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.

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.

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.

Let Go of Your Baggage Using Tai Chi and Qigong

I'll tell you a secret. Okay, it's not really a secret. Here it is: stressful events, negative emotional patterning, and all kinds of things you think you've forgotten but still jump out at you at key moments (usually when you're upset / stressed) are not just part of your psychological makeup. They are carried in the body. I'm talking about habitual tensions - like that jaw-grinding habit you haven't ever managed to stop or that old backache that turns up at the least convenient moments - that make your life subtly miserable.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, negative experience is said to be stored as cold chi, which blocks the body's natural processes and prevents the body/mind from working properly. Eventually, these blocks can manifest as disease. It's a totally different model of health and disease than we have in the West, but it has the advantage of integrating mind and body and the energy systems that permeate and integrate the two together.

Here's the best part: when you use Tai Chi and Qigong for healing, you can leave all that on the practice room floor at the end of your lesson.  Each time you practice Tai Chi and Qigong, you let go of a little bit more. It's a gradual process of clearing that our exercises are designed to accomplish. Little by little, you allow room for transformation.

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

Is Tai Chi a Martial Art? Can You Use It for Self-Defense?

I get asked these two questions more than any others (with the possible exception of "How do you pronounce Qigong?"). Short answers:  yes, and yes.

Longer answers:

Is Tai Chi a Martial art? 

Tai chi is one of several soft-style martial arts also called "internal" martial arts. This name, "internal," is to distinguish it from so-called "external" martial arts, like Karate, where the emphasis is more on muscular force and not as much on developing chi. (More on this distinction is to be found on this Martial Arts thread - interesting chit chat there.) If you watch a Tai Chi practitioner, it is evident that the movements are blocks, kicks, strikes, and punches - things you would use in a fight. Therefore, Tai Chi is an art that is martial in nature.

So You Just Hope that People Attack You Very Slowly?

Har har har smart guy. Obviously, you hope that people don't attack you at all.

Here's the theory, which is cool and does work. In Tai Chi, you train slowly so that your muscles learn to do the movements in a way that is completely relaxed. I've written about this elsewhere, but Tai Chi does not work, neither for its health benefits, its meditation benefits, nor for its martial arts capabilities, if it's done with tension. When you go to apply your Tai Chi - in class as part of Push Hands, or wherever else - if you're not relaxed, your opponent will get the better of you. You train slowly to learn to relax, so you have a shot at relaxing when you have to go fast. You learn that the softer person has all the advantages in a physical encounter: the softer guy dodges better, turns force better, avoids strikes better, and never gives away his or her centre, so can't be moved as easily.

That Sounds Like Magical Thinking.

Yup, it does, but it isn't. It is a matter of simple physics. If you learn to do the movements of Tai Chi correctly (and this is no mean feat), you will understand how to use your whole body against an opponent. Your arm might be stronger than mine, but it probably isn't stronger than my whole body. In relaxing completely and using the body's natural structure, you are able to channel your opponent's force down to the ground, or turn it. Your arm might be stronger than mine, but that doesn't matter if you can't push my centre. Your arm might be stronger than mine, but it's not stronger than the floor, which you'll find yourself pushing against as you try to push me. That's the way it works.

But You Still Can't Use Tai Chi for Self-Defense.

You can, and I have. In more important ways, I use it all the time, since Tai Chi movement informs just about everything I do. It's a more efficient way to go about your daily tasks, to defend yourself against everyday injuries, as well as to fend off the occasional person who might do you harm.

However, there is one very important point here: just because you learn a martial art, and you can use its principles in class or as you're going about your day, doesn't mean you know how to fight. You still have to learn how if that's something you want to do. What you won't learn in class is how scary it can be when someone crazy or angry is being aggressive toward you, or how to stand up to that aggression (or avoid it altogether, which is preferable in most cases). Most people do not tend to cross the line over into physical aggression, but some do. Knowing when that's about to happen is a whole other deal.

Long story short, class can help you with discernment - being in touch with what's going on around you so you can work more skillfully with the people and situations you encounter in the rest of your life. Class can help you practice your skills with dealing with the physical force of another person. We practice this in the form of Push Hands, a partner exercise, and through resistance that your instructor gives you from time to time as you perform the movements, so you can feel how they really work. Slowly, you build confidence that the movements do work.

