Letting Go of Stress: Using Yoga and other Meditative Movement Activities to Relieve Stress
Jeni Green, MS; Graduate Student, Arizona State University School of Nutrition and Health Promotion
We can say with 100% confidence that everyone reading this article has experienced some type of stress in their life. Being alive means having to face challenges that threaten our feelings of comfort and/or safety. Some of you may be thinking, “So what? We all have stress.” Sure, occasional stress may not be a big deal. It becomes a concern when stress is experienced over the long-term and becomes chronic. Over time, repeated stress responses can take a toll on the body and may cause the development of mental health issues (e.g., anxiety, depression) or physical ailments such as headaches, high blood pressure, pain, or trouble sleeping (note- this list is not exhaustive).
Some individuals may cope with stress in unhealthy ways and engage in addictive or risky behaviors such as smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, over/under eating, or taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. These types of coping strategies may only provide temporary relief and act as a Band-Aid to make you feel better.
Healthy ways to feel less stress include exercise or walking, listening to music, praying, or participating in yoga or meditation. Recently the use of “Meditative Movement Activities” are becoming more popular as a healthy way to relieve stress.
What are “Meditative Movement Activities”?
Meditative Movement Activities use postures or movements and focus on breathing to achieve a state of calm. The National Institutes of Health describes these types of activities as healthcare approaches developed outside of mainstream Western or conventional medicine.
According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, the use of yoga, tai chi, and qi gong has been increasing for over a decade and has nearly doubled from 2002 to 2012. Yoga is the most commonly used of these approaches.
What is Yoga and Tai Chi?
Yoga and tai chi share some similarities but differ in their philosophical underpinnings. Both emphasize focus on the breath, energy (‘chi’ in tai chi and ‘prana’ in yoga), and meditation and both aim to integrate the body and mind and be present in the moment. Tai chi originated in China as a martial art and involves subtle slow body movements to achieve a state of relaxation. Yoga originated in India, and in the West often consists of Hatha yoga, made up of postures called asanas to build flexibility and strength.
Using Yoga, Meditation, or Tai Chi to Relieve Stress
Despite the differences in the various types of practices, several scientific studies of yoga, meditation, and tai chi have reported psychological benefits, such as decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms. Positive physical benefits have been found, including improved blood pressure, lipid profile, muscular strength, and reduced fatigue. Importantly, these mind-body practices help us to respond to stress more positively, so when faced with life stressors, we can respond in a calm and more balanced manner.
How Can I Get Started with Yoga, Meditation, or Tai Chi?
Yoga, meditation, and tai chi can all be easily practiced from home for free or for a low monthly cost. You can also seek out yoga classes at community or fitness centers. As the use of technology increases, there is a plethora of mobile applications that offer yoga, meditation and tai chi classes on demand. If you are interested in using one of these practices to help reduce stress or improve overall well-being, we suggest trying a few different resources to see which styles you prefer. Here are a few to get you started (make sure to check with your primary care provider before starting a new regimen):
- Do Yoga With Me (free): https://www.doyogawithme.com - Hundreds of free streaming videos
- Udaya ($12/month): https://udaya.com - High quality HD streaming yoga classes
- Yoga Journal YouTube Channel (free): https://www.youtube.com/user/YogaJournal - Online magazine with free streaming videos and How To’s.
- Yoga.com (free) – only available on Android. HD videos, tutorials, and yoga programs
- Pocket Yoga ($2.99) – Available for Android and iPhone. Audio and visual instructions to learn yoga. Tracks practice and calories burned.
- Brain FM (free) - https://www1.brain.fm/ - Helps you meditate with various sounds. Audio brainwave training and meditation sessions.
- Mindful Healthy Mind Healthy Life (free): https://www.mindful.org/ - Online magazine with meditation practices and mindful information
- Calm (free with trial)- Available for Android and iPhone. Includes a range of guided meditations and a Daily Calm (10-minute daily meditation).
- Headspace (free with trial) – Available for Android and iPhone. Ideal for beginning meditators. Free meditation exercises and personalized progress page.
- Dr. Paul Lam Tai Chi Productions YouTube Channel (free): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwPaMEomSAE522FHtGpafcw - Free beginner programs and health programs for chronic conditions.
- 108 Tai Chi Moves (free for limited content): http://www.108taichimoves.com/tai-chi-online.html#.WxltmFMvxxh – Online tutorials of tai chi moves. Purchase full access of all 108 videos for $23.
- Yang Tai Chi for Beginners Part 1 (free)- Available for iPhone only. Includes step-by-step instruction by Master Yang.
- 7 Minute Chi (free)- Available for Android and iPhone. Easy seven minute program to help you relax and decompress.
Teatero, ML & Penney, AM. (2015). Fight-or-flight response. In I Milosevic & RE McCabe, (Eds.), Phobias: The Psychology of Irrational Fear. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood; 2015.