Caring for a child with autism can be extremely taxing on the parents.

Mindful Meditation May Help Mothers of Kids With Autism

Caring for a child for disability is one of the most challenging, stressful things a parent can encounter. Since the conditions rarely disappear over time, it can lead to years of pent-up stress for mothers and fathers. 

Recently, a new study offered mindfulness programs and "positive psychology" to help mothers of children with autism and other mental-development disability. After weeks of treatment, the meditation showed to reduce their stress, anxiety and depression. 

"There are literally decades of studies that have described the high levels of stress and distress, anxiety and depressive symptoms that moms and dads of children with developmental disabilities suffer, and I didn't want to describe anymore, I wanted to do something about it," Elizabeth Dykens, study leader and an associate director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, explained to Reuters. 

While such families often focus on the disabled child, Dykens wanted to make life a little easier for the caregiver. In fact, improving the mental health of parents is likely to make them better caregivers, which in turn could enhance the child's development. 

Large bodies of previous research have demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction therapies are effective at lowering symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. But most of those interventions were child-oriented. 

"So this is really for parents – it was for their mental health and well-being, for their own adult development," said Dykens.

For the study, 243 participants of children with autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities were randomly assigned into groups that would receive either mindfulness training or a positive psychology program named Positive Adult Development. Whereas mindfulness hones attention at the present moment while incorporating deep breathing and gentle movements like yoga poses, qi gong and meditation, PAD was more focused on thoughts and practicing gratitude. 

Dykens pointed out that both methods would counteract anger, disappointment, guilt or sadness that families often face while dealing with their kids' challenging problems. 

At the beginning, about 85 percent of mothers had substantial levels of stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent suffered from anxiety disorders. Yet by the end of the six weeks, both groups displayed significant reductions in stress, depression and anxiety levels. 

Mothers in the mindfulness group had better improvements in anxiety and sleep and well-being compared to the women in the PAD group. 

The study underpins that even the hardest of life's situations have a light at the end of the tunnel, and with meditation, yoga or Dahn Yoga exercises, people can work through them one by one. 

Qi gong is considered a cousin of Tai Chi.

5 Fast Things to Know About Qi Gong

Qi Gong is a type of study of Qi (energy or life force) that was developed more than 3,000 years ago in China. But as the relentless go-go-go culture continues to stack up, people all around the world are turning to this ancient technique to relieve stress. Here are six basic things to know about qi gong. 

1. Qi gong combines several motions and breathing exercises
The Chinese practice blends breathing techniques, posture and movement to circulate the life force throughout the body and filter out toxins.

2. The basic Qi gong stance is called Hugging the Tree
To do this, stand in the basic Qi gong stance with your knees bent comfortably. Raise your arms up in front as if holding a huge Qi ball (like a beach ball) at the level of your heart. As you angle your palms toward yourself, with your elbows pointing down to the ground and shoulders relaxed, tuck your chin. Some people like to think they have a cord attached at the apex of their head tugging their spine upward. Remain standing while you do deep dantian breathing. 

3. Focus on dantian 
Since breathing is a large part of qi gong, dantian is something that new practitioners will want to understand. Dantian means "elixir field" or a place to store energy, and it can be found in one's center. Thus, abdominal breathing is important. Anatomically, dantian is located in the lower abdomen between the navel and the pubic bone. Qi gong experts believe this is not only a source of power for physical energy and sexual vitality but also a corresponding point of physical functions such as digestion and reproduction.  

4. Everyone can benefit from qi gong
Unlike certain martial arts like Kung Fu, Qi gong can be practiced by people of all ages and abilities. Children may learn to channel their energy and develop heightened concentration with qi gong; office workers can reduce stress and anxiety; and seniors may utilize gentle motions to help relieve problems like arthritis and a limited range of motion. Similar benefits may be found in the Korean practice of Dahn Yoga.

