Tai Chi for Beginners, Winter 2015

Saturday Tai Chi for Beginners starts on January 17th. Classes will run every Saturday from 3:00-4:30pm.

A new Tai Chi for Beginners class will start on January 19th, 2015. Classes will run every Monday from 9:30-11am.

The slow, continuous movements of Tai Chi calm the mind, while gently challenging the body to become stronger, more flexible, and better balanced.

Go here for more details about the Tai Chi for Beginners course. To join, email Melissa or call (905) 521-0043.

Tai Chi for Beginners, Fall 2014

I've had a few calls from people interested in joining the Tai Chi for Beginners class that started last week (October 18, 2014). I just wanted to do a quick post to let people know that if you're thinking about joining, but concerned that the class has already started, don't be shy. There is plenty of review in the first two or three classes, and it shouldn't be too hard to catch up if you still want to join. There are still a couple of spots available in the class.

The class runs on Saturdays from 3:00-4:30pm. More information on Tai Chi for Beginners is available here.

If you have any questions, feel free to call me at (905) 521-0043 or email at smithmk2@gmail.com

On Hiatus, September 18-October 16 2014

I am taking a break from teaching for the next month. My regular classes at the Regent Centre will resume the first week after Thanksgiving. The first class back will be Friday, October 17. Tai Chi for Beginners starts on Saturday, October 18. 

During this month, Gillianne Shaver will still be running Wednesday classes (1:15-2:15pm) at the Regent Centre. These classes focus on Tai Chi for Beginners. Gillianne will stop accepting new students on September 24, however, so join on or before that date if you want to be a part of the Wednesday afternoon class.

One of the things I always try to emphasize to my students and clients is that Tai Chi and Qigong are very powerful tools for self-healing and self-improvement on all levels. The only problem is that you have to actually practice!

In order to keep my teaching up to date and to keep myself in a good place, I am constantly refining my own technique and abilities. This includes adding new skills and making sure I spend time on my meditation, Qigong and Tai Chi exercise, as well as the other internal martial arts I practice. This means that for every hour of class I teach, I do at least an hour and a half of my own practice.

I'm mentioning this because I think it's important for you to know how I approach Tai Chi and Qigong for myself. I don't know if you've ever had cause to think about it, but when it comes to practices like Tai Chi and Qigong, or anything that is at its core about personal development, your teacher is only as good as his or her own practice. My promise to my students is that I will never stop deepening my own practice, so I can always bring fresh insight to class.

This year I'm taking a month away to recharge my batteries and focus on my own practice so I can return to class fresh after Thanksgiving. The Dundurn Park session on September 17 will be my last class until I return on Friday, October 17 for the regular advanced Tai Chi session. After that, we'll be following the regular winter schedule, which you can read about here:


If I don't see you before I leave, I hope to see you when I return! Have a spectacular end of summer / beginning of fall.


Qigong Workshop for Beginners, September 14, 2014

Enrollment in all workshops is limited. Contact Melissa at smithmk2@gmail.com or (905) 521-0043 for more information or to register.


Eight Silk Brocades Qigong for BeginnersSunday, September 14, 2014, 1-5pm
Location: Regent Health Centre, 150 Locke Street South
Fee: $75, includes materials and refreshments
This workshop is especially for Beginners.


Eight Silk Brocades is a beautiful and self-contained Qigong routine that you can learn in the course of an afternoon. It is especially useful to daily practice because it requires only a small amount of space to perform, and can be done in as little as ten minutes.

This workshop will include instruction in Qigong meditation, guided visualization exercises to help you relax, and an introduction to the Eight Silk Brocades routine. You'll receive a handout to take with you to remind you of what you've learned. Refreshments provided.

All skill levels and abilities welcome.

Free Classes at the Locke Street Festival, Saturday, September 6, 2014

If you're at the Locke Street Festival this Saturday, September 6th, and you want to get away from the crowd for a bit, chill out in a quiet place, and learn some Tai Chi or Qigong, have I got a deal for you!

I'll be opening my classes at the Regent Centre Studio that day to anyone who wants to stop by. You can come by and try Qigong from 2-3pm or Tai Chi from 3-4:00. Lessons are completely free and appropriate for beginners. People seem to think that they can't wander into the Centre off the street, but there is an open house policy on the day of the festival, so come in if you're arriving any time between 2-3pm or 3-4. Don't be shy!

I plan to be at the Regent Centre tent from around noon-ish if you want to drop by and ask questions or get more info about my programs. We'll be out front of 150 Locke Street South, next to Starbucks.

101: What Is Qigong?

Older than tai chi, qigong or "energy work" teaches us to engage with the natural subtle energies ("qi") that surround and permeate us. It combines specific physical movements with a gentle mental focus. Qigong allows you to reset your body systems to their naturally relaxed state. Although people excel at functioning very well while carrying heavy burdens of stress, this is not our optimal way of being. Qigong allows you to gently release current and old stressors that prevent you from achieving a state of wellbeing.

The sages who developed qigong were working with principles that Western medicine is only now re-discovering: the effects of our emotions and thoughts (stress) on our physical wellbeing; the importance of movement for optimal health; the profound physical and emotional benefits of focusing on the present moment (peak experience / flow, "the power of now").

A typical qigong class consists of performing gentle exercises, working with standing or sitting meditation, and putting movement and meditation together into short routines that offer a complete internal workout.

It can be performed by anyone, and is more easily adapted to working in a seated position if you have difficulty standing. That having been said, if performed correctly and deeply, it can be a very challenging physical workout.

Current Content
I offer instruction in two different Qigong forms: Ba Duan Jin, and Five Elements Qigong, as well as some related forms Six Healing Sounds, Pa Qua stepping / walking meditation, and sitting and standing meditation. The content of any individual class depends on the preferences and abilities of the participants.

About Ba Duan Jin
Ba Duan Jin, or Eight Pieces of Silk Brocade Qigong is a classic qigong routine consisting of eight exercises plus standing meditation.


From Ken Cohen's The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing:
These eight exercises are elegant, graceful, and essential methods of qi cultivation. They were first described in an eighth-century Daoist [Taoist] text, Xiu Zhen Shi Shu (The Ten Treatises on Restoring the Original Vitality), in the Daoist Canon. Daoist tradition attributes the exercises to one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese folklore, Chong Li-quan. Chong is frequently represented in Chinese art as a bald-headed, potbellied figure, with a white beard reaching to his navel. Chong had been a general during the Han Dynasty. When his army was defeated in a battle against Tibetans, Chong withdrew into the mountains rather than face the Emperor’s wrath. There he met a Daoist who transmitted to him dao-yin (qigong) “recipes” to create an inner elixir of long life. The Eight Brocades was one of these methods. Before he died, Chong inscribed the exercises on the walls of a cave. When another general, Lu Dong-bin, discovered this cave several centuries later, he followed the diagrams and also became a sage-Immortal. According to a statement in the Ten Treatises, it was General Lu himself who first inscribed the exercises on stone.


About Five Elements Qigong

One of the cornerstones of Chinese philosophy is the idea that underpinning all reality are five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. These are not literal elements in the same sense as the periodic table of elements (hydrogen, helium, etc.), but rather types of energy or phases in natural cycles. The five elements work together to create coherent, flowing systems, including ecosystems, cities, social and cultural movements, and smaller systems like our homes or bodies. Where the five elements are in balance, things flow easily and naturally.

In our bodies, each element is represented in a different organ system: fire in the heart / small intestine; earth in the spleen / stomach; metal in the lungs / large intestine; water in the kidneys / bladder; and wood in the liver / gall bladder.

Each organ system relates to the next one in the cycle in a supportive, nurturing way. In Five Element Qigong, we perform the exercises in an order called the "Constructive Cycle." The Constructive Cycle maximizes the effectiveness of each exercise, creating balance throughout the body as you work with each organ in turn.