So Using Tai Chi for Self-Defense Takes a Long Time to Learn?

Yes! And some people never really learn to trust it. Here I'll finish with a long quote from a master. This is from Cheng Man-ch'ing's book Tai Chi. The topic is the secret to perfecting Tai Chi as martial art:

...there is a secret. But it is so simple as to be unbelievable. Its nature insists that you believe, that you have faith; otherwise you will fail. The secret is simply this: you must relax body and mind totally. [Sound familiar?] You must be prepared to accept defeat repeatedly and for a long period; you must "invest in loss" - otherwise you will never succeed. I succeeded to my present state because I pushed pride aside and believed my master's words. I relaxed my body and stilled my mind so that only ch'i, flowing at the command of my mind, remained. Initially, this brought many bruises and defeats. In fact, in some matches I was pushed so hard that I lost consciousness. But I persisted. I followed my teacher by listening to and heeding my ch'i. In crushing defeat, I forgot anxiety, pride, ego. by emptying myself I gave the full field to ch'i. Gradually my technique improved. Then, and then only, did my responses sharpen so that neutralizing and countering were the work of a moment. 

That's Tai Chi as martial art.

Learn to Use Your Mind Effectively with Tai Chi and Qigong

The mind is capable of many amazing things: puzzling through challenges and information, guiding decision making, and helping us to get what we want. However, the mind is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of a deal. When you're not paying tons of attention, it will start misbehaving: grinding over a problem that is beyond your control. Replaying troublesome conversations. Thinking over everything and anything that could go wrong. The mind is fully capable of making your life miserable.

The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has this to say about the mind: "The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly - you usually don't use it at all. It uses you." Eastern philosophy calls this "monkey mind" - mind out of control, jumping all over the place, wrecking your fun time, kicking sand in your face.

When you practice Tai Chi and Qigong, you are only giving the mind one thing to do at a time, which encourages it to slow down, to just pay attention to that one thing. One thing at a time. Doesn't that sound nice? Over time, you develop the habit of slowing down. It's a whole new way to enjoy life, and to turn your mind into an instrument that serves you, rather than an abusive taskmaster who wants to comb through all your old misgivings. It's a better way to live.

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 here. For upcoming workshops, click here

Reiki Healing, Qigong Exercise, and Medical Qigong

I just discovered this wonderful article by Catherine Calhoun over at the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine that compares Medical Qigong and Reiki. I probably don't write enough about Reiki on this blog - short of the scant bits of information I've got up on my page on Reiki and Shamballa Healing. Reiki is an amazing thing, as is Qigong, and although I feel that there's a powerful synergy between the two practices, my sense is that those who practice them often come from two different camps and there's a lack of understanding between the two.

First, let's get some terms straight. There are two main branches of Qigong. One is all about using exercises and meditation to move your own chi / energy. This is often called "internal" Qigong because it's all about you working on you

When you want to use chi / energy to help someone else, it's called "external" or medical Qigong. A more helpful distinction I think is Qigong exercise vs. Qigong for healing others. 

The Qigong that I teach is the first kind: Qigong exercise and meditation that you do in order to help yourself. This type of Qigong has profound healing capabilities. In my experience, it helps keeps your joints open, transforms the mind / body into something much more hearty, and generally makes for happy times

I haven't personally studied medical Qigong, but my understanding is that medical / healing Qigong practitioners train extensively in the first kind of Qigong in order to open themselves up prior to learning how to work with another's energy. 

When I started my Reiki training with Carol-Ann Glenn of Roseheart Wellness, I had already been a Qigong and Tai Chi practitioner for many years (fifteen, I think?). I was used to moving chi through my own body, but hadn't had any experience in moving other people's (not intentionally, anyway). In Reiki, a trainee receives attunements from the Reiki Master. An attunement opens up the energy field of the practitioner and allows him or her to draw on the healing aspect of Source (the Reiki "ray"). I believe that Reiki is very similar to medical Qigong, in that the purpose is to move another's energy and facilitate healing.

