12/11/2014 09:53 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2015

3 Simple Ways to Relieve Holiday Tension With Tai Chi

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When did stress become synonymous with the holidays? Each year, we seem to anticipate the anxiety just as much as we anticipate the love and peace of the season. The problem is that stress -- beyond its negative effects on the body -- can sap the happy from the holidays.

The three main components of a tai chi practice -- movement, meditation, and breathing -- can help you shake off stress this season. So, when you catch yourself tensing up, try these instant soothers borrowed from the ancient martial art.

Tai chi's graceful movements will radiate throughout your body and mind. Tai chi engages the muscles differently than traditional exercise. Instead of the muscles tensing as you move through the postures, they stay relaxed -- and make your entire being feel relaxed too. Tai chi is often called moving meditation -- and with good reason. Linking the breath with movement, as tai chi does, works on multiple levels to help shut down the stress response. Try it for yourself. The movement, Wave Hands Like Clouds, can instantly help calm the nervous system.

To do: Stand, knees slightly bent and feet apart. Keeping the elbows bent, extend arms in front of you with palms facing up. Rotate your torso to the right, and imagine there is a bowl of water in front of you, and as you scoop the water with your left hand turn to the right side. Left arm will come up and wash the face moving past your eyes as you turn your torso towards the left. Keeping the movement fluid, bring the right arm across and repeat movement with your right arm. Incorporate the breath as you move side to side. Do 3-9 times. Click here to watch this move.

There are many forms of meditation, but they all share the aspect of grounding, or centering. While tai chi movements help you find stillness through motion, this standing meditation will help you find your ground while standing still.

To do: Stand, knees slightly bent, feet apart, toes pointing straight ahead. Relax your shoulders, and close your eyes or lower your gaze. Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. As you continue to breathe, feel the connection of your feet to the ground beneath you. On each inhale, visualize the energy drawing into your feet from the earth and as you exhale, visualize the energy returning to the earth. Continue for one to 10 minutes, depending on how much time you have. Next, as you inhale, visualize the energy from the earth moving up to your Dan Tien point, just below your navel. As you exhale, visualize ridding any stress and tension along with the breath.

Perhaps one of the quickest ways to shift your stress level is also the easiest. Just breathe. Deep, full breathing expands and stretches your muscles, and in doing so, it releases physical tension. It also increases circulation to the brain so you feel more alert -- and who doesn't need that now? Here's a quick exercise that can be done standing, seated, or lying down. Place your hands on your stomach and close your eyes. Breathing through your nose, feel your stomach expand as you inhale, and relax as you exhale. Do for nine cycles of breath.

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