Posts Tagged ‘tai chi’

Top Five Reasons NOT to Do Tai Chi and Qigong

In New York Times columnist Jane Brody’s article on the downside of Tai Chi, she suggested “the proper question to ask yourself may not be why you should practice tai chi, but why not.”

Taking the opposite, albeit tongue-in-cheek approach, a recent blog by Boston Tai Chi instructor Randy Moy posted on Swimming Dragon Tai Chi listed the top 5 reasons not to do Tai Chi and qigong.

“After many years of conversations with two types of people–those who crave personal growth, and those who don’t, I have come to believe that for many people, there are some darn good reasons not to do Tai Chi, beyond the obvious ones, like being in a body cast,” writes Moy.

“If you fall into one of these categories, then you shouldn’t ever let some chipper, well-meaning Tai Chi teacher like myself convince you that Tai Chi is the right choice for you.”

Here are his Top 5 reasons not to do Tai Chi and qigong, and bits of his tart answers.

Check out the full article for the full effect.

1. You enjoy feeling older than you are.

Researchers have found that people who do just three 60-minute sessions of qigong or tai chi per week, feel younger and more energetic when they were younger.

2. You embrace those heavy metal toxins building up in your body as a badass homage to your Motley Crue concert days. Rock on!

The way to really cleanse your body, besides being careful of what you eat, drink, and slather on your body, is to support your lymphatic system to do its work.

In order to do this, it’s helpful to breathe deeply using qigong’s various breathing exercises.

Many of these exercises are specifically designed to aid in the detoxification of your body.

3. You are invincible to running related injuries.

The practice of tai chi and qigong can restore meniscus in your knees so it can take the harsh impact of the pavement when running.

4. You hate Tai Chi and qigong.

The attitude of some studios, coupled with weird postures and tendency to quench your thirst you have from reciting healing sounds for 20 minutes with all the twig tea you can drink, can create an off-putting, too-strange atmosphere for regular people just looking for a lot of workout and maybe a little Zen.

However, whether you love martial arts, meditative exercises, improving health… there is a style, and an instructor for you.

5. You think the hospital is a specialized Club Med, and don’t mind staying there more often. The food stinks, but the staff is attentive!

Health insurance statistics show that people who practice meditative arts like Tai Chi and qigong are about 87% less likely to be hospitalized for heart disease, 55% less likely for benign and malignant tumors, and 30% less for infectious diseases.

As for me, I’ll continue taking Tai Chi classes three times a week at my local Y, as well as do a little home practice thrown in between.

Isolating the 8 Active Ingredients of Tai Chi

Perhaps what makes Tai Chi so special is that it is a holistic, multi-component exercise that impacts us at physical, psychological, social, and philosophical levels.

Based on his research and 35 years of Tai Chi training, Peter Wayne, PhD, Research Director for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine jointly based at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has put into words what he describes as the 8 Active Ingredients of Tai Chi.


“Like the components of a multidrug combination to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, each ingredient has a unique impact on the physiology of the body,” says Wayne.

“However, in Tai Chi, there are many more components, and each of these factors is inseparable from, and synergistic with, each other.”

In a recent blog Dan Kleiman, a fellow Tai Chi instructor in the Boston area, discussed the concept of 8 Active Ingredients with Wayne.

Here are some excerpts from that interesting discussion between the two Tai Chi instructors:

The concept of isolating active ingredients is common in other medical research. But does it really make sense to think of Tai Chi within this framework?

Great question…..and I think absolutely so.

Part of why I chose this language is to bend the ear of my medical colleagues—to try to communicate in their language.

Even if we see positive clinical effects in Tai Chi trials, without plausible mechanisms–– that is, being able to attribute clinical health effects to specific ‘active ingredients’, research results often have little traction in the medical community.

Mechanisms are part of what we call the totality of evidence.

Additionally, by using this language, we’ve been able to emphasize Tai Chi’s richness—that it includes not just one active ingredient—but many—including those related to neuromuscular control, breathing, cognitive processes, etc.

This may explain why it’s helpful for so diverse a set of health issues.

Finally, as a teacher, thinking in terms of active ingredients has helped me shape a curriculum that tries to maximize the ‘dosage’ of essential Tai Chi principles in as short a period of time as is possible.