I offer Qigong instruction on a weekly basis, Saturdays from 2-3pm and Mondays from 1-2pm. These classes are ongoing, and open to beginners at all times. Information on the schedule and fees is here. I also offer occasional workshops. Information on upcoming workshops is here. 

Classes run at the Regent Health and Chiropractic Center, 150 Locke Street South, in Hamilton, Ontario.

101: What Is Tai Chi?

Tai chi is a complete system of mind-body training that teaches you to relax deeply while moving the body as a single unit. Tai chi stretches the spine and aligns all body systems so that they work harmoniously together. While gentle, tai chi challenges you to move your body more efficiently, to stretch and release stale patterns and tensions, and to sink into the present moment.

Tai Chi and Martial Art

Tai chi ch'uan - tai chi's full name - translates as "supreme ultimate fist." The moves you'll learn in tai chi – strikes, blocks, kicks, and punches – are performed slowly and softly. They gently teach you how to apply force and awaken your inner warrior. Practicing tai chi helps you perform daily tasks safely and effectively, and allows you to meet mental and physical challenges with increasing confidence.

Our Tai Chi Set

I offer instruction in a 108-form set. Read and download the list of 108 moves here. It takes between fifteen and twenty minutes to perform the set. Once you've learned it and can perform it start to finish, it gives you a complete internal workout, stretching your limbs, massaging your internal organs, and refreshing your energy field, although you start to receive those benefits from the moment you start your first class.

Master Moy Lin-Shin, who developed this form, demonstrates it here.


Click Here for Current Class Schedule and Fees
Click Here to View Upcoming Workshops

Classes and workshops run at the Regent Health and Chiropractic Centre, 150 Locke Street South in Hamilton, Ontario. Beginners and others may also attend summer sessions in Dundurn Park to start learning Tai Chi foundation. Summer sessions start May 17, and run each Wednesday from 6-7pm until mid-September.



How to Do Tai Chi and Qigong in a Chair

In my last post about how to keep practicing Tai Chi and Qigong when you feel you can't go on or you don't even want to start, I mentioned that one thing you can do is practice while seated in a chair. I thought I would go into a bit more detail about how to do this.

Just to be clear, I'm working with some core practice ideas that may or may not have been suggested to you by your instructor. If you practice Tai Chi or Qigong but these notions seem foreign to you, then you may have to consult your own instructor or figure out your own way of working in a chair. These core practice ideas are:

Tai Chi and Qigong movements are whole body movements. You are never just waving your arms around independent of the rest of the body. Whatever arm or leg movements you perform are the result of whole-body expansions and contractions.

The whole body movements of Tai Chi and Qigong are initiated by pushing from the feet. The movements are performed by channeling the force of the push from the feet throughout the body in various ways. The low spine / tailbone is a key player here because it both grounds the movements by sinking and turns to channel the movements into cool hand-turny motions.

The movements are performed in a totally relaxed manner. To hammer home the point, in order to perform movements without adding strain, pulling, clenching, or other unwanted tension, you need to initiate from the floor. It is the only part of you that has contact with a solid surface. This is basic physics. (When you're in the chair, your tush will obviously also have contact with a solid surface, but you still need to push from your feet. Pushing from your bottom will not get you places. Not in this context, anyway.)

Okay, now that we're all informed and agreed:

HOW TO PRACTICE IN A CHAIR

The chair in question must be a hard-backed chair, like a dining room chair. No, you don't want to do this from your squishy sofa. You're going to place your bottom as close to the edge of the chair as you can get without falling off.

Make sure your feet can reach the floor. Like I said, you're going to be moving by pushing one or both feet into the floor - just like you do when you're standing. So both feet have to be flat on the floor when you're sitting in the chair. If you can't reach, get some yoga blocks or a tower of books to place under each foot.

Sit with your spine straight. You'll be able to straighten it better if you feel as if you're leaning forward slightly from the hips.

Practice pushing the feet into the floor. This is really the key to the whole thing. From your sitting position, push the feet down into the floor as if you are trying to use your legs to stand up. If you feel up to it, do stand up and sit down again a few times. You want to use this move to train your legs. Pushing the feet into the floor to stand up from a seated position is excellent exercise for the legs.

Try not to cheat. If you are trying the standing-up-sitting-down exercise, cheating means that you pull yourself forward into a lean before you push the feet down to help you stand up. Whatever amount you lean forward, that's work you're taking away from your legs. You might be thinking, "Good! My legs are doing a lot of work as it is!" No, cheater! The whole point of this is to strengthen your legs. Once you're a quivering bowl of jello, it's time to sit down in the chair for some Tai Chi or Qigong.

Now push the feet into the floor as if you're going to stand up, but remain seated, and instead allow that push to travel up through the spinal column, expanding it. The idea is to feel as if you are increasing the spaces between each vertebrae. At first, it may be difficult to feel this because of tension in the back muscles. Just allow those to stretch. When you've maxed out the stretch, relax your legs and contract your spinal column back into the chair. Don't hunch, just relax to your original position.

Try using the push from the feet to move the hands.  Try Two Hands Support Sky - a good one to choose for a first go at chair work because you push equally from both feet to accomplish the movement. As you expand, drive the feet into the floor to get the hands to go up above the head. As the hands come down, contract / relax the legs / sink into the chair.

For movements where you'd push from one foot, then the other, do so while sitting in the chair as well. Turning motions are accomplished usually by actively pushing from one foot while receiving / grounding through the other foot. You can do this in a chair as well. The turning motion is going to be more internal through the spine, because the low spine is held in place.

Bonus factor:  The grounded quality of chair practice gives you an idea of how the movements should feel even when standing. A common beginner challenge is keeping the low spine dropped and grounded as you do your movements. Especially in cases where the low back and hips have been compromised by too much sitting / desk work / sedentary habits, it can be difficult to properly ground through the low spine while standing. Most people go years before they feel that their movements are travelling internally as well as moving the body externally. Chair practice is a way to immobilize the large external movements and experience the force travelling through the inside of the body.

Bonus bonus: It is ideal in a situation where you can't stand due to an injury to the lower body, where it would benefit you to exercise the area but it won't bear weight. 

Bonus bonus bonus: Chair practice done correctly is just as challenging as standing practice.

Using Qigong and Tai Chi for Healing, Part Five: How to Practice When You Can't Keep Moving

This post is Part Four of a series that addresses healing from serious chronic and acute illness, including but not limited to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, and Cancer. Click here to access all articles about using Tai Chi and Qigong for health recovery.

In Part Three of this series, I wrote about the ways you can maximize the effectiveness of your Tai Chi and Qigong practice: specifically, making the movements bigger than you're inclined to, and relaxing completely. For most adults, this is good advice. Even if you're not sick, generally speaking most people over the age of twelve are suffering from some kind of contraction throughout the spinal column. Those years of sitting in desks at school, studying / spending time on the couch and in front of the computer at home, and working a desk job or even a physically demanding job that's repetitive in nature can bind you up like nobody's business.

When you perform Tai Chi and Qigong moves, you're restoring range of motion throughout the body, but you are also moving in ways that increase the flow of chi or vital energy throughout the meridians or energy channels of the body. This is great for you and it is exactly what you need no matter what you're doing, but especially when you are facing serious chronic or acute illness.

I've also written recently about how much Tai Chi and / or Qigong you need to do if you are working actively on health recovery. (Answer: what will probably seem at first like a completely insane amount. Basically, welcome to your new part-time job that will feel like a full-time job with ridiculous overtime.) There will be times when that feels impossible, or when it is impossible. I strongly suggest that you try to do the whole amount of time you've set out for yourself. Chances are, when you've completed the workout, you're going to feel a whole lot better than you did when you started.

Confession time: after more than twenty years of practice, I still often don't feel like I want to start a workout. I will put off starting, or just drag myself into my practice space. Once I get going, I always think, "Darn it...I've only got an hour here. I wish I had more time." It's like a switch flips and I remember why I love doing Tai Chi and Qigong. "Oh yeah! This stuff feels good!" I get not wanting to work out. I do.

