Classes at the Regent Centre are on hold until further notice. All classes will run online until further notice. See blog for details.



Thanksgiving weekend schedule, 2020

Hi everyone!

I hope you're all doing well and looking forward to whatever this coming holiday weekend holds for you and yours. 

There will be NO CLASSES on MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2020. All other classes will run as usual in October, including Saturday classes this weekend. 

If you can't make it on Saturday, I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Anything I teach on Saturday will be repeated at a later date, so you won't miss anything vital. 

Classes Begin Saturday, October 3rd, 2020




I'm writing with a quick reminder that classes resume this Saturday at noon! I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing you all again, sharing some insights and new practices I worked with while I was away, and helping you learn and improve your art.

We'll meet at the same Zoom link we were using before. If you've misplaced it, or if you'd like to join for the first time and you need instructions, please get in touch at smithmk2@gmail.com or (905) 521-0043.

ONLINE SCHEDULE:

Monday
Qigong 1pm-2pm
Intermediate Tai Chi 2-3pm
Continuing (Sword and sometimes Sabre and Hsing-I*) 3-3:30
Lok Hup Ba Fa: 3:30-4pm

Wednesday
Beginner's Tai Chi 1-2pm
Intermediate Tai Chi 2-3pm
Continuing (Sword and sometimes Sabre and Hsing-I) 3-3:30
Lok Hup Ba Fa: 3:30-4pm

Saturday
Qigong Noon-1pm
Beginner's Tai Chi 1-2pm
Continuing (Tai Chi, Sword and sometimes Sabre and Hsing-I, Lok Hup review) 2-3:30  

Tai Chi Newsletter, Fall 2020

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you from the depth of my hiatus during a truly glorious September. I hope you're having a wonderful month and taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to enjoy some time outdoors. The pandemic continues, but so will Tai Chi and Qigong class, in our safe online format. I very much hope you'll join us in October!

If you have any questions about any of the following information, or if you'd like to join, please contact me (Melissa Smith) at smithmk2@gmail.com or (905) 521-0043. Once you let me know you'd like to join and I have an email address for you, I'll send you the instructions for signing on to class, and you'll be all set. If you've already been to online classes, I'll see you in the same Zoom room we were using before.

Important Upcoming Dates

Tai Chi and Qigong classes start again on Saturday, October 3rd, 2020. The schedule will be the same as it was before I took my break. You can review the class schedule here. I'll be leading all of the classes while we're working online. I'm very much looking forward to class!

The New Beginner's Tai Chi cycle also starts on Saturday, October 3rd, 2020. For this fall, and possibly only for this fall, I'll be accepting students from anywhere in the world. The occasion of the pandemic means we're not limited to one physical location anymore. (I do recommend finding a local-to-you instructor when it is safe to start training again, and if you are local to Hamilton, Ontario, I would love it if you decided to come out and practice in person once all this is over.) 

Because of the online format, we will be taking our beginner's lessons more slowly than usual. If you've always wanted to comb through the set a tiny bit at a time, this is your year! You can read more about learning Tai Chi online as a new beginner here.

Tai Chi and Qigong fees will remain the same: $40 / month for unlimited classes; $20 / month for students, people on ODSP or other forms of social support, or in situations of financial need.

If you are brand new to me and you want to come try classes out, just ask! I'm offering a free week of classes to anyone who hasn't trained with me before. Once you try class, if you decide you'd like to stick with it, your first month will be $30. ($15 for people paying the lower rate.)

There's much more to look forward to at class: new content for Qigong practitioners, polishing the set for Intermediate Tai Chi folks, and lots of challenging technique for Continuing / Advanced students. For those exploring other internal martial arts, we'll keep polishing sword, and Lok Hup Ba Fa sessions will continue from where we left off in the summer (at Nine Circulations After the Emergence of the Golden Pill, a move name of which I will never tire!). 

Other Classes

Guided Meditation sessions will resume this fall, every other week. I thoroughly enjoyed running these sessions throughout the summer, and I thought they were very productive. My plan is to run these sessions on alternate Sunday afternoons from 2-4 pm, beginning on Sunday, October 25th. The topic for the first session will be Setting Spiritual Goals. Please let me know if you'd like to participate. Guided meditation sessions are $20 each.

Private and semi-private outdoor sessions, weather permitting, will be available from October 3rd forward, as well as individual online sessions for those seeking to polish their forms or looking for guidance. I'll continue to offer Reiki and Shamballa distance healing. In-person healings won't be available until the pandemic resolves. Private and semi-private sessions are $60 / hour. Reiki and Shamballa sessions are $30 for healing alone, or $60 for a consult plus healing.

