Sunday, March 1, 2009

Anxiety & Tai Chi

By Lao Shih Clint Seyer

What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an excess condition arising from our internal relationship with external affairs. Anxiety is the uneasiness caused by our acquired insecurity of the unknown based on past experiences. A pre-anxiety state is initiated when the mind focuses on unfavorable “What if...” outcomes of a future interaction, desire or event. The thought of “What if...” becomes “charged” with emotional distress from internalized emotional trauma of past experience. When a thought becomes emotionally “charged”, it inflames a sense of urgency to the “What if...” thought, making it appear more real. This charged reaction generates a sense of insecurity (threat). This mental/emotional “perception” signals the body to constrict into a hyper-alert survival mode (tension) resulting in the physical manifestations of anxiety. When these energetic psycho/emotional/biological elements fuse we experience a fully manifested state of anxiety (energetic excess).

Anxiety trademarks include: overall muscle tension and constriction, quick shallow breathing, stomach upset, “butterflies” or nausea, obsessive thought, hyper-sensitivity, headaches, high blood pressure, perspiration or cold sweats, nervousness, emotional withdrawal, irrationality or irritability and in extreme cases “panic attacks”. Simply put, a condition of anxiety is initiated when the mind focuses on what could happen and not what is happening. Over time, this pattern becomes our primary template of internal response to external interactions, desires and/or events. When this occurs, anxiety becomes a chronic disharmony that will diminish our quality of life. However, we have a choice of how we feel and respond. We can re-invent our response patterns through the time-proven oriental healing arts.

The tonic to prevent or alleviate anxiety lies in intervention, education, re-training internal patterns and mindful awareness. Intervention may include massage, herbal support, and counseling. Opportunities for understanding life’s energetic principles are available through workshops at the Oriental Healing Arts Center. Re-training of thought, emotional and lifestyle patterns can be learned through Tai Chi, Qigong and meditation classes. The community at the Oriental Healing Arts Center invites you to explore the many avenues for positive intervention, education and training available.

Tai Chi and Qigong cultivate self-empowering practices we can use to defuse the spiraling cycles of anxiety. The anxiety cycle begins with a consciousness of uneasiness heightened by emotional distress, manifesting in physical tension that focuses the mind on the heightened uneasiness adding more emotional charge and creating more tension. While anxiety is a normal response to uncomfortable situations, unchecked it can become self destructive to one’s desired goals. Finding ways to manage anxiety through internal intervention offers many rewarding opportunities for enrichment, success and satisfaction in life. Tai Chi and Qigong cultivate the profound mental and physical skills to alleviate anxiety in the student.

The first intervention is awareness which is a primary benefit of learning Tai Chi and Qigong. We can not take action for self care if we do not realize we need self care. It is common to underestimate or ignore our stress levels. These practices effectively elevate the mind’s sensitivity to one’s state of relaxation or disharmony. Students cultivating awareness can intervene earlier and more effectively to defuse anxiety through acquired Tai Chi and Qigong relaxation techniques.

As anxiety’s internal tension manifests, the student is trained to respond with slow, deep, mindful breathing that is essential to the practices of Tai Chi and Qigong. The breathing techniques are not simply “taking a break”, but a specific, focused and intentional technique with a predictable outcome of relaxation. This occurs because the mind can only focus attention on a single conscious thought in any one moment. When the mind focuses internally on slowing and “lowering” the breath, the engaged mind quiets. This detaches the consciousness from the “external” distress and enhances biological events that encourage a state of relaxation. The spiraling energetic excesses of anxiety begin to reverse.

As the agitated mind/body state eases, the Taoist arts student has several options to further restore calm within. One option is mindful detached observation and release of mental/emotional/muscle tension. Another is Qigong; a discipline of coordinating mind, breath and simple movement and posture. Tai Chi provides a series of whole-body meditative movements in harmony with the breath. With these options, the mind calms, the body relaxes, and emotional charges subside. This allows one to observe difficult circumstances with a receptive, quiet mind rather than drown in escalating mind chatter. This ability to quiet the mind, invites clarity, inspiration and insight and with it; empowerment. With practice, students develop new, healthy stress-response patterns that bring calm, confidence and opportunity to personal challenges.

These mindful and empowering disciplines are mastered through Tai Chi and Qigong training. As the student internalizes these arts, life becomes easier, more fulfilling and harmonious. As successes grow with practice, the mind and body respond more easily and quickly because they work and have for millions over countless centuries. My tai chi/qigong students often comment on their increased sense of confidence, enjoyment and self reliance from their training. They cultivate skills that offer an alternative to stress, anxiety and crisis thinking. Learn to be comfortable in the uncomfortable and create opportunity over your anxiety.

Clint Seyer

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