So before I go any further with this post, let me just say that it is a very good thing to commit a block of time to your practice, and get into your workout clothes, clear away your coffee table, or do whatever you need to do in order to get into the mindset of your practice session.

I recommend doing this even, and maybe especially on those days when you really feel like you can't. When you are just completely spent, those are the days when even a few minutes of movement are going to have a big impact.

Here's what you do: set aside the time, get into the practice room, and do what you can. When you hit an absolute wall that will not allow you to do any more movement, don't quit. There are options. These are some of your options.


Smaller Movements
If performing the full extent of the movements is taxing you too much, take it easy, and perform a smaller range of motion. This is no excuse to lapse into bad form - just take it down a notch. Walking through a Tai Chi set is better than doing no Tai Chi at all. Whatever you do, ensure that you are not creating internal strain.


Sit Down, Keep Training
When I was in year six or seven of my training, one of my good friends had to have knee surgery, and could not do Tai Chi standing for a few months. Our teacher put us all in chairs so we could all learn how to perform Tai Chi while not standing.

This is the option for you if you are not completely wiped out, but you have a specific problem or issue that is keeping you from practicing, like an injury or muscle strain to the lower body. If you have back pain, prick up your ears: this is the option for you. Sitting in a chair will keep your low spine anchored and allow you to move the rest of your spine safely without overdoing it.

There are a couple of particular things you'll want to know about chair training before you start. If you're in a class, ask your instructor for help with training in a chair. The last thing you want is for your form to go out the window. I'll try to post about this in more detail, but for now I'll just say that this is still a whole-body practice. When you're in the chair, you still need to push from your feet to accomplish the movements. More about this later.


Visualizing the Movements
This is for when you must sit or lie down and the thought of moving another muscle sounds like murder, but you still have half an hour on your practice session, and you still want to move chi. Use your mind!

Closing your eyes, imagine yourself performing the movements of the Tai Chi set, or the Qigong exercises of your choice. Really try to see and feel your way into the movements, exactly as if you're performing them with your body.

The beauty of this kind of practice is that you can often feel your way into a better version of the movement than you might be able to do physically. I've gained many insights into where a particularly stiff joint or tight muscle was limiting my movement when I visualized myself performing the movement and magically, it seemed to flow much better. This is also a wonderful trick to use when you're lying in bed at night and you can't fall asleep. Practicing Tai Chi or Qigong in your mind will help you drift off to sleep not just because it takes your mind off of all the other stuff you're worried about. It also moves your chi. Sometimes stuck chi is the reason we can't fall asleep in the first place.

It needs to be said that merely visualizing the movements is no substitute for doing them with your physical body, but it is better than giving up before your workout is done.


Sitting Qigong Meditation
This is a mega powerhouse of a practice. I honestly can't say enough about how amazing and magical sitting Qigong is, and yet, it seems to be a less popular practice than Tai Chi or Qigong exercise. There are many guides online that will tell you a complicated story about what's involved in sitting Qigong, but my training followed the KISS principle. You know what that stands for. You sit on the floor or in a chair, spine straight. Mental focus is a few feet in front of your face. Everything relaxes. Hold for as long as is comfortable. When you feel like you're done, release the posture. Sit for a few minutes to allow your energy to return to normal before you stand up again.

There's a bit more to it than that. I teach sitting Qigong as part of my classes the first Friday and Saturday of each month, and at occasional workshops. I don't recommend doing this if you don't have access to an instructor. Things get weird when you sit meditation, and you pretty much need a teacher to help you. Whatever you do if you don't have regular instruction, make sure your spine is straight and that you're not getting too weird with your breathing. Relax means relax everything.

For my money the fancier methodologies and theories all seem to have grown out of individual instructors' attempts to help their students deal with the total simplicity of meditation. It is simple but not easy. That last sentence describes almost everything that's worthwhile, don't you think?


Six Healing Sounds
There are several different versions of the Six Healing Sounds, but I was taught and prefer Mantak Chia's. This practice combines natural breathing with shaped exhalations to produce sounds. You can perform the six sounds on their own without movements, or with the movements Mantak Chia describes, depending on how you're feeling. Combined with his "inner smile" technique, these exercises have the potential to radically transform stale energies. You can also use the Six Healing Sounds with any Qigong set to enhance the movements, so long as you line up each sound with the correct elemental movement.

What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You

This is the real question, isn't it?

Maybe someone has recommended Tai Chi or Qigong for you, or you've read some article that claims it's excellent for health or wellbeing or your particular health situation. Nine times out of ten the writers or recommenders do not practice themselves, so can't tell you exactly what amazing wonders are in store for you. I've written this guide to help you understand what you're getting into before you start.

A general caveat: Tai Chi and Qigong are not a quick solution to anything. They both take time and discipline to learn, but for those who take it, this journey is amazingly rewarding. Most people know within a few classes whether it's for them. You have nothing to lose by trying.

Any questions? Email me. I offer Qigong and Tai Chi classes each week. View the schedule and find out about my extremely reasonable fees here. I also offer occasional Sunday workshops. View upcoming workshops here.

Tai Chi and Qigong Can Help You:

Build a Better Relationship With Your Body
Modern living tends to disconnect us from our bodies. Most of us work at jobs that require us to sit for long periods of time, process information, and otherwise behave like floating minds barely anchored to the physical realm.

While any form of exercise will help your body, Tai Chi and Qigong are unique in their ability to increase body awareness so you can begin to remember how to enjoy having a body again.

Learn more here.


Feel Amazing
A while back, one of my students had a big grin on her face at the end of class. I asked her what was up.

"Everything feels like it's tingling and warm," she said. "Is that chi?"

It was.

"That's amazing," she said. "I've never felt anything like that before."

Start your journey toward feeling freaking amazing.



Learn to Use Your Mind Effectively
Through Tai Chi and Qigong, you learn to settle the mind down and focus it on what you are doing. I've learned over time to put a stop to the mental grinding and restless negative thinking that are the mind's favourite tricks. You can too.

Learn about becoming a Jedi.



Let Go of Your Baggage
Chances are you've got quite a bit of baggage. It's okay: we all do. It's part of the human deal. Unfortunately they don't hand you a pamphlet at birth that tells you that your job here is to let all of that go. Tai Chi and Qigong can help with that.

Here's how you can learn to let go.



Tweak Your Genes in the Right Direction
Every day, scientists are learning more about why genes express themselves the way they do. As it turns out, some genes are turned on or off according to what's going on in your environment. Surprise, the key here is stress: genes will tend to work in your favour if you are having more good experiences than bad. Tai Chi and Qigong are a way to ensure that you are getting in some solid, uplifting, energizing, feel-good experience each day.

Learn more about the fascinating research into the relationship between stress and gene expression.



Stand Up for Yourself
Tai Chi is a martial art, and I teach it that way. That does not mean that we start kicking and punching you on day one and requiring you to defend yourself. It means that stepping onto the Tai Chi path means that you will learn a better, stronger, more relaxed and confident way of being in the world.

I've written more about Tai Chi and the emotional implications of standing up for yourself here if you want to learn more. Go here to read a longer post about Tai Chi as martial art. Go here to learn for some quick info on Tai Chi and self-defense.



Receive Healing
Tai Chi method is martial art; Tai Chi purpose is healing and optimal health.

There is an enormous body of evidence to suggest that Tai Chi and Qigong both support healing on all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

Learn more about some common health benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong.
For more specific information about using Tai Chi and Qigong for Health Recovery, see my series on that topic.



Distinguish Between What You Need and What You Don't
Tai Chi and Qigong work to enhance your "radar" - your intuitive sense of the world around you - at the same time as they increase your body awareness. All of a sudden, your body and emotions can talk to you in ways they haven't been able to in a long time. Sometimes they have a lot to say. This is a good thing, although it can be strange or a little uncomfortable at first.

