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.