This is key for teaching in clinical trials which are often constrained in length due to funding limitations; but also relevant to community-based classes where we want people to get a real taste of deep Tai Chi as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Living in the research world and the Tai Chi world at the same time allows Peter to apply lessons from one to the other. Here he explains how his scientific education influences the way he understands teaching Tai Chi:

My formal academic training was in evolutionary biology and ecological modeling, and my research for the first 15 years was with plants.

So shifting to medical research 12 years ago was a big change for me.

Consequently, I bring a somewhat unique perspective to the teams of medical researchers I work with.

My training to think ecologically, in terms of systems, is more like Chinese Medicine in that it focuses on ecological interactions within the body—how systems interact to create a complex whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In contrast, Western medicine has traditionally emphasized reductionist thinking, focusing on smaller and smaller parts, often at the cost of not seeing the whole person.

Interestingly, systems biology is being increasingly appreciated in medicine, and Tai Chi research fits beautifully into this more ecological framework of health.

Can you give an example?

Sure…breathing is a really important element in our Tai Chi and qigong training.

But there’s no way you can substantially change your breathing without changing your posture and how you hold your structure.

And your breathing deeply affects you nervous and cardiovascular system, and many aspects of your mood; it can be a great tool for focusing the ‘monkey mind’ and becoming more sensitive to the inner landscape of our body.

And of course changes in all these processes feedback on how we move and socially respond and interact with others.

All these processes are ecologically intertwined with each other.

But I also still think it’s useful to unpack the interconnected components—for example to teach breathing exercises on their own and to study the physiological impacts of breathing exercises, in isolation of the larger package of Tai Chi.

As a teacher, focusing on individual components helps brings awareness to finer scale processes, and it helps make a clearer teaching intention.

Also talking about the physiology of breathing in classes helps some students appreciate the work, and for the students, there can be a lot of power in knowing.

Most of us like to be told why we are doing a given practice in a given way.

It really helps if students are informed.

It creates buy in.

I really love building bridges between traditional practices and modern science for this reason.

Listening to Your Inner Rhythms Through Tai Chi

Tai Chi answers the call for a practice that honors and connects the whole person, body, mind, and spirit.

Here are excerpts from a great description of what it’s like to make that connection through inward “listening,” written by Dan Kleiman, Program Director at Brookline Tai Chi in Brookline, MA, near Boston, in the January issue of Yang-Sheng.

One of my earliest memories of really getting hooked on Tai Chi took place in a class where we were practicing the form as a big group.

In one very fleeting moment, I felt three interlaced rhythms all at once: my heartbeat, the rhythm of my breath, and the cadence of the form as we all moved through it together.

Each one was distinct, but layered on top of the others.

It was one of those experiences where, as soon as you stop and realize you’re having it, it vanishes, but the effects of that brief moment of the integrated harmony of breath, heartbeat and movement lingered.

Now I had a touchstone to come back to in my practice.

I didn’t really understand how this experience worked.

Later, I was surprised to see how harmonizing movement, breath, and intention created internal space that filled up other areas of my life too.

Let me see if I can explain it.

When you see people practicing the flowing movements of Tai Chi in the park, on some level you understand that the way they are moving on the outside resonates on the inside.

Intuitively, you know that calming your body may lead to a calmer mind, but until I started learning Tai Chi, I couldn’t get into that state in a reliable, reproduceable way.

Essentially, the stillness you find inside the graceful movements of Tai Chi comes from an inward listening — referred to in Tai Chi as “ting jin” or “listening energy”.

By harmonizing the rhythm of your form and the rhythm of your natural internal processes, you reach a still point.

Finding the still point is different every time you practice.

Think of it like going to the ocean.

Are the waves smooth or angry today? Is it windy? What about the deeper currents in the water?

Doing the form is like going to the same spot on the beach every day.

By returning to the same frame of reference over and over again, you notice more subtle shifts and changes in all these intertwined layers.

First, you notice your breathing.

Learning to slow down and smooth out your breathing is incredibly powerful because you see immediate carryover into everyday activities.

You sit at your desk and find yourself holding your breathing and shrinking into your chair.

