At The Sleep Matters Club, we’ve often talked about the importance of reducing stress to improve your sleep and your daily energy levels. But how should you actually go about that? Matthew Rochford is a well-renowned Tai Chi expert in the UK. He helps us explore the benefits of the art when trying to find calm. There is also a practical example you can try after reading this post.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a dynamic form of moving meditation. It helps bring about calm and peace of mind, while gently exercising the whole body. Tai Chi stresses the principles of relaxation and yielding, the cultivation of inner strength and harmony of both body and mind. The practice of this art brings us into balance with ourselves and those around us. It is a form of inner martial art.
The art of Tai Chi Chuan (Supreme Ultimate Fist) emerged initially within China during the middle of the 19th Century, yet the principles upon which it is based go back into antiquity, with many citing the 14th century Taoist Priest Chang Sang Feng as the original creator of the art. Tai Chi is now widely practised and taught in every major country of the world. Its principles and methods make it readily accessible to people of all ages and ability.
Research and anecdotal evidence points to several key benefits of regular Tai Chi practice. This includes a greater ability to relax, reduced stress and improvements with high blood pressure sufferers. As stress is a big contributor to waking up in the middle of the night, it’s not hard to see how Tai Chi can benefit our sleep.
In today’s hectic world, where life is fast-paced and pressured, Tai Chi helps us to slow down and re-balance ourselves. By focusing on the gentle movements, the mind becomes clear and calm – free from the concerns of daily life. As the body moves smoothly and gently through a series of postures, known as a Form, circulation is activated, and the muscles begin to work in a relaxed but dynamic way.
For beginners, learning Tai Chi has its attractions, but some prior information may be useful before attending a class, purchasing a DVD or participating in an online course. It’s worth bearing in mind, therefore, that different schools will emphasise different approaches, so check out the type of class before you attend or sign up.
A Simple Exercise in 4 Easy Steps
To get started, try this simple exercise to help relax the body and focus the mind:
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your arms relaxed by your sides and your head level. Keep your eyes open. Allow your knees to be slightly bent. Spend a few moments focusing on your bodily sensations, and let go of tension.
2. As if you are gently pushing into the ground, allow a wave of movement to rise from your feet so that your knees unbend. Let this flow upwards through your body, raising your arms to shoulder height and extended out in front of you.
3. Then gently relax your legs, allowing your knees to bend slightly and allow your shoulders and arms to relax so that your arms hang by your sides, again.
4. Do this a few times until the movement is smooth. After a while, breathe in as you lift up and out as you sink slightly down. Your body should rise no more than two inches and sink the same amount.
As you go through this exercise, try to pay attention to what is going on with your body, i.e. focus on the sensations of the movement. After a few minutes, you should feel calm, energised and relaxed, and ready for a good night’s sleep.
Following this video, you can also co-ordinate the exercise with your breathing.
Have you tried Tai Chi and found its relaxing effect to have a positive impact on your sleep? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!