This post originally appeared on Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy’s blog and is reproduced with permission.

During an in-class discussion on one of Yang’s Principles, Suspend From the Crown, a student asked if this was something that they should apply to everyday life as well. I often tell my students that much of what Tai Chi offers has benefits outside of the practice of Tai Chi; as my Master has often stated, “Tai Chi is not what I do, it’s how I live.” This question and my reflection on it have inspired me to share my own thoughts on how Tai Chi can benefit our lives beyond being a form of exercise.

It’s a symptom of the modern world that many of us live what I would term, ‘compressed lives’. Demands of work, society, family, friends and other extraneous factors tend to ‘weigh’ on us, and unfortunately many of us don’t realise just how ‘compressed’ we are until something in our body starts to fail.

Take a moment for yourself right now to check to see how compressed you are. Are your teeth clenched together? Are your shoulders getting closer to your ears? Are you hunched over your keyboard, tablet, phone? Can you feel tension in your body? Aches or pains? Stiffness? When was the last time you stretched your arms above your head, or out to the side? Or took several deep breaths? Have you done it today? This week?

An important component of Tai Chi practice is the ability to be ‘open’; to open the joints so the energy – qi (chi) – can flow and allow the body to move freely. The idea of Suspend From the Crown, in simplified terms, encourages Tai Chi players to ‘open’ their joints while maintaining a relaxed posture, in effect expanding rather than compressing the body. (To gain a deeper understanding of this as it pertains to Tai Chi, I encourage you to attend one of our classes, or a class near you.)

The concept of ‘expanding’ the body – to decompress – is something we can, and should, apply to everyday life. Tai Chi is one way we can learn to recognise when we are feeling ‘compressed’, however there are others. Go back to those questions I asked at the start. Tension and stress often first manifest physically as a clenched jaw, something that often goes unnoticed until attention is drawn to it. However we can also be ‘compressed’ mentally and spiritually; feeling overwhelmed, unable to order your thoughts, or focus on the task at hand, feeling “out of sorts” and so forth can all be indicators that you are ‘compressed’. You can identify this by taking moments in your day to do a quick self-examination: how do I feel? Physically, mentally and emotionally.

When you can identify the effects ‘compression’ on yourself, you have the opportunity to do something about it. While I would of course advocate for Tai Chi as a way of decompressing, there are other simple things you can do. Here are three that I recommend:

  1. Breathe: we take breathing for granted, and so we underestimate its importance in helping us decompress. It only takes a few seconds so there’s no excuses not to do it. I suggest at least one of two methods: take 4 – 6 deep breaths, in and out, without holding the breath at any time; or, take 20 – 30 seconds to just focus on gently breathing in and out continuously, not holding your breath;
  2. Stretch: this doesn’t have to be vigorous or Yoga-like to be beneficial. Simply stretching your arms above your head and/or out to the side and/or behind you, turning your head gently side to side and/or up and down, even standing from a sitting position can all help to decompress. The important thing is to move, to change the position that you’ve been in, regularly;
  3. Move: again this doesn’t have to be strenuous or require pain and sweat to be beneficial. The benefits of regular exercise on physical, mental and emotional health are well-documented. While it doesn’t necessarily matter what you do, my suggestion is to make sure it is something that is not related to work/chores/other stressors in your life; make it something you enjoy. For some that might be the gym, for others simply a walk, or some gardening, playing with the kids or dancing in your living room. Whatever it is, make it part of your day.

And of course, as always, I recommend Tai Chi!