Here's what Catherine Calhoun has to say about it:

Reiki ('rei' meaning universal and 'ki' which is the Japanese pronunciation of 'Qi') and Medical Qigong have the same root philosophies - the concept that the Qi which animates and enervates everything in this Universe can be directed through the practitioner in such a way that the Qi which flows to the patient can to effect a healing and balancing response in the patient’s body. Master Li emphasized that you let the Qi flow through you so that you are both a recipient of healing and a channel for it. Reiki teaches the same concept, highlighting the need to let Qi flow through the Crown chakra, into the heart and out through the minor chakras in the palms.

My experience with Reiki attunements and using Reiki for healing others is that it is a profound practice with many benefits. Just in case you are in the same boat as I am - you've been doing Tai Chi or Qigong and you want to get into Reiki - I thought I would share some of the experiences I had. I'm hoping this will also give people who have come here looking for healing some insight into how I work. (Go here if you're looking for information about how a Reiki / Shamballa appointment works or fees.)

When I started Reiki, I was no stranger to chi / energy. Some people who start on the Reiki path have no prior experience in feeling energy. There is nothing wrong with that: you have to start somewhere! For me, I found that having already opened my body up to some degree enabled me to start working with Reiki without getting freaked out or feeling disoriented by the physical sensations it produces. Most people have very positive experiences with their first attunement, but for some, the energy movement is a bit strange. Having already felt profound shifts in my own energies from Tai Chi and Qigong, I knew exactly how amazing the Reiki attunements were (really amazing).

I felt bewildered by the nature of Reiki. When you practice Qigong and Tai Chi, you are working with the limitations of your physical form. You're also expanding and removing those limitations, but this is done through hard work that takes lots of time. As things progress, you feel that you're moving forward, making positive changes, and this is a beautiful process. In many ways, Reiki is no different. Once you are attuned, it is up to you to work with Reiki healing in order to integrate it into your life and understand exactly what it can do.

However, there is a huge difference between the Reiki process and the Qigong / Tai Chi process. To use an analogy, learning Qigong and Tai Chi is like slowly building up a car from spare parts. You build the engine. Then you lovingly assemble the body. You paint and buff and polish. At some point, you put on tires and take it for a spin. You continue to work to improve it. Slowly over time, you pimp your ride.

Being attuned to Reiki is like being handed a set of keys to a new Porsche that's sitting in your garage. You probably have no idea how to drive it, and that is a learning process, but you've suddenly got something incredibly powerful at your disposal that you didn't have the day before.

Qigong and Tai Chi are a pilgrimage. Reiki is grace.

I faced snobbism from the Qigong camp.  Because of the way Reiki training works, there is suspicion about it in some Qigong and Tai Chi circles. Reiki is often lumped in with various new age frippery, and in certain contexts it can seem fairly flakey. Because of the perception that you learn Reiki in a weekend, the Tai Chi and Qigong camps have some major questions about how valuable it can be. Like a lot of judgmental thinking, some of this comes from a place that is less than open minded. Glenn Derrick, writing for, remembers having just this attitude when he first encountered Reiki:
when I first heard of Reiki, I fully rejected it as false. The claims of Reiki simply didn't match what I "knew" was necessary for healing energy to freely flow from the hands. My experience had taught me that such abilities came only through painstaking discipline and long-term efforts.
After working with Reiki, Derrick changed his mind - he's now working on ways to integrate Reiki into Qigong in order to accelerate his students' progress.

I felt I had a good model to help me keep working with and develop a better relationship with Reiki long after my attunements. Like I've already said, you don't learn Reiki in a weekend. You get the tools to learn it and the attunement in a weekend, but you keep learning long, long after that. I think without the experience of practicing Tai Chi and Qigong, I might have felt a bit lost in terms of how to keep developing my Reiki. Years of slow, steady progress, understanding how my system deals with new energies, knowing what happens if you take a long break, how to settle back into a practice after a hiatus, how to listen to my body, intuitively connecting with the ambient energies in a room or around a person - many of these subtleties were things I had started developing through Tai Chi and Qigong. I am very glad that I didn't go into Reiki practice "raw."

