If you’re looking for a stress-reduction technique that’s both easy and enjoyable, consider giving tai chi a try. Based on an ancient Chinese form of self-defense, tai chi is a system of slow, controlled movements that keep your body in constant graceful motion. There are more than 100 possible positions and postures in tai chi that coordinate with your breathing in order to help you achieve a relaxed state.

Practicing this flowing form of gentle exercise and stretching regularly can benefit your overall well-being, according to the Mayo Clinic. It helps to calm your mind and quiet the thoughts that cause stress and anxiety. Besides serving as a stress-reliever, preliminary research suggests that tai chi may offer additional health benefits as well, including:

  • Relieving chronic-pain conditions
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Helping to manage depression
  • Improving balance and agility, which can help reduce falls in older adults
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Increasing cardiovascular fitness
  • Providing greater energy and endurance
  • Improving strength and flexibility

Is Tai Chi Right for You?

One of the best things about tai chi is that unlike some forms of exercise, it’s generally gentle enough to be appropriate for anyone, regardless of age or current fitness level. Although some styles are more intense or fast-paced than others, tai chi is a low-impact activity that places more emphasis on technique than strength. It’s a great choice for seniors who don’t regularly engage in exercise and seasoned athletes alike. It may also be right for those who are watching their budget, since it requires no special equipment and can be practiced anywhere, both on your own and with others.

How to Get Started

Even though tai chi is a gentle activity, it’s still possible to get injured— by losing your balance, for example—especially if you have prior injuries (such as fractures) or chronic conditions (such as osteoporosis). If you’re interested in trying out tai chi, the first step is to talk to your doctor. This step is particularly important if you have any joint pain or if you’re pregnant.

Once you’ve received your doctor’s blessing, choose a method for learning tai chi. There are several options for receiving guidance, including:

  • Finding an instructional book or DVD at the library or bookstore
  • Taking a class at your gym or community center
  • Joining a group that meets regularly to practice

If you opt for a class or group, take some time to find an instructor with whom you feel comfortable. There are no standard training or certification programs for tai chi instructors, so the quality of instruction may vary. You may have to try a few teachers to find an approach and style that you like.

How to Maintain the Benefits

Even one session of tai chi can bring positive effects in terms of lowering your stress level and making your body feel good. But to reap the greatest rewards, consider sticking with the practice for a longer time period. Some classes are offered for eight to 12 weeks, which is a great start. Once you start feeling the benefits and becoming more skilled at the movements, you may want to commit to making tai chi a permanent part of your exercise program.