A Final Note

I've had several inquiries about whether in-person classes will start again at the Regent Centre anytime soon. The answer is no: all regular classes will be online only. There is a learning curve involved in attending online classes, but that's a small inconvenience when set against preserving our safety and peace of mind. Unfortunately it just isn't safe to exercise indoors in a group setting yet: aerosol transmission of the virus and the ever-changing nature of community spread means I can't guarantee everyone's safety. It's impossible for me to reconcile this level of risk with helping you build your health and wellbeing. When the time comes to return to in-person classes, I will announce it here. In order to address some concerns about online classes, I've set up a new section on the FAQ page. If you have any questions that aren't addressed there, please let me know!

Diaphragm and Abdominal Muscle Synergy, or, Why Belly Breathing Matters

Earlier this week at Qigong class I shared some information about work I've been doing around correcting diaphragmatic breathing and the digestive system. It reminded me of how important breathwork is, and the unique way we can incorporate the breath into Tai Chi and Qigong practice. I did a bit of an introduction to this topic at class, and some of you requested the research I've been doing, so here you go!

If you're not familiar, the diaphragm is a thin sheet of muscle, shaped like a dome, that separates the lungs and heart from the organs of digestion. It is responsible for breathing: as it contracts, the dome flattens and draws air into the lungs. At the same time, if everything is working well, the abdominal muscles and the ribcage expand to give room to the air entering the body, while at the same time, the pelvic floor lowers. As the diaphragm relaxes, it goes back to its dome-like shape, the abdominal muscles contract back into place and exhalation occurs. People (and animals who have diaphragms) breathe fully into their bellies when they're relaxed and not stressed or in pain. Because people are often stressed (i.e, in some kind of psychological pain state), we often lose the ability to belly breathe, or our ability to take a deep belly breath becomes diminished.


If you've asked about breathing in class before, you've probably heard my standard answer to the question of how to breathe during practice: just do it. Ensuring that you aren't holding the breath is very important, since many of us do that subconsciously while concentrating. There is another level to breathing during Tai Chi and Qigong practice: relaxing the breath so that it flows evenly and deeply (a fully belly breath / complete diaphragmatic breathing). Even though Tai Chi and Qigong can be vigorous exercise at times, and the heart rate will increase as you do some of the more challenging moves, the breath still tends to be long and slow, or should be. If you find yourself panting or your breathing becoming erratic or frantic, it's time to relax more deeply and work on deepening the breath, while asking if you're taking a complete breath. 

I was always taught that it's important not to tie a pattern of breathing to Tai Chi and Qigong movements. Breathing will change and shift as you deepen your relationship with energy and with the practice, and so you shouldn't train yourself to coordinate the breath with each movement in a particular way. Doing so inhibits spontaneity.

I stand by that answer, but the fact is that many of us (myself included, from time to time) need to return to an evaluation of the breath and ask: is it truly relaxed? Is it deep enough? Is it flowing freely? And, most importantly, is the breathing mechanism doing what it's supposed to do? Most people breathe too shallowly, or clench while breathing (see above re: chronic stress).

The current state of research into breathing and its connection to good body mechanics and internal health supports the vital importance of good breathing. Erin Chapman and colleagues have argued that breathing is so important to correct movement that a breathing assessment should go hand in hand with treatment of musculoskeletal pain in active people. (You can read more about these assessments and the different types of breathing dysfunction here, in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.)

Disordered breathing also has implications for a wide array of seemingly unconnected issues. This article by Bruno Bordoni and Bruno Morabito in Cureus discusses the links between diaphragmatic dysfunction and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In the course of their discussion they link dysfunction of the diaphragm to a stunning array of physical issues, including (but not limited to): swelling or bloating of the abdomen, pelvic pain, lower back pain, TMJ (a dysfunction of the jaw), chronic headaches, GERD (acid reflux), anxiety, depression, increase in both pain and the perception of pain, and inflammation. That's a ton! (They link all of these issues to IBS—it is quite fascinating and horrifying reading. For those of you who were at class when I mentioned this topic, this is the article that started my deep dive into reading about breathing, after I had already begun to work with my own breathing as a new approach for a couple of issues I'm personally working on.)

My takeaway from all this is to reaffirm how vital it is for us to reset our relationship with good breathing mechanics from time to time. Fortunately retraining is accessible and something we can do from the comfort of our homes. (If you've got severe symptoms, you could consider consulting a doctor and ask about the possibility of biofeedback, which has proven quite effective in retraining the breath.) 

