by A.T. Dale
From the first moment you begin a Tai Chi or Qi Gong class you hear those frustrating words: Relax! Did you know that many languages don’t have the word relax? Instead of saying relax, it’s usually something like: let go, release, loosen, soften up. Most of my teachers have talked about relaxation as a natural state, a state when we return to calmness, health, and the unity of mind and body. As I think about it more and more I don’t think relaxation is natural at all. And, there are many types or degrees of relaxation from completely loose to an athlete’s alertness.
I consider relaxation of mind and body as a spiritual state. Only when the mind is calm can the body truly relax. And, if the body isn’t at ease the mind can’t relax. When I’m talking about spirit or spiritual I am referring to a state where we are calm, centered, clear, and at peace with ourselves. Now that’s true relaxation. There are few people I’d describe as being close to that state. Those individuals usually have a casual and happy-go-lucky air about them. Almost an ‘I don’t care,” attitude. What goes on around them doesn’t touch or move their center.
In order to relax we have to basically just ‘let go.’ Let go of our posturing, or our need to control, manipulate, or force our views, beliefs, or opinions. No needless reaction to words or actions. What comes to mind is the Wisdom of the Great Round Mirror.I try my best not to tell students to relax since the opposite usually happens. Or, they become frustrated. Instead I prefer asking them to be comfortable. Once you’re comfortable you’re able to relax. If you’re not comfortable then there’s no way you can relax. All new members of Xin Qi Shen Dojo get the following homework (for the rest of their lives): at every red light, every line you have to stand in and wait, TV commercials, stuck in traffic: take a moment to see if you are physically comfortable. If not, then adjust your stance, loosen up, try to figure out why you are uncomfortable and let go. Then proceed about your task.
It’s daily decrease, not daily increase. Learning to be comfortable within our bodies, with circumstances, and events. This, of course, is a continual process. What we each need to ask ourselves is what’s important? Being healthy and happy or in continual tension and conflict? Moving from, and as center instead of being blown in all directions by the winds of events, words, and life’s situations. Another saying comes to mind from the Zen tradition:
“A warrior has no opinions, a warrior is simply aware.”
As we practice our forms are we practicing for showing off, exercise, or to develop a following? Shouldn’t we be practicing to strip away layers of tensions and desire? Skill will come. As we practice tuishou, roushou, or any partner work, are we doing it to show what we know, to control or injure our partners, or to learn from the situation? How to surf, stay centered and safe? We should be studying ourselves in this particular situation.
Class and practice. This is one easy area to polish ourselves. Too often I see students practicing with the assumption that they’re learning specific movements to deal with real attacks. The real lessons are in body movement, balance, centering, learning about ourselves, where we’re tense, where we’re controlling, where we fight and clash, where we aren’t centered or over our feet. Class and partner practice is teamwork to learn and polish the principles not merely throwing someone down, or demonstrating who is better or showing off or comparing our practice against others.
Question: When you learned to drive what did you practice? I practiced the techniques of driving and awareness of events during the time I was driving. Have you ever had to veer out of the way of a cat, squirrel, biker? Have you ever had to slam on the brakes to avoid running into or over something? When you drive are you constantly looking for that squirrel or event to happen?
Due to your driving practice, which involved technique and awareness training, I bet you were able to swerve out of the way or brake before hitting the cat. (I sincerely hope so). However, you didn’t practice that, you practiced technique and awareness drills. Techniques in a dojo, no matter how free form, will never be the same as in real life. We can’t simulate a real-time situation within the dojo. On a small level we may be able to simulate the attack but never the intent, anger, desperation, momentum or desire to really hurt each other. Dojo practice is training on various levels. If a car comes out of the blue and is about to hit you, you’ll jump out of the way, or you’ll duck a strike and see an opportunity to counter or escape.
I see dojo practice, whether it is form work or partner work, as practicing to relax within various situations. Actually it’s a study of ourselves to see where we aren’t relaxed and then figure out why not and fix it. This is that stripping away bad habits and attitudes, letting go.
People care too much! It’s good to want to be correct and strive for improvement but I see too much effort creating blockages. The minute a students doesn’t give a sh** about who is watching or how perfect their form is, it’s usually the most correct I’ve seen them practice. So loosen up and just re . . . Let go.
YANG FAMILY TAI CHI CHUAN
By Rene Nararro
“The Tai Chi Chuan curriculum consists of hand forms first (i.e., empty hand), such as Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Chi Long Boxing. Next comes One Hand Push Hands, Fixed Position Push Hands, Push Hands with Active Steps, Ta Lu, and Free Sparring. Last comes the weapons, such as Tai Chi Double-Edged Sword, Tai Chi Broadsword, Tai Chi Spear (Thirteen Spear). And so forth.” – Yang Cheng-Fu Douglas Wile, Tai Chi Touchstones: Yang Family Transmissions, p. 7.
When I was studying Tai Chi Chuan Yang Family Style in Manila’s Chinatown in the late 1960’s I saw only three “forms” – Solo Form which we later called the Long Form to distinguish it from the Short version; Sword Form; Push Hands (if we can call it a form). The master who taught Tai Chi Chuan at the school where I studied, Hua Eng Athletic Club, in Manila, was Han Ching-Tang, the famous teacher from Taiwan. Master Han wasn’t around when I started studying, but Chan Bun Te, an impeccable stylist, who studied the form with him, was. Master Han apparently taught only these three Tai chi chuan forms – the Solo Form and Push Hands (both of which I studied) and the Sword Form (which I did not). There were students who were practicing the Sword form when I was at Hua-Eng. I learned a few movements but the man whose name I can’t remember now and was probably called Mr. Sy was teaching it left and nobody took his place. My Shaolin master Johnny Chiuten gave me a video of this talented man performing several forms – Solo tai chi form, Sword form (Han’s also), a type of Chen style Solo form, and Pa- Kua Chang – apparently most of them, if not all, learned from Han Ching-Tang. I understand that Master Han studied the Solo form from Yang Cheng-Fu in the Sports College in Nanjing in the early 30s. But Han had revised it in many ways. The opening, for instance, looked like the beginning of 5 Element Fist of Hsing-1. In other places, he had changed the movements too, but fortunately not the names. I learned another version of the Yang Family Solo Form from Grandmaster Lieu/Lao Yun Hsiao (also from Taiwan) later on, when the master was visiting the Philippines in 1970. He did not teach us any other Tai Chi Chuan form. At the time, like many people, I thought these three forms were what constituted the whole Tai chi chuan curriculum of the Yang Family.
When I moved to the United States in August 1970, saw a few teachers. Their curriculum covered the Solo Form plus Push Hands. Sometimes they taught a Sword form; often no. I observed Tai chi chuan masters on both East and West Coasts. From what I had seen at his school in New York City, the legendary Cheng Man-Ching taught his abbreviated 37-movement Solo form. Push hands/Sensing hands, and Sword. I haven’t found any other evidence that he taught any other form. It is possible that he also taught Ta-Lu (translated at the Gin Soon Tai chi club as “great pulling”), which is really part of Push Hands, to a few students.
In 1986, Gunter Weil and Rylin Malone two friends from the Healing Tao, to the Gin Soon Tai chi Club in Boston’s Chinatown district, took me. For the first time, I saw a more varied curriculum that included not only Push Hands, Solo form and Sword but also Staff-Spear and Chang-Chuan. It was quite a pleasant surprise not only to see a genuine master in Gin Soon Chu, the second disciple of Yang Sau-Chung, but also to come upon forms I had not seen before, and he was teaching them openly. There are two possible reasons why only one or two Tai chi chuan forms of the Yang Family became widely disseminated. One reason might be that the Yang family did not teach the other forms – or taught them to only a few people, mostly their close disciples or children. Another reason is that a majority of students are inclined – for lack of time or motivation or opportunity – to study only one or two forms.
