance. Uses blocks and straps to maintain poses longer
  • Best for: Those looking for more fitness benefits as well as deep relaxation
  • Not for: While more vigorous, still not a total body workout

KUNDALINI

  • Involves: Fast-paced routine of poses focusing on different ways of breathing, chanting, and meditation
  • Best for: Combining a good workout with spirituality
  • Not for: Those uncomfortable with chanting or the spiritual aspect

HOT YOGA (BIKRAM or MOSHKA)

  • Involves: Takes place in heated rooms (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Focus on stamina and purification
  • Best for: Intense, sweaty workout for those with higher fitness levels
  • Not for: Anyone with high blood pressure, heart conditions, or those who may react adversely to hot conditions

POWER YOGA or ASHTANGA

  • Involves: Vigorous, fast-paced to build flexibility, strength, concentration, and stamina
  • Best for: Strong workout, improving fitness and weight loss
  • Not for: A relaxing, contemplative experience

Tips for starting yoga:

  • Consider your fitness level and any medical issues before joining a yoga class. Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, especially if you have a health problem. Also talk to the instructor. Many will be able to provide modified poses for beginners or those with special health concerns.
  • Look for a low-pressure environment where you can learn at your own pace. Don’t extend yourself beyond what feels comfortable, and always back off of a pose at the first sign of pain. A good teacher can show you alternate poses for ones that are too challenging for your health or fitness level.
  • Dress comfortably in clothing that allows your body a full range of motion. Yoga is practiced with bare feet, so wear shoes you can quickly slip on and off before and after class.

Finding a yoga class

You can learn yoga from an instructional book, DVD, or website, but the best way is to learn from a competent yoga instructor.  

  • You can look for yoga classes at local gyms, YMCAs, and specialized yoga studios. Community centers or community colleges often offer yoga classes at discounted prices. Some yoga instructors offer private classes.
  • Many facilities will allow you to sit in and observe a class that interests you.
  • For a searchable, international directory of yoga classes and trainers, see References and Resources section below.

Tai Chi

As with yoga, tai chi is best learned when taught by an instructor. Although tai chi is normally very safe and gentle, be sure to discuss any health or mobility concerns with your instructor.

How tai chi works

Tai chi is based on the premise that wellness and relaxation requires the body’s bio energy, or Qi, to flow smoothly around the body. The muscle movements in tai chi exercises are designed to stimulate the flow of Qi through the body and the major organs.

Tai chi focuses on correct body posture and spinal alignment in order to release tension, improve the digestive system, and remove stress from the back. By moving weight from one leg to another, and alternately raising the arms, legs and hands, tai chi varies the weight on different joints increases the flow of nutrients into the joint, increasing flexibility and range of motion. These flowing movements also strengthen muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

By focusing your mind on the movements and your breathing, you keep your attention on the present, which clears the mind and leads to a relaxed state.

Finding a tai chi class

  • Tai chi classes are frequently offered in community centers, senior centers, and local community colleges.
  • For a directory of qualified instructors recommended by the Tai Chi Network, see the Resources and References section below.

Related Articles

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief – By practicing techniques that activate your body’s relaxation response you can effectively combat stress and ease tension.

Quick Stress Relief

Stress Relief in the Moment – Identify your own stress responses and learn how to quickly and effectively reduce stress in the middle of any challenging situation.

Stress Management

Stress Management – Manage stress by learning how to take charge of your thoughts, emotions, environment, and the way you deal with problems.

Understanding Stress

Stress Symptoms, Signs & Causes – Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and take steps to relieve its harmful effects.

Resources & References

Yoga

Yoga – Introduction to the different types of yoga and how to begin practicing it. (Nemours Foundation)

Yoga Directory – A searchable, international directory of yoga classes. (YogaFinder)

Tai Chi

Tai Chi: Discover the Many Possible Health Benefits – Guide to the health benefits of tai chi. (Mayo Clinic)

Tai Chi 24 Forms Video Clip – Watch a video clip illustrating the practice of tai chi. (Youtube.com)

Search for Tai Chi Practitioners – Directory of Tai Chi teachers/practitioners, events, and schools in the U.S. (Tai Chi Network)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Robert Segal, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A. Last updated: June 2012.

©Helpguide.org. All rights reserved. This reprint is for information only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Helpguide.org is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.

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