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  • Writer's pictureDr. Leyla Gulcur, Ph.D.

Tai Chi for Anxiety and Depression

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

During the first half of my life, I would go through painful cycles of fatigue, anxiety, and depression that left me physically and emotionally debilitated. It would be painful to leave bed, go to work, talk to people. I felt drained and listless, yet edgy at the same time. Even during the good times, I still had trouble letting go of a constant nagging anxiety and low-level depression. Eventually, from carrying so much tension in my body, I also started to develop physical ailments such as joint and muscle pain.  At one point, my immune system was so bad that I got the flu every single time I had to travel for work!

I didn’t realize it then, but I had a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SADS), or what is more commonly known as the winter blues. Often around April, when the winter light gave way to the warm rays of the sun, my depression would disappear as mysteriously as it had arrived.

My boyfriend at the time did tai chi, a centuries-old martial art form from China. Done very slowly and in a continuous flow, it was said to be an ideal moving meditation with plenty of health benefits. When he suggested I try it, I was skeptical. But one day, I grudgingly dragged myself to a dusty old studio in downtown New York run by a crotchety tai chi master who put me to work immediately to learn the beautiful, graceful form that I still do every day.

My first class was amazing. After being instructed to lift my foot, balance on one leg and place my foot down again in excruciatingly slow motion, I started feeling a tingling sensation moving through different areas of my body!  I left, feeling energized, and more than a little curious. I also had the best sleep of my life that night!

Later I found that it was energy (‘chi’) that was moving through constricted areas and opening me up. Gradually, over time, my physical ailments disappeared and I left my anxiety, fatigue, and depression in the dust. I also became more social, empathic, and connected to people. I learned that the very same principles of tai chi (keeping yourself grounded and centered while moving in synch with your opponent) were also the same principles I could effectively use in my personal relationships.

My personal changes are supported by recent science on tai chi. Indeed, researchers found that tai chi reduces depression and anxiety, increases functional connectivity in the brain, enhances cardiovascular fitness, improves balance and peripheral vision, and helps people connect with their partner or spouse.

Fast forward: my energy reserves have increased, my mind and body have become healthy, and my career and relationships have improved dramatically. I take time to “smell the roses” when in the past I would have rushed from meeting to meeting. I have never been more relaxed in my life as I am now.

If you’re looking for a way to deal with anxiety and depression naturally, give tai chi a try!

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