Meditation, t'ai chi and yoga
What are they?
Most of the traditional meditative therapies have ancient roots in Asia. They combine meditation, special movements or postures and breathing exercises. They are usually done in a group, and the social contact with like-minded people can itself be helpful.
Yoga originated in India about 5,000 years ago. It uses breathing exercises and postures – movements designed to increase strength, balance and flexibility – to boost physical and mental wellbeing. It can be helpful for low back pain, depression and stress.
T'ai chi and qigong
T'ai chi (also called t'ai chi ch'uan) originates in ancient China but is now practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise. Qigong is a similar method, also with Chinese origins, which combines physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention. Both can help with stress, balance and mobility and increase muscle strength.
Meditation involves concentration on breathing or a sound (called a mantra) which you repeat to yourself. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a modern therapy with roots in Buddhist meditation. It helps you pay more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings and the world around you. It can help with pain, anxiety and sleep problems. There are now MBSR apps for mobile devices which some people find helpful.
Are they safe?
There's quite good evidence that these techniques can help with pain and associated symptoms such as anxiety. Some may also help with movement and flexibility. They are safe, although you should take care when attempting some of the more extreme yoga positions.