I recommend working with the breath as a practice on its own, so that the diaphragm learns to move freely, and in coordination with the other body systems, and then trying to fold your new breathing habits into your practice slowly over time. For many of us, reminding the body of how to breathe well and completely will feel so good, it will become second nature (or become second nature again) while we do complex tasks, including Tai Chi and Qigong. Deep breathing / belly breathing / diaphragmatic breathing is a great practice to do hand in hand with the postural realignment work we've been doing in class recently, especially in Qigong. Releasing old and restricted breathing patterns will really help support the new postural and movement habits we're all constantly trying to develop!

Some notes:
A little goes a long way when you are first working with all this. Try doing some relaxed breathing where you just pay attention to the breath, and then 1-3 deep or belly breaths once a day. Work your way up to more. 

Don't force anything. If you've been breathing more shallowly, you will be strengthening the diaphragm and the other muscles involved with breathing, as well as stretching them, but that doesn't mean you should force breath to deepen. Relax and allow the breath to move freely: belly breathing is a product of a relaxed body. Deepen your breathing over time, not all at once. 

The concept of timing that we talk about in class—coordinating movement so everything works all together, and no body part is left behind—also applies here. If you haven't been breathing fully, then you'll probably hesitate to expand the belly when inhaling, and on exhalation, the contraction of the abdomen will probably lag behind as you release your breath. Try allowing the belly to expand (while relaxing it!) a little bit sooner than you think you should. Likewise, let the belly fall or contract "ahead" of the breath as you let it go and exhale. For me personally, the benefits I'm experiencing so far from working in a deeper way with my breath have largely come from completing the inward movement of the belly with exhalation, so I've been making sure to play with letting it contract more than it usually does. 

Good luck! Don't overdo, don't strain, and enjoy folding this practice into your routine. It really doesn't take long, and it's deeply relaxing and refreshing.

Resources:

Class Schedule for July, August, and Class Break, September 2020

Hello everyone,

As many of you know, I take an annual break from teaching in order to rest, reflect on any changes that need to take place with classes, and focus on my own training. This break usually occurs in September, and has sometimes extended into the first part of October.

Due to (positive) changes in my personal life, this break is going to start a little earlier than normal, and I'll be sneaking away for a couple of days in July.

So:

All classes will run as usual in July, except for Monday, July 27th and Wednesday, July 29th. There will be no classes on those two days.

All classes will run as usual in August, but the last day of class will be Saturday, August 22nd. For the last week and a bit of August, there won't be any classes. There will be no classes in September 2020.

The monthly fee for August will be $30 instead of $40. 

Classes will resume on October 3rd, 2020. (This is the first Saturday in October. The monthly fee of $40 will resume at that point.)

There will be a lot to look forward to in October, including a new Tai Chi Beginner's cycle and the continuation of Lok Hup Ba Fa training, as well as new depths to our study of Qigong. 

Things might change between now and October, but my current plan is that all classes will continue to be offered online until it's reasonably safe for us to gather and practice indoors. This includes reasonable safety for all our members. Depending on how things develop, I may be offering some in-person teaching at the Regent Centre in the fall or winter on the same limited basis I've been offering training this summer, but I don't currently have concrete plans to do this.

I very much appreciate hearing any opinions from you on how you would like things to proceed, given our limitations and what's comfortable for you. Many of you have offered me feedback already, and it's been very helpful. My primary aim in all of this is to continue to offer lessons in the safest way possible.

I hope to see you at a class sometime soon! And I'm looking forward to a time when we can train together in person again.  

July 2020

Hi everyone! A couple of quick notes on class:

Classes will run as they have been in July 2020, online on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. You can view the complete schedule here. If you haven't accessed online classes yet, but would like to, please pop me a line at smithmk2@gmail.com or call (905) 521-0043.

The next guided meditation session runs on Sunday, July 5 (not the nonexistent date I originally listed, Saturday, July 5). For more information on guided meditation, read the post here.

If you're a continuing student and you haven't contacted me lately or have chosen not to attend online classes, I would like to touch base with you. Please let me know if you're available. Thanks!

A less quick note on some content we discussed the other day:

During a recent qigong class we were discussing the TCM clock associated with the organ systems of the body. We've talked a lot about the cycle of the five elements in qigong, but each of these elements also maps onto each day, creating a circadian rhythm.

This is very handy for understanding any symptoms you may have that repeat at the same time each day. (Why do I always get sleepy at 2pm? Why do I always wake up at 3 in the morning?) Lily Choi, a TCM practitioner in New York state, has a wonderful article about the organ clock, including tips and tricks for strategically supporting each organ at its ideal time, and a good image of the clock for your reference: TCM Organ Qi Cycle: Our Body Clock. Go check it out!