Breathing becomes a regular cue for restoring your posture.

Later in the process, other internal rhythms become apparent.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the act of listening to your inner rhythms and waiting for the still point to reveal itself is what is so powerfully restorative about Tai Chi practice.

Beyond the physical benefits – relaxed muscles, stable joints, and springy ligaments – having an internal reference point as you move through your day creates some extra space between you and the chaos of the world around you.

By having a daily Tai Chi practice where inward listening is a major focus, I’ve found that this quality of mind becomes my default and that it is relaxing, rewarding, and completely refreshing as I move throughout my day.

Training Tips On Meditation

Meditation can generate many health benefits.

Those health benefits, according to Yang Yang, PhD, a noted New York Tai Chi researcher and author, include:

• kindness toward ourselves and the rest of the world

• enhancement of mental and physical agility

• better sleep, digestion, bowel function, and sexual function

• cultivation of tranquility, joy, and resilience in daily life

• awareness of our mind, body, and spirit

• awareness of reality

• acceptance of differences between ourselves and others

In the January issue of Yang-Sheng, Yang outlines how he cultivates awareness, which includes meditating on one or another of these maxims, choosing the one that best applies to the situation:

1. The world is yin and yang; we are all different.

2. Everyone is seeking his or her best interests or happiness, including ourselves.

3. Nothing is personal.

4. The meaning and purpose of life.

He also works on the following principles:

1. Gratitude.

2. Kindness and love.

3. Acceptance of differences between self and the rest of the world, and acceptance of imperfection in life.

4. Forgiveness.

5. The golden rule.

“There are no fixed ways to apply these maxims and principles,” Yang writes.

“You can apply one maxim and one principle on one day, and apply another on the following day until you apply all of them.

Or, you can apply more than one maxim and principle to the same situation.

However, one maxim and one principle may be easier for beginners.

After I have meditated through several of these notions, I feel energized, peaceful, joyful and ready to start out a new day to do something for myself, my family, and my community.

I find this method of categorized meditation leads me easily into quiet.

It does this not only by improving my ability to manage my daily stress, but also — and more importantly — by reducing the stressors.

Meditation helps me realize that I have created stressors through my rumination, and that those stressors should never have been stressors at all.

New stressors can arise every day.

The good news is that we can develop a habitual mental pattern to neutralize them.

In this way, we can make some stressors less stressful, and eliminate others entirely.

We can reduce the stress of our daily lives.

And we can make positive thinking our way of life.”

Tai Chi Now Integrated into Medical Schools

Tai Chi has found its way into the curriculum of nearly all universities in China.

In the U.S., Tai Chi is beginning to make its way into colleges, medical schools, and nursing schools as part of the trend toward more mind-body training.

Dozens of academic health centers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as many others around the world, are now offering Tai Chi in their integrative medicine clinics.

Some students are coming to medical programs already interested in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and want to integrate Tai Chi into their future medical practices.

A new generation of doctors and nurses will have the knowledge of how and when to prescribe Tai Chi to improve the health of their patients.

More than 50 large, academic medical centers now have some program in integrative medicine.

For example, at integrative medical clinics with most hospitals affiliated with the Harvard Medical School, patients can get mind-body therapies, acupuncture, and lifestyle coaching.

At the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital Osher Clinic for Complementary and Integrative Therapies, Tai Chi is often prescribed after patients have resolved an acute episode of back pain to stabilize the back, address any underlying imbalances, and prevent a recurrence.

Tai Chi is also commonly recommended to heart disease patients as a way to get moderate exercise and reduce stress.

Perhaps most importantly, Tai Chi skills are now widely being taught in public and private schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, and senior centers.

Preventing the effects of stress through Tai Chi may have a huge impact on reducing the already high costs of health care in the future.

Tai Chi Comedy Moments

In my continuing personal study of Tai Chi and meditation, I recently thought of a line from one of my favorite comedy groups of the 1970s, Firesign Theater:

“How can you be in 2 places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

This month’s Yang-Sheng (Nurturing Life), a monthly E-magazine for all Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga, Reiki, mindfulness and meditation practitioners, spiritual cultivators, and health seekers, contains some funny jokes in a special Comedy Moment.