Read more about developing discernment through Tai Chi and Qigong here.



Practice Something Deeply
We are a culture of samplers. One weekend we are skydiving; the next, we're learning shiatsu; then it's on to fly fishing and wine tasting and cheese making and and and. There is nothing wrong with trying new things, but after a while, all this experimenting, tasting, and flitting around is going to make you feel a little unreal. You owe it to yourself to sink into one thing for a while, and explore it thoroughly.

Learn more about sinking deeply into the world of Tai Chi and Qigong here.



Stop Being a Muggle
I'm going to be honest with you, this is the part of Tai Chi and Qigong practice that I had the most difficulty accepting and now it is the part through which I have learned the most profound lessons. The more you practice Tai Chi and Qigong, the more you become immersed in a perspective on life that is...different from the common, regular, mundane, material way of looking at things.

When you enter the world of chi / energy and start to really work with it, you gently and gradually shift your perceptual abilities, and the terms with which you interact with the world.

Read more here.


Tired of Being a Muggle? Try Tai Chi and Qigong

When I first started taking Tai Chi, I was all, "energy, schmenergy." I was thoroughly immersed in the perspective that we are biological mechanisms, and that's all there is to it. In other words, I'd been beaten down by my upbringing and, to some degree, my education. I remember the first time I was pouring sweat after an intensive class, feeling totally amazing and buzzing. I showed my instructor my hands: they were mottled and red and pulsing.

"Chi man," he said.

Slowly, I started to connect what I was feeling with the terminology of Tai Chi and Qigong. I opened my mind, in other words, and started exploring the world of energy healing, of connecting to nature and natural energies, synchronicity, and chi. There is a whole other way of doing things, of being in the world, of perceiving, that is nothing short of magic. Like the man said, nobody can be told what it is. You have to see it for yourself.

If you've read this far you've probably gotten tired of the mechanistic view of reality ("reality") you were taught in school. Remember when you were a kid and everything was potentially magical? If you're of the right age or disposition, remember how jealous you were that Harry Potter got to go to Hogwarts and your acceptance letter never came?

What I've learned through my twenty plus years of study of Tai Chi, Qigong, meditation, guided visualization, Reiki, and all this woo woo energy schmenergy stuff is this:

There are many gateways in this life that you can use to take back that magical world you were at home in when you were a kid. Tai Chi and Qigong are one route to slowly and gently re-immersing yourself in a way of being and understanding that is more holistic, all-encompassing, and takes into account all of you - mind, body, emotions, and spirit. A complete understanding of life and its mysteries is your birthright. It's everyone's birthright.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

Progressive Relaxation and Grounding Visualization - Audio Version!

Today, a treat!

A few posts ago I mentioned a handy progressive relaxation visualization that I developed in order to help my students relax. Relaxation is one of the hallmarks of Tai Chi and Qigong, and what makes it different from conventional forms of exercise. Even if you don't do Tai Chi or Qigong, but you want to move your energy, relax deeply, and ground yourself, this is a great little visualization technique.

I posted a written version of the progressive relaxation and grounding visualization a week or two ago. It's here if you prefer to read it. Please feel free to use this or distribute it any way you like. I'd appreciate an attribution / link / shoutout if you do, but it's not necessary.

Now, there's an audio version! Click on "play" below in order to listen, or go here to download it. Start to finish it takes less than ten minutes. That's no-excuses meditation!


The music on that file is "Paris" by Chris Harvey, and is courtesy of Magnatune's Music for Meditation complilation.

 
Music for Meditation by Magnatune Compilation

Want to Practice Something Deeply? Tai Chi and Qigong Might Be for You

When you get into Tai Chi and Qigong, if you decide it is for you, you'll have something in your life you can sink into deeply. These disciplines can be learned in a weekend workshop, but they offer greater and greater rewards the more deeply you get into them. There is always more to learn! I know and offer instruction in six different internal martial arts and three different Qigong routines, not to mention Push Hands and standing and sitting meditation. I am always learning, so there is more always being added to the mix. Even if you decide that you only want one Qigong routine or you would like to stick with Tai Chi, working with these disciplines is a never-ending process of opening up the body, deepening technique, accessing healing, and increasing self-awareness and awareness of the world around you. This is deep stuff!

Why is it good to practice something deeply? This is the only antidote to modern culture's constant barrage of distractions, the heavy and persistent influx of messages, the insistent buzz of technologies, the never ending demands for attention that keep us focusing outward, but never let us settle into ourselves. As much as I like social networking and the abundance of information online, I firmly believe that we are not built to withstand this constant superficial onslaught. We are deep divers. Our very makeup creates a longing in us to access stillness, to flow with life, and to grasp the pearls that sit on the deepest parts of the ocean floor. There's a satisfaction in deep practice that you can't get anywhere else.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

Using Qigong and Tai Chi for Healing, Part Four: Roadblocks and Expectations

This post is Part Four of a series that addresses healing from serious chronic and acute illness, including but not limited to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, and Cancer. Click here to access all articles about using Tai Chi and Qigong for health recovery

This Will Not Be a Linear Path
Here's what your progress will look like:

Via.

Maybe you'll really enjoy your first few classes and you'll feel great after them. Often people get really excited at this stage, because they can really feel that it's working. Then you'll try to work out on your own and it will be...okay. Somewhere around week two or three, when you're adding more and more time, you'll start to slow down. You'll skip a day. Then you'll get back on the horse and do a mighty twenty minutes before giving up.

Maybe you'll manage to get three hours a day in, and maybe, after a long or short period, it will start to work for you. Depending on your personality you might get cocky and quit altogether, figuring that your body is healing on its own and the healing has nothing to do with the work you're putting in. Maybe you'll keep going. Maybe you'll succeed. I can't tell you exactly what will happen, because it all depends on you and your will and your decisions, every day, about how you're going to approach this. It has nothing to do with me, or with the instructor you choose to work with.

Okay, it has a little bit to do with them, in the sense that you want to find the best instruction you can, with someone who can work well with your personality and know when to push you and when to not push you. You want to find the most skilled instructor you can. Ask about the person's background and experience. Choose someone who's been teaching for ten years over someone who's been practicing for six months.

In the end, though, this is one of those things that you have to put effort into in order for it to work for you. There is a direct relationship between your choice to keep going, your determination not to quit, and your shot at improving your condition. Good luck. Seriously.


It Will Hurt
For people who are not dealing with serious illness, Tai Chi and Qigong will occasionally leave you with sore muscles and joints - like all exercise. You should sweat. I know, you're thinking, isn't this for seniors? Sure, but do you think those seniors aren't working hard? They are, I promise you. Anyone receiving benefits from Tai Chi and Qigong is working his or her little heart out.

Like I said before, serious illness sits in the body in particular locations. When you start to heal, it will express as pain, soreness, or what seems like a sudden inexplicable injury, cold, or flu. I almost wrote "often" in that previous sentence, and yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, but I pretty much guarantee that you will hit a wall with your practice at some point, and when you do, it won't feel like the same old wall you hit when you don't feel like practicing that day. It will feel like an actual wall that you run into with your face or some other tender body part.

Let me say that again: you will hit a wall. The wall will present as intense pain, soreness, a sudden inexplicable injury, a cold, or the flu, or other bizarre symptom. There will be something weird about it, though. The flu will be unproductive in the mucous sense. Or you'll have tons of mucous without the flu symptoms. You will just get turfed and need to spend a day in bed. The injury will be of mysterious origin, or will be the same injury, soreness, whatever, that came up once before, when you suffered an emotional blow or major life transition. That's the wall.