5. There is a difference between Qi gong, Tai Chi and Kung Fu
Although subtle to the outside eye, there is a difference between these three practices. Tai Chi is a soft or internal martial art whereas Kung Fu is considered a hard or external martial art that is heavily based on self-defense training. On the other hand, Qi gong can be considered a cousin of Tai Chi, combining slow, easy motions with controlled breathing.

Yoga could help ease spring allergy symptoms.

Dahn Yoga May Be Able to Help Your Allergies

With the warm weather comes allergies, and pollen is the main offender. Each year millions of Americans deal with seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, which not is only bothersome, but can disrupt one's sleep patterns, concentration and mood. However, to fight this off, yoga can help ease your allergy symptoms through stress reduction.

When you're stressed out, your body release hormones and chemicals including histamine, the powerful chemical that lead to allergy symptoms. So, the more stress, the nastier the allergies.

"Allergies are worsened by a stress reaction, which causes physiological responses, including the release of stress hormones and histamine, and triggers inflammation," Dr. Jeff Migdow, director of Prana Yoga Teacher Training through the Open Center in New York, told YogaJournal. "Relaxation diminishes fight-or-flight response, and thereby reduces allergic symptoms."

Yoga and meditation can de-stress your immune system. Despite a stuffy nose, soothing breathing techniques help nurture an inner calm that pushes anxiety out of the mind. With that being said, some forms of yoga are better than others for those suffering from allergies. You might want to steer clear of Bikram yoga or Ashtanga yoga where there is heat.

Dahn Yoga, on the other hand, is a great alternative.

The first part of a Dahn Yoga class consists of stretching exercises that boost circulation throughout your body. Afterward, practitioners engage in brain wave vibration, a dynamic meditation that activates the natural healing powers of your brain. Then it's time for Jigam, also called deep energy meditation, where the gentle postures serve to break down stress. Yoga experts advise that in the breathing of allergy sufferers, there should be a greater emphasis placed on exhalation. A short inhalation followed by a longer one has a calming impact. 

Moreover, yogis can try inversions, which help drain secretions from the nose and open up the respiratory tract. Doing a shoulderstand or plow pose may help ensure proper drainage of sinuses. As a note though, don't keep your head down too long in yoga poses like the headstand or downward-facing dog, as they increase pressure in nasal passages. 

Instead, partake in more standing poses like forward and backward bends, which massage various parts of the spine and condition the lungs. Through all of this, you can feel deep relaxation and rejuvenation, helping to limit stuffy noses, itching eyes and other allergy symptoms.

Qi gong could be an effective way to help combat diabetes.

Study: Qi Gong Could Serve As Weight Loss Therapy for Diabetes Patients

According to a new study from Bastyr University and the University of Washington, the ancient Chinese practice of qi gong may help diabetes patients lose weight.

The researchers, who published their findings at the Bastyr University Research Institute, found that patients who practiced a specific form of qi gong dropped both weight and insulin resistance, which is a contributing factor for Type 2 diabetes. 

"The exciting part is that no one has ever reported that qi gong can help with losing weight," says lead investigator Guan-Cheng Sun, PhD.

For the study, 32 participants were recruited and randomly assigned to three groups. The qi gong group performed one 30-minute session with a certified qi gong instructor and did two more sessions at home each week. The progressive resistance training group tried similar physical movement, but instead of qi gong's focused breathing and meditation, the workout incorporated elastic exercise bands. A control group did not perform either exercise. 

Following the 12-week program, both the qi gong and PRT groups demonstrated significant weight loss.

The results are attention-grabbing because obesity is a leading factor for Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of the disease. Nearly 90 percent of people with diabetes suffer from Type 2. The heavier one is, the higher his or her risk becomes for the disease. 

What's more, the qi gong group also reduced its rate of insulin resistance. Since insulin resistance is what often leads to diabetes, avoiding it is technically even more important than weight loss, Dr. Sun explained. 