Here are a few “good ones” (I’ve edited out the real groaners):

Two men meet on the street.

One asks the other: “Hi, how are you?”

The other replies: “I’m fine, thanks.”

“And how’s your son? Is he still unemployed?”

“Yes, he is. But he is meditating now.”

“Meditating? What’s that?”

“I don’t know. But it’s better than sitting around and doing nothing!”

Q: What happens when a Buddhist becomes totally absorbed with the computer he is working with?

A: He enters Nerdvana.

BUMPER STICKERS:

No matter where you go, there you are.

What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it’s all about?

Can we ever truly know when our philosophy assignment is due?

What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

If reality wants to get in touch, it knows where I am.

If there were no hypothetical questions what would this say?

Tai Chi: One of the Best Exercises for Balance

Tai Chi may be one of the better exercises you can do to maintain balance and prevent falls, based on systematic reviews.

“The diverse, multiple active ingredients inherent in Tai Chi allow you to compensate for deficiencies in the physiological and cognitive components that underlie balance loss,” says Peter Wayne, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Keeping your balance is a complex task, involving the co-ordination between muscles and sensors that detect balance and are part of the nervous system.

In older people many factors, such as reduced muscle strength, stiff joints, delayed reaction times, and changes in the sensory system, all add up to a reduced ability to maintain balance.

A new Cochrane Review indicates that regular exercise helps older people improve their balance and reduces their risk of falling.

The new review included 94 studies that involved a total of nearly 10,000 participants.

The following types of exercise are the most effective, according to the review:

* exercise that targeted a person’s walking, balance, and co-ordination

* strengthening exercises

* 3-dimensional exercises, including Tai Chi, dance, and yoga

* general physical activity such as walking or cycling

* computerized balance training that uses visual feedback

* exercise involving vibrating platforms

In general, the effective programs ran 3 times a week for a duration of 3 months and involved exercises that challenged people’s balance while they were standing.

Dr. Wayne explains how Tai Chi helps balance:

* It’s a weight-bearing exercise.

* It sensitizes sensory systems.

* It helps coordinate neuromuscular patterns.

* It reduces the fear of falling, which is one of the biggest predictor of falls.

More Evidence Tai Chi Eases Low Back Pain

A growing body of evidence suggests that Tai Chi may be effective for easing pain and improving the quality of life of those with persistent low back pain.

Despite the widespread use of Tai Chi for back pain, surprisingly few Western studies have evaluated Tai Chi for back pain.

Now the results of the first larger-scale clinical trial studying the effect of Tai Chi for persistent low back pain have just been published in the November issue of the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

An Australian team led by Dr. Amanda Hall randomly assigned 160 adults between age 18 and 70 to either 10 weeks of Tai Chi training based on a simplified form, called “Tai Chi for Back Pain” developed by Dr. Paul Lam, or to a control group.

The results showed that Tai Chi significantly improved bothersome back pain symptoms (1.7 points on a 0-10 scale), which was the study’s primary outcome.

The participants also said they experienced less pain-related disability and felt their health-related quality of life had improved.

They also said they felt better in general for having done Tai Chi.

The researchers’ conclusion: Tai Chi is safe and effective for those experiencing long-term low back pain symptoms.

In a small, unpublished pilot study, Harvard researchers Peter Wayne, PhD, and Gloria Yeh, MD, anonymously surveyed 144 Tai Chi practitioners, average age 53, two-thirds of them women, at Boston area Tai Chi schools.

More than half said they have used Tai Chi for back or neck pain, and nearly all reported Tai Chi was “helpful” or “very helpful.”

“The gentle movements of Tai Chi might help begin to gently stretch and strengthen tissues and improve local circulation in the back,” says Wayne, who is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“Because Tai Chi is done slowly and mindfully, it is less likely to cause more trauma to injured regions of the back.

The reduction in what is often unconscious pain can lead to more efficient gait and posture, putting less biomechanical strain on tissues, including connective tissues.

Mindful breathing might help you sense and even massage regions of the lower back, and the meditative, stress-reducing aspects of Tai Chi might improve your anxiety, mood, and sleep pattern.”