Here's the thing about the wall. When you hit it, it means that everything you're doing is working. This is the time to keep going, not the time to quit. Whenever I have a client who starts to hit this point, I get excited and scared. Excited because I know this is go time. Scared because it's when most people decide they can't handle it any more. I've made the mistake in the past of not telling people about this up front. I'm telling you now. It will hurt. That's okay. Show up anyway. Do your three hours. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Your Mileage May Vary
What will hurt and how will depend in part upon your diagnosis, and in part on the ineffable mystery that is you. My research on this is still in progress. I'll be dedicating future posts to individual conditions and what is likely to come up if that's what you're working with, but I wanted to give you some idea of the way this can go depending on the health situation you're facing.

Sometimes, the symptom is likely to be very specific. For example, people with Parkinson's will generally speaking manifest a foot injury as they start to really dig into their symptoms using any kind of energy healing, including Tai Chi and Qigong. If you'd like to know why, the Parkinson's Recovery Project has an abundance of information online for free.

From a holistic perspective, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue are related to the body's process of elimination becoming overwhelmed, causing build-up of toxins in the connective tissue (Fibromylagia) or blocks to the processes that bring glucose to the cells for the production of energy (Chronic Fatigue). More about these two conditions at Andreas Moritz's Ener-Chi Wellness Centre.

When you start to move energy and increase blood and lymph circulation through these areas, it is likely you will find yourself dealing with the emotional pain that your physical symptoms have been covering up. This at least was the experience of Barbara Sinclair as she healed from FibromyalgiaEdie Summers recovered from Chronic Fatigue through a combination of herbal and holistic remedies that included becoming aware of her emotional patterns and managing their impact on her health. As bad as your physical pain and exhaustion is, the emotional turmoil underlying it can be a complete shock, and requires a specific set of strategies to address, which is something Qigong and Tai Chi can help you with.


Next post in this series: things you can do to keep your energy moving when you can't move another inch.

Learn What You Need and What You Don't Through Tai Chi and Qigong

One of my best friends (and Tai Chi / Qigong buddies) complained to me a while ago that she couldn't stand Doritos any more.

"I never used to think twice about eating junk food," she said. "Oh sure, I know it's not good for me, but last week I thought I would have just a bit, and I felt horrible."

There are many things that you can buy at the grocery or convenience store that look like food, but are not food. They might even sort of taste like food, but they won't really feed you. The more you are in tune with the needs of your body, the more you'll be able to recognize what will support your health and wellbeing, and what won't. (This can come in the form of upset stomach / sudden awareness of flu-like symptoms. Chances are you always felt that way after eating junk food, but you just didn't notice.)

This goes beyond diet, though. The more you get in touch with what feeling amazing is like, the more you'll become aware of the situations, activities, and (sadly) the people that leave you feeling drained, upset, or uncomfortable. There are many things you can do to manage these situations, activities, and people. You can consider leaving the situation, working to change it, or accepting that it is difficult and work to protect yourself as much as possible when you have to engage with it. You can stay in the situation and draw new boundaries to make it functional for you. The important thing to realize is that it is good to recognize how your everyday activities affect you, and that you have direct control over whether and how you engage in those activities.

Tai Chi and Qigong help you establish a better and clearer baseline for feeling good and steady on your feet. The more you practice, the more you want to perpetuate that good feeling throughout your entire day, and the more you'll discover which things, activities, and people support that. This is called discernment - knowing the difference between one thing and another. It doesn't mean that the things, activities, and people who don't make you feel good are bad and deserve to be told so or rejected wholesale or whipped in the streets. It means that you have a choice about whether and how you want to engage with them.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

Using Qigong and Tai Chi for Healing, Part Three: Push Past Your Limits

This post is Part Three of a series that addresses healing from serious chronic and acute illness, including but not limited to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, and Cancer. Click here to access all articles about using Tai Chi and Qigong for health recovery

Last time I wrote about approaching your Tai Chi or Qigong practice as part of your spiritual journey, and making time for the dreaded minimum three hours a day of practice. Today I want to address the two most important things to bear in mind when you practice, and some thoughts on dealing with internal resistance.


Whatever You Do, Make the Movements Larger than You Think You Can
Illness contracts the body. In order to move through illness, you need to make the movements as big as possible, pushing past the point where you habitually stretch and move. (While still preserving the principles of good form, of course.)

This tip applies to most adults, even if you aren't using Tai Chi and Qigong for health recovery. Most of us spend too much time sitting. Our hardened emotional and physical habits create hardened, limited habitual physical motions. This creates a situation where we aren't using the full expansiveness of our joints - a recipe for arthritis and chronic stiffness. Lack of movement through the spinal column means that our internal organs are literally squished and stiffening, limiting their effectiveness. One of the points of Tai Chi and Qigong practice is to restore that range of motion.

When you're dealing with serious illness, opening up the range of motions of the joints and spinal column is an urgent need. Here's a trick to help you.

Do a few repetitions of a movement. Feel your way into it, doing it the best way you know how. Now get in front of a mirror, your bathroom mirror if it's all you've got, but ideally a full length mirror. Do the exercise again, and this time pay attention to where your hands go at their fullest expansion out. Next rep, try to go further. Remember you're trying to expand through your entire spinal column and torso with each movement. Think big. You need to break your body's patterns in order to heal. Don't forget to contract as the hands move inward toward your centre. The oscillation between expansion and contraction is one of the core healing elements of Tai Chi and Qigong.

If you absolutely can't expand the movement more, then feel and imagine your force shooting out through your hands and the top of your head with each expansion. Feel and imagine yourself sinking down into the centre of the earth with each and every contraction. Pretend you are much bigger than you are. Fill the whole room with your energy. That is how you draw.


Relax Inside and Out
This is a biggie. Although it is important to push hard, and expand your body through its limits and beyond, you must do all of your practice in a relaxed fashion. This is what separates Tai Chi and Qigong from other forms of exercise. This means no gripping, holding, clenching. No tightening, squeezing, and no guarding.

Your body will try to protect the areas where it stores the cold stale energies that are creating your illness as if they are precious treasure and it is Smaug the dragon. I have personally used Tai Chi and Qigong to heal many injuries. Letting go through an area that has been injured and where there is swelling or scar tissue can be very challenging. At first you don't think you'll be able to do it: it feels impossible. Once you get the hang of it, it can be painful to move an area that "wants" to tense. The good news: the painful sensation will soon subside once you get that body part moving.

Serious illness will often lodge deeply internally, or block body parts that you haven't moved for a long time (hello, shoulders! they are everyone's nemesis). I've got two suggestions to help you here.

First, check in with yourself before you practice to make sure you are as relaxed as possible. A simple way to do this that will also help ground you is a body scanning technique that I do with my students. You can download and read this simple relaxation exercise here. This is something that came to me when I was looking for a quick way to bring people into a state of relaxation before beginning to work out. It will benefit you even if you never set foot in a Tai Chi or Qigong class.

Where you notice tension arising, let it go and try to move through it. If you can't move an especially tight body part, try to move the areas before and after it as if they are part of a continuous thread or chain (they are). Gradually, either side of the tight area will release. This is where the magic will really start to happen, when you let go through an area that is habitually or suddenly tight. Sweet relief will be yours. If an area won't relax, imagine it relaxing, or take a moment and visualize it filled with warm pink, green, or white light.


But I'm Sick. I Need to Be Gentle With Myself.
Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle. They are among the best options for self-healing because you can always get softer with the movements. Have a chair with you in the space where you work out. At first you may need to sit down every ten minutes, every five minutes, or even every two minutes. Sit if you must, but stay away from the television, computer, or other devices of distraction during your practice time. Rest, but make it a mindful rest. Then start moving again.

No one is monitoring your workout time for quality. Just show up, and do your best to keep moving. If you absolutely need to sit down and stop moving, practice the relaxation technique I've posted above, or do some Qigong sitting meditation. These are both ways to keep your energy moving even if you don't think you can keep your body moving (more on this in a future post). Then stand and try a few movements. You might surprise yourself.