When Yang Cheng-Fu was alive, it appeared that only two or three forms were taught in public – the Solo form; Push Hands; and the first Sword form. The other forms – like the Chang-chuan (Long Fist), 2-man sparring set (San-sou), staff-spear set, Knife/Broadsword, second Sword and perhaps others – were usually not taught. Which makes me wonder: What did the famous masters like Dong Ying Jie, Chen Weiming, Fu Xiaowen, Cheng Man-Ching learn from Yang Cheng-Fu? From the curriculum that he taught, Chen Weiming learned the Solo form, Sword, Spear, Push Hands, and Chang-chuan. What the others learned I wouldn’t even bother to guess at. A sensitive subject this, and I don’t like to step on anybody’s toes. If anybody reads this article, s/he can tell me if they are privy to reliable information about what the masters learned. It is possible that these masters learned some or all of their forms from Yang Cheng-fu’s son Yang Sau-Chung, who from age 14 to 18 became his father’s assistant. I could be wrong because there are no eyewitnesses or films from that time. In the Yang Family tradition, except for the times when Grandmaster Yang Cheng-fu taught in public, usually he taught only one, perhaps two students at a time. As a result, a student may not know what other students were studying unless s/he talked to them. Moreover, one student can claim to have learned a form or everything from Yang Cheng-Fu himself and only Yang Cheng-Fu would know the truth, and he is dead. With Grandmaster Yang Sau-Chung (1909-1985), many of the lessons were taught in a small apartment in Hong Kong. There was really no room for a big class. Each student took private lessons. As far as I know, there were no public announcements of workshops or classes, just private lessons. What Yang Cheng-Fu was talking about in the epigraph above is that there is indeed an extended curriculum of fist and weapons forms. It is not just one or two forms, there are several; apparently, some of them were secret forms taught only to a few disciples.
In the list, Yang Cheng-Fu mentioned the Tai chi chuan form. This probably refers to the Solo Form, the revised form – a large-frame, long, simplified form – that was popularized in China in an attempt to help the people improve their health. I said “probably” because there are really different versions of it and I won’t presume to know what the great Yang was referring to.
Master Yang also referred to Tai chi Long Boxing. Was he being redundant here, since Tai Chi Chuan also refers to Long Boxing, or was he referring to another entirely different form? I conjecture that he was referring to another form, specifically the Chang Chuan form, which is often considered the Long form in the Yang Family Chang chuan is also sometimes referred to, rightly or wrongly, as the Fast Tai chi chuan form (because of its fast movements) or the Fa-jing form (because of its explosive techniques). I have not seen the Chang Chuan form mentioned in the literature. But, according to Vincent F. Chu, he heard that there are books in China about it written by students of Chen Wei-ming. Chen Weiming himself listed the moves of Chang-Chuan m his book on the Tai chi Sword published in the 30s. A translation of this book into English by Barbara Davis omits the list.
Tai chi chuan Chang Chuan is a beautiful and rare form characterized by alternately slow and sudden, dynamic and explosive movements. The movements are actually similar in name to the Solo Form but there are variations in the sequence and in the technique and execution. There is also a complete form called 2-Man Sparring Set (San-Sou). It is a form that enables the practitioner to learn the deeper applications of the different movements in the Solo and Chang Chuan forms. The student has to study both sides (A and B) to learn the form. Push Hands in the Yang Family tradition as transmitted by Yang Sau-chung is a complicated discipline. There are at least 7 different facets of it, some involving stationary postures with hand movements and positions that are intended to develop internal structure, sensitivity, receiving and explosive energy, softness and dynamism; others involving manipulations of the chi; still others involving movement of the hands and feet (like Ta-Lu). Basically, it was a training that incorporated the 36 or so techniques of fa-jing. From the curriculum offered by Master Gin Soon Chu, I learned there are indeed these fist and weapons forms handed down in the Yang Family. There are even three versions of the Knife/Broadsword form (one of them, a vigorous and fast version known as Yang Sau-Chung’s favorite, another with a flying inside crescent kick like Shaolin) and two versions of the Sword form (one of them called Yang Cheng-fu’s form). Yang Cheng-Fu’s “And so forth” in the quotation above leaves much to the imagination. He was obviously referring to other forms, but he did not elaborate. It Is possible he was referring to the halberd, advance spear form and others, which Master Gin Soon Chu knows, but I can only guess what these forms are.
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By Dr Paul Lam – Tai Chi For Health Institute
When you are teaching tai chi, your students’ safety is of paramount importance. Teaching safely makes you a more effective teacher. No matter what your students’ objectives are, any injury will set them back from achieving them. It seems likely that if we don’t take on this responsibility ourselves, governments might soon force us to do so. To safeguard the public, many countries are now bringing in regulations for the conduct of exercise classes. It may not have happened with tai chi classes yet in your country, but it could eventually. The benefit for us, if we take on this responsibility, is that we can probably do a better job than the government.
My colleagues and I have worked hard to make our Tai Chi for Health programs the safest possible and we teach the precautions outlined below in our workshops. To be certified to teach, participants must pass the test for safe teaching. The vast majority of tai chi instructors/leaders who have attended our workshops support this measure. Many told us that they wanted to learn about safety but couldn’t find out where to learn it. Gary, a tai chi instructor for 15 years, had been suffering from back pain for the same length of time. He told me that after attending my workshop, he stopped doing the straight leg toe-touch exercise in his pre-tai chi warm up and his back pain has disappeared.
In 2005, Accident and Compensation Corporation (ACC), a government body in New Zealand, paid for 15,000 older adults to attend tai chi classes to improve their health and prevent injury. The ACC recognises the importance of safe tai chi teaching and invited me to help them design safety measures and set up training courses for class teachers, to be used throughout the country. I have used essentially the same guides as I do in my workshops. These are easy to learn and most of them are such common sense that you may be doing them already.
There are significant differences in different tai chi styles and schools, therefore the safety requirements for them are different. My guide here is based on commonly accepted variations of the ‘soft’ tai chi styles such as Yang and Sun. If you have any doubts about the forms you teach, I recommend you check with appropriate health professionals. All my Tai Chi for Health programs are designed in consultation with medical experts in their respective fields, with safety as the top priority. For example, the Tai Chi for Arthritis program has had input from arthritis specialists (rheumatologists and physiotherapists).
The notion that ‘my teacher taught me this, so it must be safe’ is just as faulty thinking as saying that my teacher knows everything there is to know about medicine now and into the future. There is a well-known saying in China that if you keep stamping on a stone (performing the Chen-style movement Golden Guard Stamping on the Ground) until you’ve bored a hole in the stone, you are then good enough to graduate from the Chen-style. I often wonder how many people have crushed their knee cartilages by ‘stamping on a stone’ like this! In fact I know of many Chen stylists who have suffered from serious problems with their knees.
Once you have the intention to minimise injury, you can find ways to do so. Start by using my guide here and make sure you constantly upgrade your knowledge. Remember, medical knowledge is updated constantly. You may have already been taking many of these precautions, but safety is so important that it is always worth revising your knowledge.
There are many medical conditions that are not obvious, even to a doctor’s eyes. An exercise teacher is not a health professional, so be aware of your limitations. Dr Pam Kircher, a medical doctor from the USA, says that even though she is licensed to practise medicine, she never does so during a tai chi class. The reason why? Although she knows medicine and may be correct in the information she gives, she doesn’t have the student’s medical chart in front of her to review their history, lab tests, etc, so it’s possible to miss something. For that reason, she doesn’t feel it’s right to give medical advice to students. She says, ‘When I teach tai chi, I wear my tai chi hat, not my medical doctor hat.’ Being a medical doctor too, I don’t practice medicine in my tai chi classes; I refer students back to their health professionals. One day a student reminded me that I am his doctor, so I asked him to make an appointment to see me at the clinic where I have access to his medical records and our medical equipment.
When students enrol, consider asking them to complete and sign a medical waiver form for your protection. In that form there should be a statement to the effect that students acknowledge by signing the form that it is their own responsibility to tell you if there is any medical condition that may affect them doing tai chi.
It is also the student’s responsibility, if they have any medical condition, to get their health professional’s approval to take your class and for them to provide you with instructions about any special precautions that must be taken. I have provided a sample waiver form in the Appendix. Be sure to check with your legal adviser to ensure this form complies with your own country’s legal requirements.
Safety precautions can be classified into four categories:
1. General care.
2. Exercise care.
3. Specific precautions for tai chi.
4. Precautions for people with special medical problems.
• Ensure a safe learning environment
Make sure your practice environment is safe. For example, make sure that it has good lighting, is clear of obstacles, has a non-slippery surface with no loose mats and is a comfortable temperature. I once visited a class in its practice hall. The teacher is also a painter and the hall had some of his paintings (some of which were framed with glass) spread out on the floor in one corner. Can you imagine what might have happened if one of his students had stepped on a painting and slipped on the glass?