The bottom line: If you have chronic low back pain, the many components of Tai Chi may just help relieve your pain.

How to Reduce Stress and Work Better

Want to work better and harder?

Try Tai Chi, meditation, or yoga or other stress-reduction techniques.

That’s what Mayo Clinic researchers suggest after they examined the relationship between stress levels and quality of life at a work site wellness center.

The researchers, led by Matthew M. Clark, a clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, conducted a survey of more than 13,000 employees joining a wellness center, asking them about stress, health behaviors, and quality of life.

A total of 2,147 of these employees reported having high stress levels, according to a study in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Those under high stress had statistically significant lower quality of life, more fatigue, and poorer health compared with employees with low stress levels.

They were also more likely to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and to be overweight.

The study showed the biggest differences between stressed and non-stressed respondents were in fatigue levels after a regular night’s sleep and in current quality of life.

The researchers concluded that tailored stress-reduction programs would be beneficial for these employees.

Mindfulness exercises, which include Tai Chi, meditation, and yoga, can increase positivity, said Margaret Moore, MBA, founder of Wellcoaches Corporation, at a Harvard-based academic conference on coaching that she co-directed last year.

“Positive emotions matter,” said Moore.

“They lead to flow experiences.”

Positivity makes you thrive and uncover your strengths and talents, she said.

Corporate wellness programs typically focus on physical fitness and weight loss initially, but personal wellness coaches also address other domains of wellness, including stress management, work/life balance, spirituality, and resilience.

Your boss may ask about your productivity and how you are adding to the bottom line.

A return on investment of wellness is tougher to calculate.

But reducing stress may help boost your health and resiliency, and therefore make you a better worker.

100-Year-Olds Share The Secrets of a Long Life

I’m always willing to learn from my elders, so when 100-year-olds tell me their secrets of a long life, I take notice.

Kevin W Chen, Ph.D., the publisher/editor of Yang-Sheng (Nurturing Life), reveals the life-nurturing regimens of centenarians in “Selected Secrets and Maxims of Longevity of Famous Chinese Celebrities” in the September issue of this e-magazine for all Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga, Reiki, mindfulness and meditation practitioners, spiritual cultivators, and health seekers.

Here’s a selection of what these 100-year-olds have to say, as translated by Chen:

Sun, Simiao lived to be 101 years old. His secrets were: “Keep your four limbs moving industriously; be moderate and controlled in diet; chew carefully and eat slowly; wash and rinse your mouth after meals; and get sufficient sleep.”(四体勤劳;节制食欲;细嚼慢咽;饭后盥漱;睡眠充足. ).

Zhang, Xueliang (General) lived to be 101 years old. His maxim was: “Have a broad and level mind/heart; but build a strong will; frequently do physical exercise to strengthen the body; maintain a regular daily routine and moderate diet; view flowers and read books; cultivate both body and spirit, make a lot of friends, and enjoy life joyfully.”(心胸坦荡;意志坚强;经常运动;锻炼身体;起居有时;饮食节制;观花读书;修身养性;广交朋友;自寻快乐)

Wang, Zhongyi lived to be 105 years old. His maxim was: “Travel and enjoy beautiful scenery; eat until only 70% full at meals; act like a prime minister, show kindness and help others; feel only 70% joy even at fully happy moments; be persistent even during difficult times; always smile and be happy to enjoy daily life!”( 去旅游山清水秀;食油腻三分足矣;宰相肚与人为善;喜事临只乐三分;艰难阻进三尺;笑口常开乐悠哉!)

And here’s my favorite, and the one I plan to continue to emulate:

Yu, You-zit died at the age of 105. His longevity 3-character classic was: “Run in the morning, and go to sleep early; eat breakfast only until you are half-full, have a good lunch, and a small supper; read books and newspapers with enjoyment; smile and don’t worry; exercise with persistence; keep busy into old age to live a long, happy life.”( “夙兴跑;夜寐早;晨半饱;午餐好;晚餐少;读书妙;常看报;常常笑;莫烦恼;动为宝;恒常要;忙到老;寿自高”)

My plan is to follow the sage advice from these wise, old men — maintain a healthy, strong body, cultivate a clear mind, and retain a joyful zest for life.