I do tai chi and qigong as exercises to reduce stress. I find them effective because movement central to each can loosen up inertia and stagnation produced by various types of stress. Just sitting too long can produce physical stress, accompanied by poor lymph drainage and negative brain/hormone activity. Tai chi and qigong get you moving in beneficial ways.
Stress is one of those conditions that predisposes you to illness, says Dr. Lissa Rankin, author of Mind Over Medicine, Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, published in 2014. In a TEDx talk, she covers a whole range of topics related to stress and how modern medicine has fallen short of addressing the cause of illness, instead providing pills for treating symptoms. She gives a very simple and clear definition of stress that I find useful and worth writing down.
“Stress is not what we think it is. Stress is a badge of honor: I’m busy, successful, important.”
“Stress is anything that triggers the amygdala in your brain to turn on the stress response” (Walter Cannon, Harvard). Also known as the “flight or fight” response. It puts you into the sympathetic nervous system and fills the body with cortisol and epinephrine and other poisonous stress hormones. The amygdala doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a tiger and negative thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. In contrast, the parasympathetic system triggers the relaxation response from which Dr. Rankin drew from an epiphany: “The body is naturally equipped with naturally occurring repair systems. Those natural systems are deactivated every time the body is in stress response.”
She included in her talk a broad range of emotional, psychological, and behavioral states that also define stress. You can watch the video on youtube.com at this link: https://youtu.be/EUYLa7MAlPc
Both tai chi and qigong exercises effectively engage the mind in a focused activity that diverts your attention away from stressful thoughts and emotions. You have to do the initial work to overcome inertia, but once you do, you’re likely to continue in the direction towards relaxation and contentment.
I also practice meditation that I’m learning from the Buddhist tradition. Some meditation involves focusing on breathing and letting thoughts and feelings fall away once they rise up, which they inevitably do. They also inevitably fall away if you focus on the task you set out to do, which is to focus your attention on a point and maintain that focus.
Part of my practice is effective when I accept that feelings, emotions, thoughts that have negative edges to them are really separate from the energy that it takes to provoke and buoy them. So I try to allow the energy to separate from attachment to the feeling or thought.