Bottom line, there will be days when you feel that you cannot do it. Try to do it anyway, and see what happens. Keep an open mind about this. I have personally found that it is always worth practicing. Even when I've been sick, down with a flu, or starting to practice a few weeks after breaking both arms and suffering a head injury (for real), it is always worth it.

There will be days when you really can't do it. I'm talking about days when your body takes you out, or you just need to sleep. Sleep! Then, when you rise, do a bit of movement. See how much you can get in. Avoid black and white thinking: just move. Keep moving .

Next post in this series: common roadblocks, potholes, sinkholes, fault lines, gorges, seemingly insurpassable volcanic eruptions.

Push Hands Workshop, Sunday, July 13, 2014, 1-5pm

We've got a new workshop coming up! I've been teaching push hands as part of my regular classes when we can fit it in, but it is high time for a full afternoon spent playing with this excellent discipline. Details below. If you're a beginner and wondering when you can play, I'm running a Qigong Foundation workshop (appropriate for all levels) on August 17, 2014, and Eight Silk Brocades for Beginners on September 14, 2014. Details to follow, or check the Upcoming Workshops page. 


Push Hands
Sunday, July 13, 2014, 1-5pm
Location: Regent Health Centre, 150 Locke Street South
Fee: $75, includes materials and refreshments


According to traditional teachings, fifty percent of what the internal martial arts has to offer can only be learned by practicing push hands. However, push hands is one of the most neglected areas of most students' practice.

Performed with a partner, push hands allows the student to explore all of the core areas of internal martial arts practice, including:
* Dealing with another's force or energy
* Relaxing in the face of adversity
* Trusting the structure of the movement and correct technique
* Channeling force down into the ground
* Pushing from the feet
* Developing the appropriate degree of responsiveness to external forces and conditions

Whatever stage you are at in your practice, push hands will help to highlight the areas of your technique that most need attention and refinement.

This workshop will focus on the tor yu movement, paqua stepping, two-handed static / standing push hands, and walking push hands.

The spirit of this workshop is kind consideration and cooperation. Where appropriate and with students who are ready, some live push hands / sparring may be practiced, but the focus will be on safety, correct technique, and helping each other refine technique.

Prerequisite:
Experience with Tai Chi and knowledge of tor yu. Any student who has studied Tai Chi for Beginners (I) with me or more is eligible for this workshop.

Because push hands must be done in a context of trust, only those students with whom I am familiar may attend. If you have studied Tai Chi elsewhere and would like to attend, I must meet you beforehand in a practice context – i.e., you must attend no less than three of my classes before the workshop.

Ordinary Healing and Health Maintenance Through Tai Chi and Qigong

I'm currently working on a series of posts on health recovery using Tai Chi and Qigong. While dramatic healing from serious illness is possible through Tai Chi and Qigong, I wanted to point to some of the studies that show it can improve overall health and help with lower-grade chronic health issues.

Many years ago, I watched a good friend and fellow Tai Chi player go through a major health incident. He was an athletic person who practiced Tai Chi often, in addition to numerous other forms of physical activity. His health issue necessitated a major surgery and a long recovery. He came through it all with an incredible degree of grace, and recovered beautifully. That was when I realized that the goal with practicing Tai Chi and Qigong isn't to achieve infallible health and protect yourself forever from the ravages of time, but to put yourself in a much better place so that if and when something comes up, you have the resources - psychological, physical, and spiritual - to deal with it.

The May 2009 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch offers a handy summary of many of health issues that scientific studies have demonstrated improve when people practice Tai Chi, including arthritis, low bone density, cardiovascular issues, and Parkinson's.

"A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi," published by the American Journal of Health Promotion in 2010, summarized the results from 77 studies and concluded that Tai Chi and Qigong offer high degrees of support for the immune system and cardiopulmonary health. These practices improved study participants' quality of life and healing outcomes, improved bone density, and aided in fall prevention.

These results are, of course, significant from a Western medical perspective. Those who practice Tai Chi and Qigong regularly are more likely to tell you about how they help you to simply enjoy your life more fully, and maintain the strength and flexibility to persevere through ups and downs.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

Using Qigong and Tai Chi for Healing, Part Two: Allow Inspiration and Work Hard

This post is Part Two of a series that addresses healing from serious chronic and acute illness, including but not limited to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, and Cancer. Click here to access all articles about using Tai Chi and Qigong for health recovery

This is Bianca Molle.


Bianca used to have Parkinson's. Now she doesn't.

As incredible as that may sound, Bianca no longer has Parkinson's symptoms. She attributes the miracle of her healing to practicing Qigong. If you want to learn more about Bianca's story immediately, take a look at this video interview with Lilou Mace of the Juicy Living Tour. Hers is an amazing story.

 

I point you to Bianca's story because if you're facing a serious illness, it is vital that you know that it is possible to heal. Yes, even you. In many ways, there is nothing special about Bianca's story. She found Qigong practice and made it work for her, and you can too.

In case you didn't watch the video, this is her message to people who are suffering from Parkinson's. I'm sure she would extend it to anyone who is dealing with illness. It starts at 9:00:

"My message is...that there is hope, and that the answer is within you, and that you have the strength."

There is another reason to attend to Bianca's story, however, and that is to take a look at some of the practical considerations involved in using Qigong to heal. The same would apply if you chose to approach your healing journey through Tai Chi or through a combination of Tai Chi and Qigong.


Listen to Your Higher Self
This is not about an act of faith, or clapping your hands and willing yourself into wellness, although if you can do that, then by all means, do it now! It's about trusting your innate wisdom. This is the same wisdom, kismet, synchronicity, divine coincidence, whatever you want to call it, that brought you here through the magic of your search engine. You would not have read this far if you didn't think it was possible to heal. Plenty of people would have stopped reading much closer to the top of the page. Part of you knows you can do it. Part of you wants this. Maybe all of you wants this. Listen to that part. Trust that part. Roll with that part, because it's going to take you further into healing than the part that believes healing is impossible.


Understand that if You Choose this Path for Healing, Qigong and Tai Chi are Part of Your Spiritual Path
This is something that is easy to dismiss if you're in a particular mindset, but I mention it because it has been my experience and I've watched many people go through a similar process of discovery. Tai Chi and Qigong are not merely exercise techniques. They connect you with a whole aspect of reality that is otherwise easy to miss or bypass. Here's what Bianca Molle has to say about it (at 2:40 in the interview):

I see [Qigong] as my spiritual being brought home. Before anything physical or anything else, that's all very nice, that I was healed from Parkinson's, that's wonderful and I'm eternally grateful, but I feel that the place where I was born as a child, that mystical, wonderful place that very often the conscious world makes us push aside, I've returned. I feel very much at home, being myself and being in touch with the higher consciousness that is bringing fulfillment through me.
Whatever practical concerns brought you here, it's good to take a very big view of your Tai Chi or Qigong journey. You're starting down a path that is about to open up more to you than you are maybe ready for right now, but get ready for awesome magic, amazing insights into the world around you, and the lifting of more limits than you could have imagined. The more you do, the more you'll understand, and the better you'll feel. It's going to be great. Think big. Bigger. Biggest.

That's the fun stuff. Here's the tough love.


Three Hours a Day
Yup, three hours practice a day, every day. You read that right.

If you want to use Qigong and / or Tai Chi for healing serious illness, you need to commit to practicing it three hours each day, for as long as your body requires it, potentially for the rest of your life. This is the traditional recommendation for anyone who wants to heal something big. It is a huge commitment, no question about it, and can come as a shock to anyone who goes into Tai Chi or Qigong practice thinking that it's the kind of thing you do for twenty minutes a day and then you're done.

If you are well, you can afford to do less Tai Chi or Qigong. I love it and I teach it, so I personally do a lot of it, an average of about two hours a day. If you're using it for meditation or health maintenance or general wellness, then you will simply get out of it whatever you put in. Twenty minutes a day is great; an hour is better.

