Eastern traditions are holistic, viewing the mind, body, soul, environment, and universe as integral to one another. Maintaining harmony within the inner workings of the individual--as well as between the self and the external world--is thus crucial for a long life.
In Taoism, the focus is on the balance between yin (soft, yielding) and yang (hard, active) energies. In Ayurveda, three primary forces called doshas--vata (air or motion), pitta (fire and water or transformation), and kapha (earth or stability)--need to be balanced. According to bestselling author Deepak Chopra, M.D., vata energy can be particularly vulnerable to aging, and needs to be adjusted with warmth in food and climate, nourishment both physical and emotional, and regular habits like steady relationships and stable work environments.
Maintaining balance with the outside world is equally important. This can be as basic as being in touch with daily and annual cycles of vibrancy and dormancy, 1 such as the sun's orbit and the seasons. "When the sun goes down early, you should be going to bed earlier, too," says acupuncturist Laraine Crampton, L.Ac., a faculty member at Yo San University, a TCM school in Los Angeles.
Mimicking the actions of a more instinct-driven species is a great way to "reintegrate with the natural world," Crampton adds; that's why many tai chi movements are modeled on and named after animals. Your muscles, breathing patterns, and sense of awareness can learn fluidity from the dolphin, for instance, or steadfastness from the elephant.
TRY THIS: HORSE STANCE
This basic tai chi posture emulates the horse's relaxed yet alert stance, with power at the ready.
1. Stand with feet parallel, legs a bit wider than shoulders, knees bent slightly over toes. With your back straight, align your head with your shoulders, hips, and feet. Keep your arms loose and relaxed.
2. Tuck in your tailbone and sink gently down into your thighs until they're at a slight angle to the floor. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, eventually working up to 2 minutes.