It's important to point out that the trial represents a small sample size. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the initial study, will now grant additional funding to allow the group to expand its research. 

Still, qi gong, a similar form of practice as tai chi, has the potential to help fight off diabetes. Both qi gong and tai chi work to promote a healthy flow of "qi," or energy, through the body. Therapies that offer this ancient practice would be far less expensive than conventional diabetes care, Dr. Sun said.

"At this point we can see that qigong is working differently than regular exercise," Dr. Sun said. "But how does it work differently? We need to do studies to find how it's working at the molecular level. That would be a great contribution to diabetes care."

Nurses, and those training to become them, deal with stress on an hourly basis.

Qi Gong As Stress Reduction Tool Among Nursing Students

There are few occupations as emotionally taxing as caring for the life of another person. Those learning to become nurses will face long hours, intense medical knowledge and patients who need intimate care. To combat the stress of this, researchers examined the influence of qi gong training on nursing students. 

In the 10-week study, participants were split into two groups: The first group practiced the ancient Chinese technique qi gong while the second received no intervention. Then a depression, anxiety and stress test and the Patient Health Questionnaire were administered. Salivary biomarkers were also measured. 

At the end of the treatment, only the qi gong group showed an improvement in their depression, anxiety and stress scores. Fascinatingly, cortisol concentrations in the saliva – an indicator of stress – among the qi gong group had decreased while the secretion rates of salivary immunoglobulin-A – a benchmark of immunity – increased. 

Qi gong, which integrates breathing techniques, physical postures and slow self-massage, helped the practitioners take a step back from the hectic world of their course material, text books and exams to feel a sort of self-aware release. The gentle, rhythmic motions of qi gong served to reduce the anxiousness and helped them focus after practice.

The researchers concluded that qi gong enhances psychological states and mucosal immunity. 

Similar to qi gong, Dahn Yoga has been shown to help lower stress, for students, professionals or children. The Korean-style yoga incorporates focused breathing. People who dedicated some time to Dahn Yoga feel a better sense of inner calm and a strengthened control over their body and emotions. For nurses and beyond, this could be a life-changer!

One man practices tai chi on the beach.

Tai Chi for Arthritis Patients

Arthritis revolves around joint health that can make everyday movements challenging. Millions of people young and old deal with arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., according to the Arthritis Foundations. As a type of gentle exercise that strengthens the muscles that support joints, tai chai is a great outlet for arthritis patients looking for low-impact workouts to keep disability out of the question.

Tai chi is practice that involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner that incorporates deep breathing. Its use in the West today can perhaps best be thought of as a moving form of yoga and meditation combined.

It is true that tai chi movements have origins in martial arts, but all of the motions are in a slow-tempo energy level, allowing those with arthritis to practice it freely and without pain. These techniques help foster a calm and tranquil mind, establishing a rhythm of control over balance, alignment and fine-scale motor movements. For those with stiff joints, tai chi smoothens transitional motions and can help ease pressure on joints.

Tai chi is often considered a cousin technique to qi gong, another ancient Chinese practice. Yet here's the main difference between tai chi and qi gong: While the former is a low-impact, aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, qi gong involves a series of postures focused on meditation and self-massage.

Sun-style tai chi has been cited as a go-to exercise for arthritis patients, as it works in slow, smooth movements that can strengthen supporting muscle and improve mobility. Once the body parts around the joints gain muscle mass, they can take the load off the joints to carry more weight and pressure.

Paul Lam, a family physician and director of the Tai Chi for Health Institute in Australia, advises that you don't practice tai chi longer than the amount of time you can walk comfortably. Generally, 20 to 40 minutes each day is good for most people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Whether you want to learn tai chi at home or launch tai chi for beginners, the ancient exercise has more than its fair share of applications in the modern world, where, like the goal of arthritis patients, all parts are constantly in motion.

One man practices qi gong on a dock.

