Before I was introduced to meditation, yoga, and tai chi, I did not have many outlets for my stress and anxiety. I have had an anxiety disorder since I was a child, and from as far back as I can remember through my teen years, I basically dealt with my anxiety by going full panic. Art and writing helped — creativity is a huge outlet for me — but I still felt like I could not fully unwind from my anxious state much of the time. I did not enjoy being a kid very much.
Luckily, I was introduced to all three of the aforementioned practices in my late teens. I began practicing meditation regularly in my early twenties, and have received some instruction in yoga and tai chi. This instruction gave me a foundation to release my anxiety through movement, to use my breath to find my center, and to overall relax. It has greatly improved the quality of my life, both physically and mentally.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a mind-body practice, I highly encourage you to do so. Here are just seven of the many reasons why.
You’ll be lowering your stress
Mind-body practices including yoga, qigong and tai chi have been linked to lowered stress levels, and may also help to alleviate and control anxiety and depression. In my experience, meditation and mind-body practices such as dance (yes, this counts!) and yoga are among the best ways to release stress in an effective and positive manner. If you’ve been feeling stressed, a mind-body practice can likely do you a whole world of good.
As chronic stress can lead to inflammation, keeping yours in check may help to prevent a number of inflammation-related diseases from taking root. Also, if you’ve been struggling with severe chronic stress, anxiety, and/or depression, seriously consider finding a yoga class, qigong group, or tai chi instructor in your area. It may be the catalyst you need to find relief.
Your breathing may improve
One of the crux points of mind-body practices is to observe and/or control the breath, and to align movements with the breath. Practicing yoga, doing tai chi, or learning a martial art may help to improve your lung capacity, and may help to make your lungs work better overall. Yoga specifically has been found to have benefits for individuals living with COPD, and for coronary artery disease patients. On yoga and lung function, the authors of a 2015 study of the effects of yoga on coronary artery disease patients wrote:
“Pranayama breathing exercises and yogic postures may play an impressive role in improving cardio-respiratory efficiency and facilitating gas diffusion at the alveolo-capillary membrane.”
You’ll find energy you never knew you had
For me, yoga and tai chi are highly energizing. Something about getting my mind and my breathing synchronized with movement give me a positive glow and a steady hum of energy for several hours. This, in turn, makes me more active than I otherwise would have been, especially if I had stayed sitting down for the time I spent doing some yoga poses.
You’ll find yourself feeling stronger
Practitioners of yoga, tai chi, and qigong have long known that it can make you stronger. For just one example of some research backing this up, the authors of a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Yoga summarized:
“Hatha yoga can improve anthropometric characteristics, muscular strength and flexibility among volunteers of different age group and can also be helpful in preventing and attenuating age-related deterioration of these parameters.”
You’ll likely sleep much better
When you spend an hour or two engaging in a mind-body practice, you’ll likely find that you sleep like a baby that night. Studies have shown that yoga may help to improve sleep quality in older individuals, and in cancer patients and survivors. It can also have these same effects for younger, healthy individuals; it calms your brain, activates your body, and balances your hormones so that you can enjoy being awake, and asleep, much more.
If you’ve been having an especially hard time sleeping, try doing some bedtime yoga poses right before you hit the sack. It may be the remedy you’ve been looking for.
You’ll improve your posture and flexibility
Two of the most famous benefits of doing mind-body practices are posture improvement and enhanced flexibility. These benefits are famous for good reason — if your posture is correct and you are flexible, you will likely not experience nearly as much back, neck, and shoulder pain, and you’ll be less likely to injure yourself.
Plus, it just makes you feel good in your own skin when your posture is right… everything feels better when you’re not walking through your life hunched over and twisted up.
You may experience relief from chronic pain
Yoga and tai chi have both been linked to potentially reducing various types of chronic pain, and qigong may help with this as well. If you have a chronic pain condition, or if you are recovering from an injury, ask your doctor if incorporating a gentle mind-body movement routine may be something that could work for you. Based on the research we have so far, it is possible that many types of pain may see improvement with mind-body practice.
What’s your favorite mind-body practice? How has it helped you in your life?
— Meditation Daily