According to a twenty-year study by Kaiser Permanente, between seventy and eighty-five percent of illness is caused by stress, meaning that in the U.S. alone stress is costing us about one-trillion dollars per year in healthcare costs. Since most absenteeism is due to stress, US business is losing upwards of $300 billion per year.
On a more personal level, it is disturbing to realize that aging is accelerated by stress, and stress is a growing issue with all of us. Studies show that change is stressful, even “good” change. So as we computer jockeys settle into the saddle of a new age of rapidly changing information, we need an edge that can help us stay healthy, sane, younger and more vibrant, even as we are often at the very center of the hurricane of modern change, such as keeping up with new hardware and software.
Ironically an ancient mind/body tool provides the perfect balm for our generation’s modern problems — it is called “Tai Chi” (pronounced tie-chee). T’ai Chi is a gentle series of relaxing motions that cleanse the body’s tissue of accumulated stress and, by doing so, boosts all aspects of our health systems. According to emerging research boosting the immune systems strength dramatically, while reducing the incidence of depression, anxiety, and even reducing chronic pain conditions, are just a few of Tai Chis myriad benefits.
What makes ancient Tai Chi the perfect modern balm is that it doesn’t require special facilities or clothing, and doesn’t even make you break a sweat, meaning you can do it in office attire in an empty boardroom just by kicking off your heels. Yet, it provides the same euphoria of a long run, the cardiovascular benefit of moderate impact aerobics, and burns nearly as many calories as downhill skiing.
Our time is filled with paradox. A problem in this modern age stems from the great promise of the information age — a tidal wave of data being created by and offered to our “left brain”; that part of our minds that is analytical, calculating, and categorizing the world. Of course, this is a powerful and important part of who we are. This is the part of the mind that gets things done, pays the rent, builds the houses, and makes the cars. Our “right brain,” however, is getting left behind in our rapidly changing techno-world, and this imbalance of thought processes is at the heart of modern stress.
Our right brain is the feeling, smelling, sensing . . . enjoying part of the mind. This is the part of the mind that smells the flowers, not to analyze the smell, but to be filled with its beauty — and this is the part that has been left behind in the digital world. When we go to the cyber mall, for example, our right brain doesn’t get to play. The cyber mall is a wonderful thing that saves us time, money, and gas for our cars (and thereby saves the environment), but there are no Auntie Anne’s Pretzels to smell in cyberspace, or warm sunlight streaming in through the big skylights.
So what do we do? We get the best of both worlds. T’ai Chi is a series of exercises to balance the mind. T’ai Chi teaches us to experience life for sheer pleasure, thereby creating balance in our busy “get things done yesterday” world. If you learn T’ai Chi and practice in the morning before you sit down at your computer, your right brain (the sensing and enjoying brain) will be turned on more. You will feel the texture of your computer keys. You will remember to take the time to get a nice cup of green tea or herbal cinnamon spice tea, and you’ll interrupt your staccato keyboard occasionally to smell the tea’s rich aroma, feel the warmth in your hands, and breathe the breath of life deeply into your lungs.
Although you are at the cutting edge of the information age revolution, you are also in the garden of life. This will give you an edge in the long run. Why? Because chronic stress diminishes our cognitive skills and therefore, our creativity.
Einstein said, “Creativity is more important than knowledge.” Even if we have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, if we are too stressed out to use the knowledge “creatively, we are much less effective. Plus, we’re not as much fun!
The bottom line is T’ai Chi is a set of exercises to practice enjoying life. It’s not enough just to say, “I’m going to enjoy life more.” We actually have to practice mind/body tools that can positively affect our brain wave activity, in an integrative way, as T’ai Chi is proven to do.
T’ai Chi is an extremely sophisticated mind/body science that evolved over millennia, and is now being made available to all of us after centuries of being closely guarded secrets in China. Even though the practices are ancient, they are in many ways just as cutting edge as the multi-gigabyte computer.
Don’t just be “cutting edge” with your left-brain. Go all the way and stretch the envelope with your right brain, too, by weaving T’ai Chi into your life. You will be forever glad you did, as you discover balance and calm in the eye of the modern worlds ever accelerating storm of changes rushing at us.
Copyright 2005 Bill Douglas