If you are not well and are using Tai Chi or Qigong for healing, you need to hit your practice like the Hammer of Thor. Your body is in a serious state of disarray. Once you start to heal and you feel genuinely better, you can ease back a bit, or loosen up the schedule, but I would not be doing you any favours by telling you that twenty minutes once in a while is going to do it for you. Qigong and Tai Chi are powerful, but they're not that powerful. A very advanced practitioner can get massive benefit from a brief practice session, but that's after twenty or thirty years of regular, committed practice.


But How?
It is up to you exactly how. I can tell you that for me, my practice time is something I hold precious and look forward to eagerly, because it makes me feel great, and it gives me a sense of deep peace and fulfillment. It is easier for me to practice than not to practice, but I certainly didn't always feel this way. Here are some ideas if you're looking for a way to start.


Ramp Up, But Not Too Slowly
The strategy I would recommend to anyone facing serous illness is to start folding Tai Chi and Qigong into your routine as soon as you can. My classes last an hour to an hour and a half. For your first few classes, that will probably be more than enough to tire you out, and that's probably enough for the days when you are attending class. However, it's important to start the habit of daily practice as soon as you can. In the beginning, a thirty minute daily session on days when you aren't attending class is perfect. At the start of your second week, increase that by thirty minutes. Add an hour each week following, so by the end of week four, you're up to three hours a day. On days when you have class, add the extra hour and a half or two hours home practice time in order to get to the full three hours. There you go.


Don't Worry About Consecutive or Non-Consecutive Time
One hour in the morning and two in the afternoon is great. An hour and a half mid-day, a half hour before supper, and an hour after is great. You get the idea. It is easier psychologically to do one big session, since getting going is often the most difficult part. However, when you are facing a major illness, you may find that you get very tired after a shorter period of time. Just make sure you don't get into skipping hours. It is absolutely vital to spend those three hours on Tai Chi or Qigong daily.


If You Are Worried About Practicing Wrong
The most common excuse I hear from people about why they don't practice on their own is that they "don't want to do it wrong." I get it, but no. It doesn't matter. Especially if you're ill, you can't afford to wait until you "get it right". Tai Chi and Qigong are about exploring your body and its limits. You can get the moves completely wrong, but then you come into class and remind yourself of how it's done and change what you're doing and slowly improve. If you have mobility limits, you're going to need a lot of practice in order to get your body moving in the right direction. Just practice.


How to Make Yourself Practice Daily
For now, I'm going to end with some wisdom from the amazing Neila Rey, personal trainer and creator of amazing workout routines with names like "Batman" and "Lannister." This is from her article "How to Make Yourself Exercise Every Day," and contains some of the simplest but most powerful advice I've read. Go read the whole thing immediately, or read this bit, which is my favourite part:

Sometimes, all you need to do is show up. That’s all. You don’t need to be ready, the conditions don’t have to be ideal (they never are), and the gear is really optional as long as you have a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Show up and go through the motions even if you have to count minutes until it’s over. The eagerness and the excitement over what you are doing at times come during the process – like appetite that comes during a meal. Show up and do what you can at whatever pace you can, but do it.


Next time, more about how to maximize the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong for healing, and what to expect as you continue your journey.

Stand Up! Stand Up for Yourself! Use Tai Chi to Learn How

This is one especially for those who want to learn Tai Chi. Although Qigong shares some of the same benefits I mention here, it is not a martial art.

Here's the deal: most percent of people who take a martial arts class are never going to get into a fight on the street. You are not going to head out of your first Tai Chi class and go pick a fight in a bar to test your skills. What is going to happen is that slowly over time, you'll become more confident in your dealings with your physical environment. Whenever I'm faced with a challenging task (most recently it was breaking very thick sticks for kindling at the cottage without an axe or chainsaw), I think about the most efficient way to do it using Tai Chi or Qigong technique. This is a huge boost and it means that I can do what I need to do without risk of physical injury. It is much harder for life to break you down when you know you can handle your day to day tasks.

What learning Tai Chi as a martial art does mean is that you will receive training in how to use the moves for what they are: strikes, blocks, and kicks. You'll learn how to apply your strength effectively, and do it all in a very relaxed manner. You'll learn that you don't have to use all your muscular strength in order to deal with someone else's force. You'll learn how to spar, and you'll practice dealing with an opponent's energy.

(I should say that this is how I teach, and in my experience the more a teacher knows about the martial art aspect of Tai Chi, the more satisfying the class will be for the participants, but there are lots of Tai Chi classes out there for those who want to emphasize gentle movement without learning about the martial arts aspect.)

Here's the other deal. You probably do fight others in real life, frequently. Think about that person in your life who does not share your point of view and blocks you at every turn. Or that fussy co-worker you have to deal with. The petulant neighbour / customer / client / whoever who always makes your life difficult. Those people always seem to know exactly where your buttons are. Learning Tai Chi can help you to become much more aware of how those people get under your skin, and how to stop letting them do that. I've written more about Tai Chi and the emotions here if you want to learn more. Go here to learn more about Tai Chi for self-defense.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

Use Tai Chi and Qigong to Tweak Your Genes

This is exciting stuff. Recent studies are showing that stress impacts the body by altering your genes. Specifically, this study by Gunther Meinlschmidt and his team at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) showed that a single stressful incident suppressed the expression of the gene that makes oxytocin receptors. Oxytocin is the "trust neurotransmitter" - so it seems that stressful events can alter your ability to trust on a molecular level? Yikes, right?

The good news about studies like this is that it is becoming more and more evident that we are not slaves to our "genetic makeup." Having the gene for some disease or other does not mean that gene will ever express itself. Epigenetics - the study of the impact of environmental factors on the ways our genes express themselves - will, I think, continue to prove that we are not just products of what we carry inside our cells, but the kinds of experiences we put ourselves through.

Every time you get yourself to a Tai Chi or Qigong class, you teach your body that it has regular access to a beautiful, peaceful, invigorating experience. This goes beyond "reducing stress," although we do that too. This is about maximizing your wellbeing on a cellular level, and giving yourself the best shot possible at turning on the genes that keep you feeling good and turning off the genes that may express as disease.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

I offer weekly classes and occasional workshops. For my class schedule and information about fees, click hereFor upcoming workshops, click here

Using Qigong and Tai Chi for Healing, Part One: General Approaches to Healing Serious Illness

This post is Part One of a series that addresses healing from serious illness. As more parts go up, you'll be able to access them via the label at the bottom of this post, "tai chi and qigong for health recovery." Just click on it, and all the posts in the series will come up. 

Okay so if you've found your way here because you are in a situation where you've received a diagnosis of a chronic disease, including Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Alzheimer's, welcome. Maybe you've had a crisis diagnosis like cancer and you are facing one of the most terrifying and difficult experiences a human can have. I hope you hang in here for a little while.

When you are handed a diagnosis of a serious and / or chronic disease, you are handed a huge weight and burden as well, which is the medical concept of the disease, the statistical evidence, the prognosis for "people like you." Maybe you've been told that people like you typically get worse over time, or, in the case of a crisis diagnosis, are likely to die. Maybe your doctor (and a whackload of pharmaceuticals) can help you manage it or delay it, although chances are you'll be managing a ton of side effects too.

Your doctor might have given you some literature that mentions Tai Chi as a therapy for what ails you. Some more enlightened doctors might recommend Qigong (it's less well known than Tai Chi). I know this happens because I get occasional phone calls or emails from bewildered people who stumble into this site because they've just been handed a grocery list of things they need to do to help themselves, and this is one of them.

There is a certain gear switching that it's helpful to do when you go from your doctor's office to my world. I don't care much about statistics or "people like you." I care about you as a whole person. My perspective is that you are a unique and you bring a unique set of things to the table, and I want to help you sort through your stuff and get as much as you can from your life. This is advice I would give to anyone who is faced with a scary diagnosis or a major health challenge, but the information here will apply to some degree to anyone who is looking to make Tai Chi and Qigong a part of their lives.