• Whether your class is being held inside a building or outside in the open air, make sure that the location has easy access. Avoid stairs and also places that are too cold, too hot or too windy.
• If you are training for a long time, particularly when it is hot, your students may become dehydrated. Drinks should be provided, or ask your students to bring their own.
• Prepare for emergencies
Have a written emergency procedure at hand that includes emergency phone numbers for students and the ambulance service’s phone number. Ensure there is a telephone handy. In your emergency procedure, write down your venue’s full address and details of how to get there. Allocate different tasks to your assistants to do. For example, in the case of a student who collapses suddenly (which can happen anywhere), the teacher can tend to the student, assistant number one will call the ambulance and assistant number two will keep an eye on the other students and open the door for the ambulance service personnel.
• In most Western countries, exercise leaders are required to have current first aid training. I believe tai chi teachers should do likewise. I also believe that it would be a good idea for all adults to have this training.
• If any of your students has a medical condition which might affect them doing tai chi, find out from their health professional what precautions you should take.
• Create a relaxed atmosphere
Create an atmosphere in which your students feel comfortable talking to you about their problems. Let your students understand that they should work well within their comfort zone. Stress to the students that they don’t have to compete with anyone else or push themselves to achieve anyone else’s standard.
• I once saw a teacher pushing a student into a lower stance because they could not bend low enough – this is a very dangerous thing to do. When you are aware of your limitations and take care with your own movements, you are much less likely to incur injury than when you have an unpredictable outside force pushing you. What is more, a teacher who does this could be accused of causing injury or assaulting their student.
• Get adequate insurance
For your own protection, you should have insurance that is valid in your country. In this day and age, teachers should be cautious about the possible legal consequences of their actions. Be careful not to touch anyone. If touching is unavoidable, ask your student for permission, and then do so very gently.
Avoid dangerous exercises
There are some dangerous exercises that are not part of most recognised ‘soft’ tai chi forms, although they could be part of your warm up exercises. Here are some of the common ones.
1. Flexing or bending your neck backwards. This causes over flexing of the spine, with the risk that vertebral discs may cause injury to the nerves in the neck.
2. Bending down with straight legs to touch your toes. This is a dangerous movement. It can over flex the spine and can cause injury to the discs or nerves of the back.
3. Bouncing when doing a stretch increases the chances of ligament damage.
4. Ballistic (sudden, vigorous or violent) movements can be dangerous, especially violent stretches of the lower back and hamstring muscles.
5. Doing a sit up with your hands behind your head can become dangerous when you use your hands and arms to pull yourself up. This can overflex your neck and may cause compression of inter-vertebral discs.
You can find more comprehensive technical information from sports medicine resources1. A good reference book, Exercise Danger2, has a comprehensive list of these.
Take general exercise precautions
1. Do not practise when you are very hungry, immediately after a full meal, or when you are very upset.
2. Begin your session with warm-up exercises and end with cooling-down exercises. These help prevent injury, pain and stiffness. The length and extent of the warm-up depends on the intensity of the exercise program. My Tai Chi for Health programs include a set of warm-up exercises that you can use. These are included in Chapter 8.
3. Avoid practising in a place that is too hot, too cold or is windy.
4. Continue your session only for as long as you feel comfortable. Listen to your body and rest when you start feeling tired, are in pain, or lose concentration.
5. Don’t continue doing any movement that is painful or causes you discomfort. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or dizziness, or if additional pain in your joints persists, contact your doctor.
6. Move well within your comfort range. The first time you do a movement, stretch to only 70 percent of your normal range of motion and increase that range gradually.
Specific precautions for Tai Chi
Many of the force-delivering movements in Chen-style tai chi have a higher risk of injury, so if you practise Chen-style, please take extra care and consult a health professional if you have any doubts.
Do all movements slowly and gently, as consistent with tai chi principles, avoid using excessive force, be focused and aware of your body’s limits. If you follow the essential tai chi principles they will help you to minimise the risk of injury.
1. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and well-fitting shoes.
2. Gradually build up the length and number of practice sessions, aiming for about 20-1 hourutes on most days (for older adults). A simple indication of how long to practise initially is the length of time you can walk comfortably at a steady pace. If you can practise for just 15 minutes in one session, you can do another 15 minutes after you have rested.
3. Avoid moving a student’s body and limbs to correct their position, if possible. If it is very important for you to do it, be sure to ask permission each time. If you move a student’s body or limbs, you may aggravate an existing injury (which may not be obvious to you or the student), or be accused of causing one. Joseph is a teacher who frequently twists and moves his students’ hands during his class. He thought that by asking the entire class once at his very first lesson, ‘If anyone has an objection to being touched please come out and tell me’, he would have no problem for all his subsequent lessons. However, most people don’t like to say no in front of others and also they might not realise that an unexpected push could hurt them.
4. If you are teaching classical Yang-style tai chi, some of the forms may involve turning the foot while the knee is bent with the weight on that foot. This can cause excess stress on the knee ligaments and can cause a twist injury to the knee. Consider amending the forms so that weight is shifted back before turning, to minimise the shearing force on the turns.
5. Tai chi requires the knee to bend and stay at that bent level throughout a set of forms. This can cause too much stress to a person’s joints. Make it clear to your students that while the goal of tai chi is to keep the knees bent, they should work up to that slowly. Encourage your students to stand up between movements, to avoid excessive stress to their knees. As their muscles become stronger, students will be able to stay comfortably and longer in a bent position.
6. Tell your students that when they bend their knees, they should make sure their knees are directly above their toes, otherwise they may overstretch and injure the ligaments on either side of their knee.
7. When their knee is bent, looking from the side, their knee mustn’t be pushed any further forward than the tip of their toes. Bending any deeper could cause too much strain to the ligaments.
8. Some movements involve a deep squatting position, with one knee touching the back of the other knee. This is a very stressful position for the knee joints, so you should modify this movement for your students to be well within their comfort zone. Be sure to warn any students who want to do the full range of the movement of the dangers involved.
9. Jumping can be dangerous, for example in the Sun-style Double Patting Foot. Make sure your students understand this, or, better still, modify the movement for them.
15. Advise your students to set up a regular time for practice, so their tai chi practice becomes a part of their daily routine. Regular practice keeps the muscles and ligaments well tuned, which helps to prevent injury.
11. Encourage students to talk to you about any movements they are finding difficult or uncomfortable.
12. Do all the movements slowly, continuously and smoothly. As students become more familiar with the movements, they will start to flow more easily and feel more graceful.
13. Breathe slowly, naturally and easily. As your students become more familiar with the movements, try to get them to coordinate their movements with their breathing, as instructed. If they find this feels uncomfortable, advise them to return to their natural breathing.
14. Advise your students to use the minimum effort necessary to do the movements and not to force any of them. This will help them cultivate qi and relax, and will also minimise injury.
15. Tell your students to follow your movements as accurately as possible within their comfort zone. If they find they can’t do something comfortably, they should just do what is well within their comfort zone and visualise the full range of movement. For example, if the movement requires them to stretch out their elbow to 80 percent of the full range of motion, but they can only stretch to 50 percent, then they should do the 50 percent and visualise that they are stretching to 80 percent. Gradually, they will be able to improve their stretch (studies have shown visualisation can improve range of motion).
Precautions for people with medical problems
There are several common precautions that should be taken by people with special medical problems such as arthritis or diabetes. Check with your student’s health professionals to confirm what precautions are appropriate for that student.
Many people have arthritis in the knee joints. Tai Chi requires the knee to bend and stay at that bent level throughout the set of forms. Students with arthritis should stand up between movements to avoid excessive stress to their knees, until they develop strong muscles and ligaments. In classical Yang-style tai chi, many people turn their foot while their knee is bent and their weight is on their foot. People with arthritis should transfer their weight or straighten up before turning to avoid injury.
People who have had a hip replacement operation should avoid crossing the foot on the affected side of their body over to the other side of their body. During the replacement operation, the nerves responsible for feeling in the opposite side of their body may be cut, so people who’ve had this operation may not be able to balance well if their foot crosses the midline of their body.
Standing qigong (zhan zhuang)
Doing standing qigong can have risk of injury because standing on one spot puts extra stress on the body, especially the knee and hip joints. You can use a safer qigong like those described in my Tai Chi for Back Pain program. Older people and people with arthritis can injure their knees by standing for a long time in a stationary position.