Qi Gong Almost as Popular as Yoga

Qi gong has been making waves lately. Communities across the U.S. are being drawn to the ancient Chinese technique that offers a peace of body and mind. 

With so much hustle and bustle in our daily work lives, a mind relaxer like qi gong is becoming increasingly necessary. Qi, a version of chi, is the Chinese word for energy. 

One teacher of qi gong is Shuren Ma, who helped bring the practice to the Washington, D.C., area around 33 years ago when he moved there from China. Over the last two to three years, he has been noticing the classes fill up, as people are gravitating toward the mind-soothing technique. 

William Pettiford is among the students in Ma's class. Pettiford came suffering from lymphoma, and he says practicing qi gong has helped him heal. 

"It was like someone taking a straw and putting it down my throat, and it just opened up," he told an ABC affiliate.

Especially in high-stress area like the nation's capital, many people can feel improvement from qi gong. People who have been dealing with insomnia, cancer and attention deficit disorders have all been known to reap the benefits of the technique. 

Qi gong is very similar to the more well-known tai chi, a type of low-impact, aerobic exercise that began as a martial art. Both combine slow movements, deep breathing and meditation. For this reason, tai chi is sometimes called the "moving meditation."

Tai chi and qi gong have been practiced widely in China for thousands of year, but are recently becoming popular in the Western world, as demonstrated in Ma's classroom. One possible reason for this is that people of almost any age or condition can participate in practices. Those who partake report improved feelings of well-being among other health perks. 

"If you feel any pain or if you have something that is bothering you or you are stressed, whenever you take this class, it is really great," regular attendee Carolina Esteva said.

Ilchi Lee points out that it is believed that qi gong and tai chi improve the energy flow throughout the body, leading to greater calmness, awareness and overall sense of wellness. Stepping away from all the noise around us does a world of good, allowing people to exit their hectic lives and find an inner serenity.

"It's not easy to see it, but you can feel it," Ma said of chi to the ABC affiliate. 

Qi gong allows millennials a chance to step back and slow down from the go-go-go culture.

Millennials Taking to Qi Gong for Anxiety

With student loans to pay off, far less job security than their parents' generation and endless noise from social media, it's no wonder millennials are stressed out. Today millions of teenagers to 20-somethings suffer from anxiety, making it the most common mental illness in the U.S, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The same trend is brewing across the pond, as a record number of people visited Anxiety U.K. in January of this year, with the number of users ages 16 to 25 growing by more than 40 percent in 2013.

But as resourceful as they are, those in generation Y have ben turning toward the ancient Chinese practice of qi gong to shed their troubles. Qi gong is a technique that aligns the body, breath and mind for meditation.

Roshni, 27, is one of the Millennials who deals with anxiety and has since started practicing qi gong. Until recently, she was living with her parents, which added to the peer and parental pressure, and had just ended a serious relationship. Instead of dwelling on the feelings of isolation, she began practicing the ancient technique. 

"I spoke to [my doctor] about my anxiety and she recommended qi gong … which I do every day, often twice a day," Roshni told The Independent. "It makes me feel extremely grounded."

Qi gong combines physical poses, focused attention and breathing techniques, which all help slow heart rate down and ease the mind. For many people in Generation Y, it may be the ticket to a clear head. 

Similar to qi gong, Dahn Yoga is another stress-relieving outlet. This mind-body program helps foster health and well-being by concentrating on one's chi, or inner energy. 

Daisy Buchanan is another U.K. millennial sharing the same feelings of anxiety as Roshni. When asked about her remedies, she said that when when life feels hard, remember that whatever is weighing you down today doesn't have to dictate how you feel tomorrow. 

A group of people practicing tai chi in the park.

World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day is April 26

On Saturday, April 26, people from all corners of the globe will gather to celebrate World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day. These two forms of Chinese martial arts date back more than two thousand years, and their healing effects continue to be felt today.

