HelpGuide Logo

HELPGUIDE.ORG

Trusted guide to mental, emotional & social health

How to Practice Yoga & Tai Chi

Tips on Using Yoga and Tai Chi to Relieve Stress

Yoga

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

As well as the meditative and relaxation aspects of yoga, it’s also a great form of strength and flexibility training for both men and women. There are many different types of yoga. As well as the popular types, 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.

Gentle yoga or Satyananda

Involves: Focuses on slow stretches, flexibility, deep breathing

Best for: Beginners, stress reduction

Not for: Those looking for a vigorous workout

Hatha

Involves: Reasonably gentle. Involves stretching, breathing work

Best for: Beginners, older adults, stress reduction

Not for: An aerobic, calorie-burning workout

Iyengar

Involves: Focuses on 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 and safest 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, senior centers, or community colleges often offer yoga classes at discounted prices. Some yoga instructors offer private classes.
  • Many facilities offer the first class free so you can give yoga a try or 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 HelpGuide articles


If you need powerful social and emotional skills that effectively reduce stress, read FEELING LOVED.

Learn more »

Resources and 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)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A. Last updated: December 2016.