Holding a position If you want to correct a student’s position do not hold them in the same position for long. Holding a position can be especially stressful for older people or people with arthritis and they have an increased chance of injury from doing this.
The shoulder is a very mobile joint that can be prone to injury. Many older people have arthritis and rotation cuff or other problems with their shoulders. Movements involving the shoulder should be done slowly, and moving the hands above the head should be done with care. Warn students to stop when there is any pain.
The most significant danger for people with diabetes is hypoglycaemia. ‘Hypo’ means low and ‘glycaemia’ means blood glucose (blood sugar). So hypoglycaemia is having low blood glucose. When a person’s blood glucose gets too low, loss of consciousness and even brain damage can result. Hypoglycaemia affects diabetics who are being treated with medication or injections. Exercise causes a high consumption of energy and there-fore blood glucose can be depleted rapidly. The body has an efficient system to regulate blood glucose so that it stays in the right range. However, as medication or injectable insulin aims to lower blood glucose, they may interfere with the body’s regulatory system and cause hypoglycaemia. This is why peo-ple with diabetes should let their doctor know what kind of exercise they are doing. Most people with diabetes are well prepared by their health professionals to recognise signs and symptoms of hypogly-caemia. They are taught what to do. Most people with diabetes who are likely to get hypoglycaemia bring with them some food, drink or candies (such as jelly beans) just in case. En-courage them to feel comfortable with sitting down and eating whenever they feel the need. Some might bring a medication set with needle, syringe and testing kits. Don’t be alarmed if they use it. In case your students forget to bring their own, you might find it useful to bring with you a small package of jelly beans or a special package of glucose from a pharmacy, designed for averting a hypoglycaemic attack. Keep in mind that it requires four to six jelly beans to avert a hypoglycaemic attack. If you do bring a package, be sure it is well sealed and clean. Occasionally though, a student can lose consciousness too quickly, before you can take these preventative measures. Use your first aid training to position the student and call an ambulance (or if you’ve pre-arranged it with an assistant, get them to call while you attend to the student). It is important not to assume the role of a health professional in a class. The teacher has responsibilities similar to those of an exercise leader and you should use your first aid training to do what is appropriate. However, beyond that, seek medical help.
Three fundamental rules for safety
Work with health professionals. Resist the temptation to play doctor. If you tell your student that their pain is minor and that they can continue to exercise, it could be considered that you’ve made a diagnosis and instituted medical treatment.
As a practising doctor, like Dr Pam Kircher, I seldom practice medicine in my teaching sessions, unless, of course, it is a medical emergency. If you are not a legally qualified health professional in your country, don’t do anything you are not qualified to do.
Listen to your students carefully. Listen not only with your ears, but also with your eyes and your heart. If someone tells you they are not in pain but they look like they are in pain, they probably are. Advise that person to stop and consult their health professional; it is better to be safe than sorry. Remember to respect students’ rights and just give the best advice possible as a tai chi teacher.
Encourage your students to listen to their bodies and to work within their comfort zone. Create a relaxed atmosphere in your classes so that your students feel comfortable about stopping and resting anytime they need to.
© Tai Chi Productions
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HEALTH BENEFITS OF PRACTISING CHI KUNG
By The Tai Chi & Chi Kung Institute of Australia
Chi Kung (sometimes written “Qi Gong” or “Qigong”), is an invaluable component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Over 60 million people in China practice Chi Kung every day, making it the most popular health exercise in that country. The important features and aims of Chi Kung are relaxation, quietness, naturalness, unity of breath and mind, gradual development and practicing to the individual’s state of health. Chi Kung is ideal for practitioners of other modalities, to facilitate relaxation and energy in clinics. The learning and regular practice of Chi Kung can:
Reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being through calming the mind and deepening the respiration,
Improve digestion, respiration, cardio-vascular and nervous systems,
Improve sleep quality and relieve fatigue,
Improve health and resistance to illness,
Strengthen the practitioner both physically and mentally.
The “Three Essentials of Chi Kung” are posture, mind and breathing. Because of the emphasis on these essentials, relaxation benefits are most often felt in the very first lesson. Where gentle movement, attention to posture and the deepening of the breath leads, a calm mind follows.
There is no age limit with Chi Kung – both young and old can practice and gain health benefits from it. The beginning set of Chi Kung taught by the Institute (Taiji Chi Kung Shibashi) can even be performed while seated! The Institute does do provide specially tailored classes to meet the needs of children in primary schools and older persons. As classes are conducted for the purpose of relaxation, it is not appropriate to have anyone in a public class who may cause distractions (such as young, noisy children).
The Chi Kung movements are not physically hard on the body or strenuous, and while there are a few movements that the beginning student may find challenging at first, on the whole Chi Kung is easy to learn and requires less from the student in independent practice time. This is reflected in our classes, where the emphasis is on relaxation and learning through practising the movements in sequence. Most of the lesson consisting of following the Instructor through the movements.
Chi Kung is much easier to learn & less complicated than Tai Chi. Tai Chi is more challenging & requires regular hope practice between classes. Chi Kung is a health exercise based on Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. It emphasises the flow of Chi through the acupuncture meridians and is excellent for calming the mind and regulating the breath. On the other hand, Tai Chi emphasises the natural movement of the joints and muscles and increases circulation and is excellent for improving the focus of the mind. For the beginning student, Tai Chi forms and movements are more complicated than Chi Kung forms and movements, therefore requiring more effort to learn them. You will need time to practice, patience with yourself and perseverance. The classes are structured quite differently. Chi Kung students are guided through the exercises by the Instructor, while Tai Chi classes place a greater emphasis on the student, who first watches the Instructor, practices the movement and then tries out the movement on their own.
© 1985-2013 The Tai Chi & Chi Kung Institute of Australia
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OVERVIEW OF TAI CHI AND QIGONG
By Roger Jahnke OMD, Linda Larkey PhD, Carol Rogers PhD, Jennifer Etnier PhD, and Fang Lin MS
Qigong is, definitively, more ancient in origin than Tai Chi and it is the over-arching, more original discipline incorporating widely diverse practices designed to cultivate functional integrity and the enhancement of the life essence that the Chinese call Qi. Both Qigong and Tai Chi sessions incorporate a wide range of physical movements, including slow, meditative, flowing, dance-like motions. In addition, they both can include sitting or standing meditation postures as well as either gentle or vigorous body shaking. Most importantly, both incorporate the purposeful regulation of both breath and mind coordinated with the regulation of the body. Qigong and Tai Chi are both based on theoretical principles that are inherent to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).1 In the ancient teachings of health-oriented Qigong and Tai Chi, the instructions for attaining the state of enhanced Qi capacity and function point to the purposeful coordination of body, breath and mind (paraphrased here): “Mind the body and the breath, and then clear the mind to distill the Heavenly elixir within.” This combination of self-awareness with self-correction of the posture and movement of the body, the flow of breath, and stilling of the mind, are thought to comprise a state which activates the natural self-regulatory (self-healing) capacity, stimulating the balanced release of endogenous neurohormones and a wide array of natural health recovery mechanisms which are evoked by the intentful integration of body and mind.
Despite variations among the myriad forms, we assert that health oriented Tai Chi and Qigong emphasize the same principles and practice elements. Given these similar foundations and the fashion in which Tai Chi has typically been modified for implementation in clinical research, we suggest that the research literature for these two forms of meditative movement should be considered as one body of evidence.
Qigong translates from Chinese to mean, roughly, to cultivate or enhance the inherent functional (energetic) essence of the human being. It is considered to be the contemporary offspring of some of the most ancient (before recorded history) healing and medical practices of Asia. Earliest forms of Qigong make up one of the historic roots of contemporary Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory and practice.2 Many branches of Qigong have a health and medical focus and have been refined for well over 5000 years. Qigong purportedly allows individuals to cultivate the natural force or energy (“Qi”) in TCM that is associated with physiological and psychological functionality. Qi is the conceptual foundation of TCM in acupuncture, herbal medicine and Chinese physical therapy. It is considered to be a ubiquitous resource of nature that sustains human well-being and assists in healing disease as well as (according to TCM theory) having fundamental influence on all life and even the orderly function of celestial mechanics and the laws of physics. Qigong exercises consist of a series of orchestrated practices including body posture/movement, breath practice, and meditation, all designed to enhance Qi function (that is, drawing upon natural forces to optimize and balance energy within) through the attainment of deeply focused and relaxed states. From the perspective of Western thought and science, Qigong practices activate naturally occurring physiological and psychological mechanisms of self-repair and health recovery.