I feel that continuing to train will deeply enhance the effects of Reiki on my system. This one is speculative / based solely on my experience because I can't find any information on this out there. In Qigong and Tai Chi, you are literally transforming your muscles, tendons, bones, and internal organs by teaching them to allow chi to move through them more abundantly, smoothly, and constantly. When you practice Reiki, you are running a very high quality of energy through your system. Somehow I feel that my Qigong practice allows the Reiki to go right into my cells and muscle tissues on a very profound level. Reiki is supposed to do that anyway, but I guess I feel as though my system is fortified by the Qigong to allow this to occur very readily and in a way that allows the Reiki to stick / helps me integrate the changes that happen because of Reiki healing. It feels as if there is a deep level of integration going on with the Reiki, because of the Qigong and Tai Chi. If you do both, maybe let me know if you feel this is happening to you.

Reiki massively boosted my confidence in my Qigong and Tai Chi practice and helped me understand what I was doing more deeply. Like Catherine Calhoun points out, in Reiki the emphasis is on allowing the energy to flow through you. This is ideally what Tai Chi and Qigong are all about too. You need to relax and allow, surrender your tensions, and let flow happen - really relax for real. Yet, many Tai Chi and Qigong practitioners end up forcing things. Because there is all this detail to learn, and all these milestones to pass, you can sometimes end up thinking that you are in charge and that the point is that you are this amazing person with all these skills. That is so not the point. As great as it is to develop yourself and build up a list of accomplishments, the point is to use what you've learned to forget about ego, let go of pretense, and join with the flow of life itself. The more I learned how to do that with Reiki, the more I felt I could do that in Tai Chi and Qigong.

Reiki is a handy tool I use in my teaching all the time. An ideal way to experience Reiki is to book an appointment for either a full in-person healing session or distance healing. However, Reiki is also wonderful for spot treatments. Because Reiki offers structured protocols (long and short) for many different types of energy healing - including clearing blockages, moving viruses or infections out of the body, balancing the chakras, and grounding - it is something I turn to again and again for helping my students address issues that come up in class, or to enhance their Tai Chi and Qigong experience.

Tai Chi and Qigong Can Help You Feel Amazing

Warmth, tingling, a sense of aliveness, a palpable, bouncy, uplifting and at the same time grounding sensation are all par for the course when you practice Tai Chi and Qigong. One of my advanced students likes to joke that she would never have spent so much money on pot in high school if she had known she could get high for free doing Tai Chi and Qigong. There is nothing like discovering that you can take an hour class, go in feeling whatever - run down, uptight, stale, unstretched - and come out feeling absolutely excellent every single time. The best news is that once you've taken a few classes, you can practice on your own and have that great, lively, mellow feeling any time you want it or need it.

Once you get into it and start to work with correct technique, Tai Chi and Qigong can also be amazing workouts. You will build up your legs, work them in ways you never have before, stretch things you didn't know could stretch. People have this idea that Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle and that means they aren't effective as exercise. When you're ready, let me show you otherwise. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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 here. For upcoming workshops, click here

How 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.

To make things worse, there is subtle messaging always being thrown at us that the body's main job is to break down over time and eventually betray us by producing disease. Alternatively, we are encouraged to treat it like a machine that is either behaving well (producing the right shape / result / numbers on a scale, on medical tests) or not, in which case it needs more discipline.

Here's an alternative: consider that your body is your vehicle for interacting with this beautiful world. Like the most patient of workhorses, it carries you where you want to go and allows you to do, make, or create anything you desire. Its needs are really few: good nutrition, plenty of water, rest, and exercise.

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.

As you perform the gentle range of motion exercises, you bring a focused awareness to each body part. Tai Chi and Qigong movements are initiated from the feet: that initial push against the floor is channeled up through the legs, through the low spine, and throughout the entire body to produce the wide variety of movements. This is how you can move without tension: one little push does all the work for you, so it becomes the job of each muscle group to simply relax and allow the movement to take place.

Moving in this way, you begin to understand how each body part is connected to the next, and how all move through your focused awareness, initiated by one small action. If a body part for whatever reason holds tension or falls out of line, you'll feel it, and you'll learn how to bring it back into alignment.

By learning how to attend to each body part, you'll have a greater degree of awareness when something doesn't feel quite right. This can alert you to the potential for injury, cue you to change how you are moving, or give you a heads up when you've got a cold coming on. You'll also get to experience a much more integrated sense of yourself, an awareness of what feels good and when you just need to get up and stretch.

Doesn't that sound great?

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 here. For upcoming workshops, click here