3 minute read

People often ask me if tai chi is good for losing weight. If they're asking whether tai chi is a substitute for running or lifting weights, the answer is usually "no". When someone has been really injury or hasn't exercised in a long time, tai chi can get you back on your feet and moving pain free. For these folks, tai chi can be a safe first step towards more demanding exercise.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you're into the martial side of tai chi, the answer is "yes". You'll be training like a boxer, doing lots of heavy sparring, and weapons training becomes the equivalent of lifting weights. Most people aren't going down the martial tai chi road, training hours each day, so you need to look at the whole issue a little differently.

Check out this explanation of stress on weight management, from Dr. Arya M. Sharma, Professor of Medicine & Chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Stress has both a psychological and physiological impact on weight management as it affects a patient’s eating and exercise behaviours.

Physiologically, stress increases serum cortisol, which in turn affects appetite. Eating can be an appropriate response to stress as it decreases serum cortisol levels.

Psychologically, stressed individuals may find themselves more distractible with decreased ability to focus, concentrate and plan â€" abilities that are essential to lifestyle-based weight management. As well, individuals under stress may fall into more disorganized patterns of eating and miss meals or snacks, thereby allowing hunger to influence their eating decisions.

Teaching patients stress-reduction techniques, or directing them to appropriate stress-reduction resources may help with their weight-management efforts. Meditation, yoga, deep-breathing techniques, exercise and professional counselling can all be considered. (source)

What I really like about this explanation is that you have to address stress on a psychological and physiological level to understand its full impact. As you begin to understand and identify the different facets of stress, you can adapt your behavior accordingly. It's not uncommon to write off our experiences as entirely psychological or entirely physiological, making us at fault in the first case and helpless in the second. It's so much more productive to try to understand the interplay of psychological and physiological forces at play in the stress -- and hopefully, relaxation -- cycle.

From that point of view, having a tai chi practice will teach you to recognize the signs of stress in your life and give you a way to process them before they take a psychological and physical toll. So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and relax!