Also considered part of the overall domain of Qigong is “external Qigong” wherein a trained medical Qigong therapist diagnoses patients according to the principles of TCM and uses “emitted Qi” to foster healing. Both internal Qigong (personal practice) and external Qigong (clinician emitted Qi) are seen as affecting the balance and flow of energy and enhancing functionality in the body and the mind. For the purposes of our review, we are focused only on the individual, internal Qigong practice of exercises performed with the intent of cultivating enhanced function, inner Qi that is ample and unrestrained. This is the aspect of Qigong that parallels what is typically investigated in Tai Chi research.
There are thousands of forms of Qigong practice that have developed in different regions of China during various historic periods and that have been created by many specific teachers and schools. Some of these forms were designed for general health enhancement purposes and some for specific TCM diagnostic categories. Some were originally developed as rituals for spiritual practice, and others to empower greater skill in the martial arts. An overview of the research literature pertaining to internal Qigong yields more than a dozen forms that have been studied as they relate to health outcomes (e.g., Guo-lin, ChunDoSunBup, Vitality or Bu Zheng Qigong, Eight Brocade, Medical Qigong).2, 27–29
The internal Qigong practices generally tested in health research (and that are addressed in this review), incorporate a range of simple movements (repeated and often flowing in nature), or postures (standing or sitting) and include a focused state of relaxed awareness and a variety of breathing techniques that accompany the movements or postures. A key underlying philosophy of the practice is that any form of Qigong has an effect on the cultivation of balance and harmony of Qi, positively influencing the human energy complex (Qi channels/pathways) which functions as a holistic, coherent and mutually interactive system.
Tai Chi translates to mean, “Grand Ultimate”, and in the Chinese culture, it represents an expansive philosophical and theoretical notion which describes the natural world (i.e., the universe) in the spontaneous state of dynamic balance between mutually interactive phenomena including the balance of light and dark, movement and stillness, waves and particles. Tai Chi, the exercise, is named after this concept and was originally developed both as a martial art (Tai Chi Chuan or taijiquan) and as a form of meditative movement. The practice of Tai Chi as meditative movement is expected to elicit functional balance internally for healing, stress neutralization, longevity, and personal tranquility. This form of
Tai Chi is the focus of this review
For numerous, complex sociological and political reasons,2 Tai Chi has become one of the best known forms of exercise or practice for refining Qi and is purported to enhance physiological and psychological function. The one factor that appears to differentiate Tai Chi from Qigong is that traditional Tai Chi is typically performed as a highly choreographed, lengthy, and complex series of movements, while health enhancement Qigong is typically a simpler, easy to learn, more repetitive practice. However, even the longer forms of Tai Chi incorporate many movements that are similar to Qigong exercises. Usually, the more complex Tai Chi routines include Qigong exercises as a warm-up, and emphasize the same basic principles for practice, that is, the three regulations of body focus, breath focus and mind focus. Therefore Qigong and Tai Chi, in the health promotion and wellness context, are operationally equivalent.
Tai Chi as Defined in the Research Literature
It is especially important to note that many of the RCTs investigating what is described as Tai Chi (for health enhancement), are actually not the traditional, lengthy, complex practices that match the formal definition of traditional Tai Chi. The Tai Chi used in research of both disease prevention and as a complement to medical intervention is often a “modified” Tai Chi (e.g., Tai Chi Easy, Tai Chi Chih, or “short forms” that greatly reduce the number of movements to be learned). The modifications generally simplify the practice, making the movements more like most health oriented Qigong exercises that are simple and repetitive, rather than a lengthy choreographed series of Tai Chi movements that take much longer to learn (and, for many participants, reportedly delay the experience of “settling” into the relaxation response). A partial list of examples of modified Tai Chi forms from the RCTs in the review are: balance exercises inspired by Tai Chi,30 Tai Chi for arthritis, 5 movements from Sun Tai Chi,31 Tai Chi Six Form,32 Yang Eight Form Easy,33,34 and Yang Five Core Movements.34
In 2003, a panel of Qigong and Tai Chi experts was convened by the University of Illinois and the Blueprint for Physical Activity to explore this very point.35 The expert panel agreed that it is appropriate to modify (simplify) Tai Chi to more efficiently disseminate the benefits to populations in need of cost effective, safe and gentle methods of physical activity and stress reduction. These simplified forms of Tai Chi are very similar to the forms of Qigong used in health research.
For this reason, it is not only reasonable, but a critical contribution to the emerging research dialogue to review the RCTs that explore the health benefits resulting from both of these practices together, as one comprehensive evidence base for the meditative movement practices originating from China.
© 2015 National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine
5 FUNDAMENTALS OF QI CIRCULATION
by Dave West
Mastering these 5 Fundamentals is essential in developing your Qi Gong/Tai Chi Chuan and must be incorporated into daily training. After much practice your internal structure develops into a high state of readiness known as peng (passive ward-off). Your mind and body harmonize and become alert, relaxed and spontaneous. When you reach this stage more advanced skills come to light, and you feel that you are starting to comprehend the true meaning of the Tao.
The body communicates with the mind through your feelings which are transmitted through the nervous system. Developing your listening skills (jue) is extremely important in sensing these feelings – which are the yin and yang changes in the body and mind – and sending accurate information to the brain. Yin and yang can be: insubstantial or substantial; small or big; closing or opening; bending or extending; inhaling or exhaling; raising or falling; soft or hard; internal or external; coming or going; passive or active; retreating or advancing; defensive or offensive; neutralizing or emitting; leading or attacking; withdrawing or releasing; etc. The first step in developing this internal vision is having a calm mind (yi) with full awareness in the present moment.
The length and depth of your training and experience (gong fu) helps you to judge what you are feeling and understand the yin and yang changes in your body and mind. This allows you to decide on a proper strategy, make appropriate adjustments in the way you train, and how you live your life according to your lifestyle and environment. By developing these understanding skills (ting) you can awaken your inner guru and start to rely on intuitive wisdom (yi). You should always remember that yin and yang are mutually exchangeable. You should always be researching and pondering this theory and searching for the applications of yin and yang’s mutual exchanges. If you are able to understand the theory of yin and yang and know their applications, then your comprehension will become deep and your knowledge profound.
Relaxation can release energy that is trapped in the body and allows it to flow freely through your whole being. To create the optimum structure for smooth and efficient energy (qi) flow, you must reduce all resistance (wuwei) that blocks the energetic system. This requires maintaining correct body alignment (chong ting), and body mechanics based on relaxation (soong), sinking (chen), opening (kai), and most important raising your spirit of vitality (xu ling ding jin). This means activating the tendons more than the muscles, and using intention of the mind rather than brute force. With meditation you learn to neutralize the emotional mind (xin) which can cause mental resistance and hinder focused attention. Only then can you open the energy gates of your mind and body and unite with the qi of nature, and realize your oneness with nature.
To energize the body with life force energy you need to combine pre-natal jing (anti-aging hormones) with post-natal qi (air, food, water). But it is your breathing that stimulates the jing and qi to unite and produce your life force energy. Therefore, integrating correct abdominal breathing (zheng hu xi) into your movements and meditations is essential in the production and storage of energy in the body. This leads to harmonizing your breath (xi) with your spirit (shen). When your spirit seems to be doing the breathing you can control the energy flow more efficiently. Advanced techniques include reverse abdominal breathing (ni hu xi), and martial grand circulation (da zhou tian )for manifesting qi power (jin)
A relaxed mind is a useful mind. Therefore, you need to learn how to be calm and focused with clear intentions. Usually, for most beginners, the emotional mind (xin) needs to be neutralized, and the wisdom mind (yi) needs to be increased. To maximize the desired effects of your meditation and movements, use your passive mind to sense and understand the situation and decide on the proper strategy, and your active mind to direct the qi. Your mind is considered the most important component to successful training, and plays an important role in mutually combining your spirit (shen) and energy (qi) which control Kan (water) and Li (fire): the keys to balancing the health of your whole being.
TAI CHI BALI Taoist Healing Arts Centre Indonesia
Copyright © 2019
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TRAINING PRINCIPLES OF TAI CHI
By Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei
In Chen’s Taichi, the basic training principles are: apply the theory not the strength; focus on foundation not the presentation; train the body not the techniques.