Why I'm doing this series: I have experience working with people with Parkinson's diagnoses, as well as people with Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's, Chronic Fatigue, chronic pain, and a host of other issues, and there is a bunch of information I have that I always try to remember to tell them, but often don't because once they come to class, we're too busy working on the Tai Chi and Qigong itself. This series comes out of that experience but I'm also writing it in order to address some common fears and concerns that people have when they're looking for a solution to chronic illness.


You Have Choice
You always have choice in terms of how you deal with your diagnosis and your health. The tiny menu of not very positive options your doctor can hand you is only a small part of that. I am not doctor bashing: I'm just saying that the treatment strategy that you work out with your doctor is not your whole strategy for dealing with yourself. You still have the rest of your life to deal with.

The choices are probably not the choices you wanted to have, and that sucks. But you do have choice. Mainly, you can choose to stand up for yourself. You can choose to give yourself the best shot possible at getting better, managing your symptoms, or maximizing your quality of life.

Avoid the "Magic Bullet" Approach
When you're facing a major health challenge, you need to cover all of your bases. This is not a time to turn into a scientist and just tweak one variable at a time so you can discover the one thing that will work for you. This is the most basic kind of fantasy that many people have with regard to health and wellbeing: we think there is one answer and that once we've got it we can stop trying. That is part of the natural human tendency to be lazy about stuff, but it is not helpful at all.

This is why potions (one week it's goji, the next week it's acai) and superfoods and exotic supplements are so popular: people fantasize that they are going to do one thing or find one thing that will transform them forever. That is not science. It's fairy tale thinking.

Tai Chi and Qigong will make a fabulous part of your overall healing strategy. They can contribute to the miracle of getting better despite the heaviness and seriousness of your illness. Tai Chi and Qigong are also hard work. It will probably not feel like a miracle when healing happens for you. Chances are it will feel like you worked hard and you slowly climbed up the hill back to a state of better health. And it won't happen only because you took up Tai Chi or Qigong. It will happen because you did that and a bunch of other stuff. It will happen because you threw everything you had into healing.

One way to understand the arrival of serious illness in your life is that your system is telling you that you need to be kinder to it. Ask your body what it needs. Start with simple things: a nap, a bath, some kind, focused attention, some deep breaths, a glass of water.

Acceptance
Accept that it could take a while. You didn't get into a state of chronic illness overnight, and you might not experience instantaneous healing. Might not. I believe it is possible to heal very quickly. Miracles do happen. However, any healing journey should be approached from the perspective that it will take as long as it takes, whether that's an hour or ten years. Be prepared to try different things, and to address all levels of your being as part of your journey. Like any journey, you have to take action (even if that action is getting lots of rest).

You Are Not Alone
My philosophy, developed as I've dealt with many spiritual, emotional, occasionally physical kicks to the head, is that we all have stuff to heal. Whatever you are handed - psychologically, spiritually, or physically - is your project here during your time on earth, and it is yours to heal. If you have a chronic, progressive disease, you have been handed something especially extreme. The difference between you and evidently healthy people is that you probably can't ignore your symptoms. It is now time to focus on yourself and your health.

Basic Protocols
This list includes a number of things that will help support good overall well being and are necessary to any program of health recovery or disease management. (I think they're necessary to optimal health, too. Anyone can use these protocols to help themselves feel better.)

1. Diet. There are a huge variety of ideas out there about optimal diets for humans, but there is a consensus that it's a good idea to eliminate processed food and focus on a whole-food (i.e., real food) diet with minimal additives. I think there's enormous benefit to be had by returning to the idea of getting a decent meal, three times a day. Simple.

2. Water. It is becoming cool these days to claim that the (paltry) "eight glasses a day" that were recommended for so long are excessive and will only lead to more trips to the bathroom and some kind of, I don't know, waste of time? Many people will argue that you should simply rely on the body to tell you when it's thirsty, and there is a certain beauty to that, but wait a minute wait a minute.

If you've ever been a chronic dieter or experienced any of the very common disordered eating patterns that many people deal with, you know that it is very easy to lose all sense of when you are hungry, or to ignore your hunger (for a while, anyway), or to eat far past the point of no longer being hungry. My experience has been that thirst is an even trickier sense, even easier to knock right out. When they start drinking more water, many people find that they suddenly realize that they are more thirsty, sometimes intensely so. This is a part of the body waking up to the fact that it doesn't have to live in a state of dehydration any more.

How much: Take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2. That number is the number of ounces of water you should be drinking daily. (A liter of water is about 34 ounces.) I know it's a lot, but it will make you feel so much better, and your body will thank you for it.

REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you drink this much water, you must include some salt in your diet. I cover my needs with a daily half teaspoon or teaspoon of solé, a solution of natural salt in water. This also takes care of trace minerals if you use a high quality salt like Himalayan or Andean pink salt. More info about how to make a solé here. Dr. Fereydoon Badmanghelidj is a medical doctor whose work with water and claims about its healing powers are absolutely fascinating. Your Body's Many Cries for Water is a good place to start reading about water.

3. Supplements. It is possible to get very lost in the supplement aisle of the average grocery store, especially in this era when there seems to be a new designer supplement coming out every five minutes. My approach is to ensure that I'm getting a good base with a high quality multivitamin / multimineral, and to add to that as necessary. For me, that means getting additional magnesium, B complex, and omega-3s. For you, it might mean something different altogether, but it is worth getting into at least a basic supplement. Evidence is building that some diseases, including Alzheimer's, are actually manifestations of nutritional deficiency. Our food supply doesn't have sufficient vitamins and mineral to support good health, even if you're eating a lot of produce and whole food. Factory farming sucks. Taking a basic supplement can help you with this.

4. Work on reducing or eliminating things that drain your resources. You will not heal if you are continually exposing yourself to the same stressors and conditions that contributed to your illness. It is worth considering all aspects of your life and how they impact you when you're approaching the task of healing. You may benefit from working with a therapist, energy healer, or other practitioner to help you discern and identify factors that need to be managed differently or eliminated altogether. Before you dismiss this advice because you don't think you have stressors or you think you are managing them perfectly, just consider that you might be numb to the reality of your life situation or that you might not be the best judge of what you can and can't handle. Often, the patterns that are most damaging to us are invisible to us. Get a third party perspective on this.

5.  Build your resource tool kit, including books, online articles, mainstream and complementary practitioners you trust, and daily practices you can do to help yourself. Be aware that a basic Google search on any medical information will be dominated in the first few results pages by mainstream medical sites that offer the same information as most doctors. Google the name of your disease plus "recovery" or "recovery strategies," then go to the fifth or sixth page and start looking for alternative or complementary information. I've had good luck using "I recovered from" and then the name of an illness to find information about real people who sorted themselves out. You can start right away with short meditations for health and wellbeing, freely available all over the place. I like the Meditation for Health podcast by Robert Puff - any of the episodes labeled "Guided Meditation" will talk you through a short relaxation technique. This episode is specifically for when you are suffering physically or mentally - very helpful to sort yourself out if you are in crisis right now.

NOTE: It is important to develop some discernment when trying to sort out quackery or vague New-Age philosophies of illness from solid strategies that may not be part of mainstream medicine but do have a good shot at helping you. Otherwise, you can end up chasing a bunch of red herrings. I'll cover how to choose the most effective alternative and complementary strategies in a future post. In the meantime, make sure you investigate options thoroughly. Just because a solution is alternative doesn't mean it shouldn't make sense to you. Be open minded, but make sure your brain doesn't fall out!

Next post: The whole truth about making Tai Chi and Qigong part of your healing strategy. We're talking how much practice time you'll need, potential roadblocks, and advice for sticking with it.