Several years ago, I learned Tai Chi from a Chinese IUP student whose English was barely intelligible. You've seen it on TV, of course - producers often use it as a background element to show Asian culture when detectives or someone needs to talk to an Asian witness or informant. Old grandmas standing around dressed in all white or black, performing slow, graceful movements.
Tai Chi is a form of exercise that is designed to also help center an individual both mentally and spiritually. When you do the Tai Chi forms, you are attempting to simultaneously control where your body weight is distributed, do the forms slowly enough that you have to concentrate to keep the motion smooth, and breathe correctly, all while keeping the muscles not actively engaged in balance as loose and relaxed as possible. The net effect after the fifteen to thirty minute session is an extreme sense of calmness and being (oh how I hate this sort of fruity terminology) "in touch with yourself." This is achieved through forcing yourself to concentrate with great discipline and by being aware of the minute mechanics of your own body, including your breathing. If you do it properly, that level of concentration pushes aside all of the other crap on your mind, focusing you on a non-stress-related goal for a small period of time. And, well, it's apparently good for you.
It's the same sort of thing that many people enjoy about gardening. Gardeners apply themselves to repetitive manual tasks whose outcome is non-stress related. Plus they get go make pretty gardens.
And thus it can be with firearms. A trip to the shooting range can match both Tai Chi and gardening in their final effect, with some added bonuses.
When you shoot properly, it is an exercise in concentration: you concentrate on composing the picture you see of the target and the sights, on a proper stance and grip, and on the proper firing motion and breathing. You also have to do some mental gymnastics to trick yourself into not knowing when the gun is going to fire. For those of you who have not shot: you don't just slam the trigger back. You apply steady pressure, slowly squeezing the trigger until the gun fires. You can't anticipate the shot, or you'll do some kind of subconscious motion that will reduce your accuracy. Of course, if you gain any familiarity with a particular weapon, you know when it will probably go off during the squeeze, but part of the concentration aspect is in temporarily forgetting/ignoring this knowledge. It's not the easiest thing to do, and I've found it very closely related to the feeling of performing the slow-motion, sometimes difficult Tai Chi forms while remaining relaxed.
As in Tai Chi, the goal in shooting is for this state to become second nature. If you do it enough, you become accustomed to pulling off this physical/mental feat, and most of the time can drop into the proper mental mode on a whim. This is a good skill to have, and can serve you well in stressful real world situations of all kinds. Of course, you get a benefit from shooting that you don't get from either Tai Chi or gardening. At the end of a Tai Chi form, you're just done. You've worked your body a bit, cleared your mind for a while, and then you head home. With gardening, you get a bit more. Many gardeners express the notion that they enjoy seeing a tangible product to their labor, and get great satisfaction from changing a weed-filled patch into something that is nice to look at. But with shooting, you get even more.
The end goal of shooting is to fling lead down the range. When the gun goes off, breaking you out of your purposefully duplicitous concentration, you see a hole in the target down field. That's the primary effect you're looking for. After you've practiced enough and are into a session, the physical actions that produce this effect kind of fade into the background, to the point where, as you shoot, it can almost seem like there's nothing between your consciousness and the target. When the hole appears, it's almost a surprise, and then for an instant the animal part of your brain makes the connection: brain+thoughts=hole in distant object. And to the animal part of your brain, that kicks fifteen different kinds of ass. You have expanded your sphere of physical influence to a great degree, and your that means a great deal to your cerebellum. The sensation is sometimes a kick, as it is the first time you put rifled slugs through a shotgun. But it is always, at some level, centering, satisfying, and, believe it or not, peaceful.
Of course, I'm not talking about inner peace of the God, the Universe and Everything variety, just the day-to-day kind that people often find in gardening, painting, shopping, Tai Chi or a couple of hours at the spa.
So do you want to relax, get yourself in a good frame of mind and
practice an art form with a long-honored tradition of personal freedom and consciousness-raising? Skip the yoga. Head to the range.