(I) Apply the Theory Not the Strength
“Theory” explains the very basic principles of Taichi. Practicing Taichi is to work on the ultimate general Dao – that is the basic theory of how yin emerges from yang and how yang emerges from yin in the process of change. During practice, it requires to have softness imbedded in hardness and hardness implied in softness with softness and hardness inter dependent and supportive to each other. When hollowness reduces to its extreme, solidness forms; and when solidness grows to its extreme, hollowness appears. This is how hollowness and solidness morph from one another. With high level of concentration, the mind guides the qi and the qi move the body. Practice while focusing on getting the qi and movements to follow the mind. When in motions, every part moves, the whole body follows and the internal and external coordinate. Control the postures and mover according to the requirements and follow the natural motions of the body. Progress patiently. “Strength” training refers to the training for physical strength. Such training will increase the power in certain specific body parts. However, in most cases, this type of training will lead to clumsy strength and stiff strength. It’s lack of flexibility and control. Therefore, it is not preferred my achieved Taichi practitioners.
(II) Focus on the Foundation Not the Presentation
“Foundation” refers to the root and base, i.e. the kidney qi and lower body kungfu. The kidneys hold the fundamental yin and yang. It is the prenatal base and the source for vital qi. When the kidney qi is strong, all organs are well nourished. The heart, liver, spleen, lung and the kidney will function properly. As a result, the person is good spirits, quick in response and coordinated in motion. Internal qi is one of the important aspects of good foundation. The other aspect of good foundation is the kungfu of the lower body. Under the condition when whole body is relaxed and, the qi settles in dantian and charges to yongquan, the body can be rooted solidly on the feet so as to achieve the state of livened upper section, flexible middle section and rooted lower section. “Presentation” refers to the shown intension, strength and hardness of certain specific parts of the body. Training methods focusing only on the presentation do not agree with Taichi principles. Taichi is an internal system. It training both the internal qi and external skills with the main focus on solidify the internal foundation. Hence there are sayings like: “Nourish the root and enrich the source”, “Nourish the roots and the branches and leaves will flourish; enrich the source and the stream will flow afar.”
(III) Train the Body Not the Techniques
Train the “body” means to train the capability of the body as a whole. Train the “techniques” means to work on special defensive and offensive techniques of an application. At the beginning stage, most people are interested in understanding the applications of each move. However, such training in focusing on explaining and understanding of the applications of Taichi defensive and offensive techniques will not lead one to the essence of Taichi. The correct process of learning Taichi must involve learning the forms and routines, correct postures and moves, reduce stiffness, achieve softness so as to reach the level when the whole body is coordinated, the internal and external are coordinated and the internal qi is full and solid. Let the skill be part of the body. Taichi training is for the complete ability of the body. According to specific situations in application, Taichi principle is to lose the self to follow the opponent and adapt when situation changes. It never resorts to the specific application of specific techniques. When the internal qi is full and solid, the body is like a well inflated balloon. It responds to any sensation of external impact. It enables the Taichi practitioner to strike with the part wherever is being attacked, such as described in On Boxing: “When achieved, one can counterattack according to the attack without thinking. The application will come naturally and automatically.”
© Copyright www.chenzhenglei.com 2015
HOW TO PRACTICE TAI CHI FOR SUBSTANTIAL IMPROVEMENTS
By Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei
In recent years, on my tours in China and abroad, the question I was most asked by both Chinese and non-Chinese students is: How to practice taichi for substantial improvements? I will share my understanding in the next few points. I sincerely hope for comments and correction from other taichi teachers.
Like doing anything else, in order to understand how to practice taichi well, it is paramount to understand what taichi is. It is an important prerequisite to understand taichi from all aspects. Without a clear understanding, it is difficult to imagine that one can gain any substantial improvements.
Taichi was created by Chen Wangting, a ninth generation descendant of the Chen’s Family in Wen County Henan Province. Based on the family style boxing systems and by absorbing essence from other boxing systems, combining techniques of ancient energy systems such as Daoyin (internal energy manipulation) and Tuna (breathing exercises) as well as adopting theories from Yijing (The Book of Change) and the meridian doctrine of Chinese medicine, he created a boxing system that focuses on both the internal and the external training. The postures and moves are designed and structured according to biological principles as well as to the laws of nature. The main characteristics are continuous motions without hitches; interlaced fast and slow motions; incorporated hard and soft strengths; and relaxed, flexible, elastic and sometimes jerking moves. Taichi as a training system is supported by a set of mature and proven theories throughout the complete training processes. We can also look at taichi as a huge engineering system and the training to achieve substantial high level is definitely no easy task.
Based on teachings from the ancestors and what I’ve experience throughout years of training, I summarized the following training principles:
Three Do’s and Three Don’ts
Do train for theory verification, don’t train for raw power;
Do train for fundamental roots, don’t train for external presentations;
Do train for substantiated abilities, don’t train for application tricks.
Do Train for Theory Verification, Don’t Train for Raw Power: “Theory” consists of philosophical foundations and basic principles about taichi. Practicing taichi is the process applying the ultimate Dao – the principles how Yang develops fully to generate Yin and Yin develops fully to generate Yang in the process of taichi yin and yang exchanges. Taichi practice requires the practitioner to imply hardness in softness and softness in hardness as well as to ensure inter-supportiveness between hardness and softness. One also must understand the interchange between emptiness and solidness. Emptiness when developed fully will generate solidness; and solidness when developed fully will generate emptiness. Practicing with mental concentration using the mind to guide the qi and the qi to guide the body in total mind-qi-body unity, one should aim to achieve completeness in motion, wholeness in synchronization and high level internal and external coordination. Follow the requirements closely and aim to move naturally. Exercise great patience without haste. Training for raw power can result in great increase of power in isolated parts of the body. This type of power is often clumsy and stiff, lacking the necessary smoothness and flexibility. Taichi practitioners do not aim to acquire raw power.
Do Train for Fundamental Roots, Don’t Train for External Presentations: “Fundamental Roots” refer to the original core (the original qi of the kidneys) and the base of the body. The kidneys house the original yin and yang energy. It is the prenatal source of energy and the root for postnatal energy. If the kidneys are fully sustained with qi, all other organs will have a better chance to be well sustained as well. Consequently, the liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys all function the way they should. The practitioner will then have high spirit, ample physical strength, swift reactivity and better overall coordination. The abundance of internal qi is the first part of the fundamental roots. The second part of fundamental roots refers to the solid base of one’s postures. In taichi practice, on the basis of overall relaxation, accumulate the qi into Dantian and descend the qi further into Yongquan, so that the top portion is nimble, the middle section is agile and the base is solid like roots in soil. “External Presentations” refer to training mainly for power and toughness of isolated areas of the body. Taichi is an internal system with both the internal and external elements. The main focus should be on nurturing the internal energy – nourishing the roots and sustaining the source. “When the roots are nourished, branches and leaves flourish; when the source is sustained, the river runs long”.
Do Train for Substantiated Abilities, Don’t Train for Application Tricks: Substantiated abilities are overall martial skills acquired as general mental and physical abilities; while application tricks are offensive and defensive application techniques of individual moves. If the practitioner only focuses on application technique to explain and understand taichi, he/she will never get to the true essence of taichi. High level taichi training must include certain phases: gaining routine proficiency, correcting postures and moves and softening stiffness. As a result, the whole body is synchronized, the internal and external are coordinated, the internal qi is filled fully and substantiated abilities are gained on the body. Taichi as a martial arts training system focuses mainly on training the self overall abilities. It promotes skills to react to the opponent’s attacks and selflessly following the opponent’s moves according to ever changing situations instead of limiting to applications of individual moves. When the internal qi is full, the whole body is like a well inflated balloon. It reacts to wherever is in contact. Wherever is in contact, it can be used to attack. As the teaching goes: “When accomplished, one responds automatically to attacks; no need to ponder as the body reacts naturally”.
Establish Five Mindsets
Respect – cultivate high level ethics and morality. Respect your teachers. Renowned taichi master Chen Xin pointed out in his Illustrated Chen’s Taichi that: “Taichi cannot be learned without respect. Without respect, one would neglect his/her teachers and friends and as well as his/her own body. When the heart is not contained, how can one settle down to learn anything?”