Guided Meditation Sessions for Summer 2020

Hello everyone,

Guided meditation sessions will continue throughout the summer, on the full and new moons each month. These are mini-workshops, lasting two hours each, and include a check-in to see how everyone's doing, a discussion of the energies we'll be working with, a guided meditation, and post-meditation discussion. (Don't worry if that sounds like a lot! We take a break in the middle.) 

Guided meditation is a wonderful way to receive a fresh infusion of new positive energies. At a time when much of our input is distressing or negative, it's great to be in a position to receive something helpful. The discussions we have around the meditation are a wonderful source of insight into working with energy and receiving guidance. We learn from each other as we work together.

The next four sessions will continue the theme we started on Friday, June 5, as we began to explore the five Taoist virtues or positive traits, and by way of doing so, the five elements, and five aspects of spiritual energy, as outlined in traditional Chinese medicine. We began on the Strawberry Full Moon with metal element / lungs / the Po or "animal soul," which is responsible for reacting to situations as they arise. 

Don't worry if you missed the first one, or if you know you can't make all of the remaining meditations: each of these sessions stands alone, and is an in-depth exploration of a beneficial energy. As one of my mentors always says, you end up coming to the sessions that offer what you need! That may be all of them, or it may be that certain meditations resonate with you. 

If you're brand new, you're welcome to attend. If you've been to my classes or these meditations before, you're welcome to attend. Guided meditation sessions are $20 per session. 

Here's the schedule for the rest of the summer:


Sunday, June 21, 2020 New Moon
6-8(ish) pm
Water

There's a ton happening on this date! It's the first full day of summer, astrologically speaking—the solstice takes place on June 20th at 5:43 pm. In traditional calendars, the solstice marks midsummer, the time when the days are longest. On the 21st there will also be a special type of solar eclipse. When aligned with the sun, the moon will cover 99.4% of its surface, creating a ring of fire effect. In other words, it should look really cool. It won't be visible from North America, but keep an eye out for photos from parts of Africa, India, and China. 

For this session, we'll be working with the water element. Water governs the kidney / bladder systems. In Chinese medicine the kidneys store Essence, what Ted Kaptchuk calls the "deep, 'soft,' 'juicy' potential in living beings." They're also responsible for the will: the decisions and commitments we make, as well as the understanding that on some level we're connected to destiny. This meditation will help balance the will and access inner wisdom. 


Sunday, July 5, 2020 Full Moon
6-8(ish) pm
Wood  

This meditation falls on the full Buck moon, also known as the Thunder moon, named for the time of year when bucks' horns pick up speed in their growth and development, and the time when thunderstorms are most likely. This year the July moon rises on Saturday evening, and reaches peak illumination or fullness after midnight. There will be a penumbral eclipse on this day—the moon passes through the outer edge of the earth's shadow, making it appear darker between 11 pm and 2 am.

All of these eclipses enhance any energy work we might want to do. On this evening we'll work with the wood element, which governs the liver / gallbladder. Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi in the body. At its best, the liver creates an even disposition. It's connected to the non-corporeal soul or Hun, and is responsible for kindness, benevolence, and the ability to recognise the humanity in others. We'll work with this aspect of the soul to help establish an open, flexible and firm sense of our own boundaries. 


Monday, July 20, 2020 New Moon
6-8 (ish) pm
Fire

This is a less action-packed New Moon than the previous month! But we'll be in a fabulous element with fire. This meditation will focus on the heart, which is the organ that governs the connection between a person's spirit or shen and their daily actions. With this meditation, we'll work on developing appropriate and timely actions and reactions, ensuring that our heart energies are strong and supple enough to allow the big picture of Spirit to guide our choices.


Monday, August 3, 2020 Full Moon
6-8 (ish) pm
Earth

This final meditation of the summer takes place on the night of the full Sturgeon moon, the time when sturgeon are most readily caught. (That Old Farmer's Almanac link has a ton of other names for this moon, including "Blueberry Moon," if you prefer something less fishy!) This moon takes place two days after the traditional holiday of Lammas or Lughnasadh, which celebrated the first wheat harvest—it's a very significant time of year for celebrating the ripe fullness of the season in the Northern hemisphere, and a great time to complete our series with the earth element!

Earth governs the spleen, which is responsible for extracting and distributing Qi. In Chinese medicine, it's considered the primary organ of digestion. On a psychological level, the spleen rules our ability to see potentials, meaning, if it's in balance, we can consider possibilities, weigh our options, and make clear-headed decisions. In this meditation, we'll explore the concept of having enough, and help ourselves to meet the world with clarity and decisiveness.