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A financial analyst explains how tai chi 'stress bending' helped her avoid burnout in her high-stakes career

Gabby Landsverk   

A financial analyst explains how tai chi 'stress bending' helped her avoid burnout in her high-stakes career
  • Former financial analyst Shirley Chock said tai chi helped her thrive in a career prone to burnout.
  • She now teaches tai chi full-time to help others boost their focus and energy while reducing stress.

Former Yale financial analyst Shirley Chock is no stranger to stress.

Throughout her career, she saw her peers crumbling from the pressure of juggling a heavy workload and high-stakes assignments while trying to keep their health and their personal lives afloat.

In contrast, Chock found herself much better off, working her way up through the ranks to a manager position and even netting a Working Mother of the Year award, with energy to spare.

Her "secret" to success? Tai chi, a traditional Chinese martial art known for slow, gentle movements, which she said helped her stress-proof her routine.

"I realized I was applying what I was learning in the martial art to my career and my life," she told Business Insider. "It was like I discovered a secret scroll because no one talked about tai chi in this way."

Tai chi was the key to staying healthy, focused, and energized in a career that left colleagues burned out, according to Chock.

"They just seemed like they were beaten down and facing obstacles all the time. And it was a much easier road for me to navigate the career," she said. "I had energy at the end of the day."

The experience was so profound that Chock left her finance career to teach the art full time with Aiping Tai Chi, a Connecticut-based school with a growing social media presence.

Now her goal is to create an "army of stress-benders," demonstrating how to use tai chi to reduce stress, improve focus, and boost physical and mental health even (or especially) in a fast-paced, ambitious lifestyle.

"It helps you to stay centered so that you don't get distracted by all of these things that are trying to pull you away from your focus," Chock said.

How tai chi can make you mentally and physically stronger as you age

Chock found tai chi by accident. She initially used the deliberate, graceful movements of the practice to recover from an injury while training and competing in mixed martial arts and kung fu.

"I thought it would just be a recovery thing for me because I really wanted to do the cool acrobatic moves," Chock said. "I had this misconception that had was for old people like everybody else."

It's true that tai chi has some serious benefits for healthy aging, helping to improve factors linked to a longer life like balance, mobility, and stability. Evidence also suggests it can help lower blood pressure, even in younger people. Practicing tai chi has been linked to better wellbeing, lower risk of anxiety, and fewer symptoms of depression in some studies.

But Chock was most excited about how learning tai chi was teaching her about habits to improve focus and energy in the rest of her life, and became hooked on the challenge of mastering the subtly of the art.

For instance, the tai chi concept of allowing your body to flow with gravity instead of resisting it beautifully illustrates how you can choose to respond to life challenges too, prioritizing what matters instead of becoming distracted by conflicts that ultimately aren't worth your energy.

Practicing stress management and focus through movement not only gives you the physical benefits of the exercise, but a deeper understanding of what it means than you might get from picking up a self-help book.

"You might learn it in theory, but then when you need to apply it, you don't actually have it," Chock said. "Tai chi is a way for you to understand these philosophies in life by learning them through your body. In that moment where you're overloaded, the body just knows what to do."

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