Faith – faith consists of two aspects. Firstly, it is confidence, believing that one can succeed in taichi practice. Confidence is the source of self motivation. Secondly, it is trust, believing in taichi and the teacher; so that one will settle down whole heartedly with determination. Without trust, one will end up switching from system to system and teacher to teacher on a daily basis just like the old saying goes: “serving Qin at dawn and Chu by dusk”.
Determination – learning taichi requires determination. As Mencius said: the mind is the commander of internal energy. Only when one is determined, he/she will not be influenced by external interference. Only with determination, one can carry on to the final destination.
Perseverance – it means being persistent in taichi practice over a long period of time. It can be years or decades without slacking. Practicing by fits and starts or quitting with little achievements are bad habits to affect perseverance. Grand Master Chen Fake, 17th Chen’s family descendent, practiced his routines thirty times a day for decades without slacking. His taichi achievement was paramount and he was considered the best at the time. That’s how perseverance at work.
Patience – when all the above four mindsets are set, you’ll also need patience to achieve high level in taichi practice. On the one hand, taichi practice requires the practitioner to relax in postures, soften the body and slow down the moves. Without the correct understanding and mental preparation, it is impossible to relax and be patiently at ease. When one becomes impatient in taichi practice, it’s like driving at high speed heading the opposite direction. On the other hand, taichi practicing is a long process for both the mind and the body and should not be rushed. Try overcome irritation and boredom. Keep a peaceful mind. Follow the rules and requirements. Nurture the grand and majestic qi in the process of routine practice to acquire graduate subtle change of the mind and body. When the water comes, it will naturally form an aqueduct.
Three Essential Factors
The three essential factors are: a qualified teacher, innate talent and untiring diligence.
The most important factor to achieve high level taichi is a qualified teacher. As our ancestors said: A teacher is someone who passes on principles, teaches skills and clears up confusions. Be it for academics or martial arts, especially for taichi practice, the function of a teacher is the predetermining condition. So far, there is no precedent of an achieved taichi practitioner who has done it without a teacher. However, one can practice taichi without a teacher for recreation purposes. In order to achieve high level in taichi, one must find a wise teacher who has a high moral and ethical standard, technically skillful, learned in theories and knows how to teach. A wise teacher can lead the students onto the right path so as to avoid detours and achieve twice the effect with half the work. Without a wise teacher, one might never reach the temple of taichi once he/she is heading the wrong direction.
Innate talent is the key factor for high level taichi achievements, especially for those who wish to be established. They must have the innate gift, great deductive reasoning and learning ability, quick mind as well as the ability to expand their understandings. Besides the guidance of a wise teacher, the subtlety of taichi must also be experience and pondered firsthand. It can only be taught intuitively, not because the teacher is holding back, but it is truly indescribable. It is only those who have the innate talent with great ability to comprehend who can truly understand the true essence of taichi and reach to higher level. For others, despite of a wise teacher and self diligence, will still have a hard time understanding the true essence and will only reach limited achievements. It is just as in academic studies, people have the same teachers and all try with similar efforts, but the result can be quite different. The difference is in the innate talent.
Diligence is the deciding factor for taichi practicing. To be successful, one must also work with untiring diligence besides the innate talent and teaching of a wise teacher. As it was stated in the ancestors’ teaching: “Only understanding and knowing the right methods is still not enough. It requires daily untiring diligence. Keep moving forward without stopping day in and day out. That’s how one can reach the destination eventually.” Don’t expect miracles and there is no shortcut. The only path to high level taichi is untiring diligence. Kungfu is acquired through practice and only untiring diligent practice will ensure substantiated kungfu on the body. Under the guidance of a wise teacher and by following the rules and requirements, one must exercise persistent effort to accumulate and nurture the internal kungfu in order to realize qualitative change through graduate quantitative change. Real comprehension is built on hard work. Enlightenment is triggered after a long process of accumulation. Instant enlightenment of the subtlety of taichi comes from persistent diligence. If one relies only on wits and cleverness and despises hard work, he/she will never understand the real essence of taichi and will always be wondering outside of temple of taichi.
Of course nothing is absolute. What I mentioned about is not cast in stone. Those factors have changing effects on each other. One strong element can improve other elements. For example, with correct understanding of the nature of taichi, it helps one to establish the right mindset. Some people may lack innate talent, but hard work can be supplementary to talent. Persistent untiring diligence goes a long way in the pursuit of true taichi essence. I hope this article can provide some clarity in the minds of some taichi enthusiasts regarding taichi practice.
© Copyright www.chenzhenglei.com 2015
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THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF TAI CHI
By Harvard Medical School – Health Publications MAY 2009
This gentle form of exercise can prevent or ease many ills of aging and could be the perfect activity for the rest of your life. Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems. And you can get started even if you aren’t in top shape or the best of health.
In this low-impact, slow-motion exercise, you go without pausing through a series of motions named for animal actions — for example, “white crane spreads its wings” — or martial arts moves, such as “box both ears.” As you move, you breathe deeply and naturally, focusing your attention — as in some kinds of meditation — on your bodily sensations. Tai chi differs from other types of exercise in several respects. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.
Tai Chi Movement
“A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age,” says Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center. An adjunct therapy is one that’s used together with primary medical treatments, either to address a disease itself or its primary symptoms, or, more generally, to improve a patient’s functioning and quality of life.
You don’t need to subscribe to or learn much about tai chi’s roots in Chinese philosophy to enjoy its health benefits, but these concepts can help make sense of its approach:
Qi — an energy force thought to flow through the body; tai chi is said to unblock and encourage the proper flow of qi.
Yin and yang — opposing elements thought to make up the universe that need to be kept in harmony. Tai chi is said to promote this balance.
Tai Chi in Motion
A tai chi class might include these parts:
Warm-up. Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body.
Instruction and practice of tai chi forms. Short forms — forms are sets of movements — may include a dozen or fewer movements; long forms may include hundreds. Different styles require smaller or larger movements. A short form with smaller, slower movements is usually recommended at the beginning, especially if you’re older or not in good condition.
Qigong (or chi kung). Translated as “breath work” or “energy work,” this consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy. Qigong may be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down.
The benefits of tai chi are generally greatest if you begin before you develop a chronic illness or functional limitations. Tai chi is very safe, and no fancy equipment is needed, so it’s easy to get started. Here’s some advice for doing so:
Don’t be intimidated by the language. Names like Yang, Wu, and Cheng are given to various branches of tai chi, in honor of people who devised the sets of movements called forms. Certain programs emphasize the martial arts aspect of tai chi rather than its potential for healing and stress reduction. In some forms, you learn long sequences of movements, while others involve shorter series and more focus on breathing and meditation. The name is less important than finding an approach that matches your interests and needs.
Check with your doctor . If you have a limiting musculoskeletal problem or medical condition — or if you take medications that can make you dizzy or lightheaded — check with your doctor before starting tai chi. Given its excellent safety record, chances are that you’ll be encouraged to try it.
Consider observing and taking a class. Taking a class may be the best way to learn tai chi. Seeing a teacher in action, getting feedback, and experiencing the camaraderie of a group are all pluses. Most teachers will let you observe the class first to see if you feel comfortable with the approach and atmosphere. Instruction can be individualized. Ask about classes at your local Y, senior center, or community education center.
The Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org; 800-283-7800, toll-free) can tell you whether its tai chi program, a 12-movement, easy-to-learn sequence, is offered in your area.
If you’d rather learn at home, you can buy or rent videos geared to your interests and fitness needs (see “Selected resources”). Although there are some excellent tai chi books, it can be difficult to appreciate the flow of movements from still photos or illustrations.
Talk to the instructor. There’s no standard training or licensing for tai chi instructors, so you’ll need to rely on recommendations from friends or clinicians and, of course, your own judgment. Look for an experienced teacher who will accommodate individual health concerns or levels of coordination and fitness.
Dress comfortably. Choose loose-fitting clothes that don’t restrict your range of motion. You can practice barefoot or in lightweight, comfortable, and flexible shoes. Tai chi shoes are available, but ones you find in your closet will probably work fine. You’ll need shoes that won’t slip and can provide enough support to help you balance, but have soles thin enough to allow you to feel the ground. Running shoes, designed to propel you forward, are usually unsuitable.
Gauge your progress. Most beginning programs and tai chi interventions tested in medical research last at least 12 weeks, with instruction once or twice a week and practice at home. By the end of that time, you should know whether you enjoy tai chi, and you may already notice positive physical and psychological changes.