The annual event begins in the earliest time zones of Soma at 10 a.m. and then spans across Asia, Europe and the Americas. Celebrations include mass exhibitions in many cities and free classes in participating regions.  World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day, held the last Saturday of April since 1999, has grown so big that there are events in almost 80 countries. 

Pronounced "chee-gung," qi gong merges mindful concentration and exercise suitable for people of abilities and fitness levels. It incorporates coordinating breath with a series of repetitive fluid movements, which allow your chi (energy) to flow throughout your body. Through breathing techniques, stretching and maintaining stationary postures, qi gong helps promote mental and physical well-being. 

Tai chi, pronounced "tai chee," is another graceful form of exercise. Like qi gong, it involves deep breathing techniques accompanied by a sequence of movements performed in a slow, focused manner. Each posture flows into the next. While tai chi has dozens of different styles that emphasize various tai chi principles and methods, the technique boasts universal benefits! Tai chi lowers stress – just like Dahn Yoga, a Korean-style power yoga that many practitioners of qi gong and tai chi might want to try out. Another great thing about tai chi is that it's noncompetitive, so individuals from all over the world can practice in their own ways. It's a great day to learn tai chi for beginners too!

When practicing tai chi and qi gong on Saturday, the simple movements and breathing exercises will have calming benefits for thousands of participants. The techniques' mindfulness allow you to take a step back from the hectic schedules of everyday life, and focus on you. After all, everybody needs some "me" time every now and then.

The practices are not just for adults either. Qi gong, sometimes called "Chinese yoga," is great for children. It helps give them another outlet for rash behavior and tension with siblings or peers. 

With so many people participating in World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day, you won't want to miss out! 

Devoe is considered America's youngest female yoga instructor.

Meet the Youngest Yoga Teacher in the US

Twelve-year-old Jaysea DeVoe knows a thing or two about focus. She teaches yoga professionally to teenagers and preschoolers, both known for their tendencies to tend to fidget and rebel. However, DeVoe wields the unique ability to calm them and instill a sense of concentration. 

After completing 200 hours of teacher training, DeVoe recently became certified as a yoga instructor. She is believed to be the youngest certified female yoga instructor in the U.S.

Devoe teaches in her California beach town of Encinitas, where her entrepreneurial gumption is not alone. Skateboarder-turned-businessman Tony Hawk and Olympic gold snow boarder Shaun White are both based in Encinitas. On top of teaching yoga poses to 4-year-olds and teens, DeVoe is about to start a family yoga class.

"I feel like I want to do this for a long time because I love teaching so much," DeVoe, who looks like a classic California beach girl with long blond hair, told Reuters.

DeVoe's parents, Rick and Julie, have encouraged her passion for a long time. In fact, they granted an usual amount of freedom rarely taken advantage of by kids her age. They found an institution to accommodate DeVoe's plans, allowing her to go school three days a week and have the other four to practice yoga, teach yoga poses and explore the types of yoga for beginners. 

"She was just adamant about doing all the homework and never wanting to miss a class," Rick said of the yoga training class. "We were just really thrilled and very honored that they allowed her to do it and that she pulled it off."

Next Steps
DeVoe now works at a donation-based yoga studio, and after her first class, she found $136 in the donation box. She has been trained to teach adults, saying she's ready for moms and dads in her new family class. She's also ready to tackle the challenge of working with people who have injuries. Dahn Yoga, a form of yoga with a Korean twist, is another helpful method to help overcome injuries. The style incorporates gentle movements that develops better range of motion and flexibility. 

"We have learned so many variations of all the poses to do if people do have injuries or to prevent injuries," she said with a confident tone to Reuters.

There's little doubt that DeVoe has the sort of drive that's inspirational to people four and five times her age. Working initially with pint-sized students, DeVoe is an ideal teacher for yoga for beginners. But her aspirations don't stop there. She just told her dad she wanted to look into making eco-friendly mats. Those in California will have the chance for America's youngest yoga instructor to show them the ropes. 

Tips for your healthier, happier and more peaceful life