No Pain, Big Gains
Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Here’s some of the evidence:
Muscle strength. In a 2006 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Stanford University researchers reported benefits of tai chi in 39 women and men, average age 66, with below-average fitness and at least one cardiovascular risk factor. After taking 36 tai chi classes in 12 weeks, they showed improvement in both lower-body strength (measured by the number of times they could rise from a chair in 30 seconds) and upper-body strength (measured by their ability to do arm curls).
In a Japanese study using the same strength measures, 113 older adults were assigned to different 12-week exercise programs, including tai chi, brisk walking, and resistance training. People who did tai chi improved more than 30% in lower-body strength and 25% in arm strength — almost as much as those who participated in resistance training, and more than those assigned to brisk walking.
“Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body,” says internist Dr. Gloria Yeh, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.”
Flexibility. Women in the 2006 Stanford study significantly boosted upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.
Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.
Aerobic conditioning. Depending on the speed and size of the movements, tai chi can provide some aerobic benefits. But in the Japanese study, only participants assigned to brisk walking gained much aerobic fitness. If your clinician advises a more intense cardio workout with a higher heart rate than tai chi can offer, you may need something more aerobic as well.
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Tai Chi for Medical Conditions
When combined with standard treatment, tai chi appears to be helpful for several medical conditions. For example:
In a 30-person study at Tufts University, presented in October 2008 at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. According to a Korean study published in December 2008 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight weeks of tai chi classes followed by eight weeks of home practice significantly improved flexibility and slowed the disease process in patients with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine.
Low bone density
A review of six controlled studies by Dr. Wayne and other Harvard researchers indicates that tai chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. A controlled study of tai chi in women with osteopenia (diminished bone density not as severe as osteoporosis) is under way at the Osher Research Center and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Tai chi has shown potential for improving quality of life and functional capacity (the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities, such as work or exercise) in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For example, a 2008 study at the University of Rochester, published in Medicine and Sport Science, found that quality of life and functional capacity (including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility) improved in women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of tai chi, while declining in a control group that received only supportive therapy.
A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of tai chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.
In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of tai chi improved participants’ ability to walk and quality of life. It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure. A 150-patient controlled trial is under way.
In a review of 26 studies in English or Chinese published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008), Dr. Yeh reported that in 85% of trials, tai chi lowered blood pressure — with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
A 33-person pilot study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published in Gait and Posture (October 2008), found that people with mild to moderately severe Parkinson’s disease showed improved balance, walking ability, and overall well-being after 20 tai chi sessions.
In a University of California, Los Angeles, study of 112 healthy older adults with moderate sleep complaints, 16 weeks of tai chi improved the quality and duration of sleep significantly more than standard sleep education. The study was published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Sleep.
In 136 patients who’d had a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of tai chi improved standing balance more than a general exercise program that entailed breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints involved in sitting and walking. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.
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MINDFUL EXERCISE AND MENTAL HEALTH
By Helen Lavretsky, MD, MS
There is currently extensive use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) — also known as integrative or mind-body medicine — in the United States to sustain well-being in both aging baby boomers and in children and adolescents. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines CAM therapies as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine,” with “conventional” medicine being defined as the approaches used by clinicians in the routine daily practice of Western or allopathic medicine that are within the currently accepted standard of care.
The most recent comprehensive assessment of CAM use in the United States found that roughly 30% of US adults had used at least one CAM therapy within the past year. In addition, Americans make more visits to CAM providers each year than to primary care physicians and spend at least as much money on out-of-pocket expenses for CAM services as they do for all conventional physician services combined. Patients with mental disorders turn to CAM for relief of symptoms of anxiety, mood, insomnia, impaired cognition, and perceived stress. The most commonly used CAM techniques include prayer for health and the use of multivitamin supplementation. Given widespread use of CAM services among patients, there is an urgent need for greater awareness and familiarity with its applications and outcomes.
As baby boomers age and increase use of CAM, mental health professionals require a working knowledge of CAM techniques intended to address late life mood disorders. An estimated 33-88% of older adults will use CAM therapies, including those with late-life depression and bipolar disorder. CAM treatments of mood and anxiety disorders include acupuncture, deep breathing exercises, massage therapy, meditation, naturopathy, and yoga.
Complementary and alternative medicine encompasses a number of techniques collectively known as mindful exercise (e.g. yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi), or meditation. This ‘physical exercise executed with a profound inwardly directed contemplative focus’ is increasingly utilized for improving psychological well-being.
Mindful physical exercise contains the following key elements:
1. A non-competitive, non-judgmental meditative component,
2. Mental focus on muscular movement and movement awareness combined with a low to moderate level of muscular activity,
3. Centered breathing,
4. A focus on anatomic alignment (i.e., spine, trunk, and pelvis) and proper physical form,
5. Energy centric awareness of individual flow of intrinsic body energy, otherwise known as prana, life force, qi, or Kundalini.
Mindful exercise has been shown to provide an immediate source of relaxation and mental quiescence. Scientific evidence has shown that medical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, depression, and anxiety disorders respond favorably to mindful exercises.
There is a growing database of the physiological effects of mindful exercise and meditation. Tai Chi and Qi Gong have been shown to promote relaxation and decrease sympathetic output, and to benefit anxiety, depression, blood pressure, and recovery from immune-mediated diseases. Tai Chi and Qi Gong have been shown to improve immune function and vaccine-response. These practices have also been shown to increase blood levels of endorphins and baroreflex sensitivity, and to reduce levels of inflammatory markers (CRP), adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), and cortisol, implicating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis as a mediator of stress and anxiety reduction. Brain wave or electroencephalopathy (EEG) studies of participants undergoing Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercise have found increased frontal EEG alpha, beta, and theta wave activity, suggesting increased relaxation and attentiveness. These changes have not been found in aerobic exercise controls.
Yogic meditation (Kirtan Kriya) for stressed family dementia caregivers resulted in lower levels of depressive symptoms, and improvements in mental health and cognitive functioning. Participants in the yogic meditation group showed a 43% improvement in telomerase activity after 12 minutes of daily practice for 8 weeks, compared with 3.7% in relaxation music control participants. This suggests that brief daily meditation practices can benefit stress-induced cellular aging. Kirtan Kriya reversed the pattern of increased NF-?B-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes in distressed dementia caregivers. This reinforces the relationship between stress reduction and beneficial immune response. In the same study, nine caregivers received brain FDG-PET scans at baseline and post-intervention. When comparing the regional cerebral metabolism between groups, significant differences over time were found in different patterns of regional cerebral metabolism suggesting brain-fitness effect different from passive relaxation.
Studies of meditation also report decreased sympathetic nervous activity and increased parasympathetic activity associated with decreased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased respiratory rate, and decreased oxygen metabolism. Functional neuroimaging studies have been able to corroborate these subjective experiences by demonstrating the up-regulation in brain regions of internalized attention and emotion processing with meditation.
In a recent systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations, Chiesa and Serretti (2015) provided evidence on the neurobiological changes related to Mindfulness Meditation (MM) practice in psychiatric disorders. Meditation practices that focus on concentration of an object or mantra seem to elicit the activation of fronto-parietal networks of internalized attention; meditation techniques that focus on breathing may elicit additional activation of paralimbic regions of insula and anterior cingulate; and meditation techniques that focus on emotion may elicit fronto-limbic activation. Future studies will be needed to disentangle the brain activation patterns related to different meditation traditions.
Given the noninvasive nature of mindful exercise and meditation, these exercises are an appropriate option for consumers and clinicians, particularly for conditions that have been examined in controlled studies. Significant evidence supports the assertion that Tai Chi and Qi Gong and yoga and meditation can improve physical and mental health, and quality of life. Ethical considerations should be taken into account when practicing or recommending spiritual interventions by healthcare professionals to respect patients’ beliefs in choosing mind-body interventions.
Dr. Helen Lavretsky is a Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, a geriatric psychiatrist with the research interest in geriatric depression and caregiver stress, as well as complementary and alternative medicine and mind-body approaches to treatment and prevention of disorders in older adults. She is co-editor of Late-Life Mood Disorders with Martha Sajatovic and Charles Reynolds. She is a recipient of the two Career Development awards from NIMH and other prestigious research awards. Her current research include clinical and translational studies of geriatric depression and caregiver stress, as well as complementary and alternative interventions for stress reduction in older adults.
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