ARTICLES: More research results on Tai Chi helping with health challenges

These two news articles refer to new research results talking about tai chi improving the lives of peripheral neuropathy patients and reducing stroke risks. I continue to hold tai chi and qigong classes in Durango for learners with a variety of challenges, as does my teacher and friend Susan Matthews in Cortez (she’s the anatomy, stroke and Parkingson’s expert). So please tell your friends about this news and help them help themselves by suggesting they try tai chi classes.

UT Tyler improves lives of peripheral neuropathy patients through Tai Chi

http://www.tylerpaper.com/TP-News+Local/273318/ut-tyler-improves-lives-of-peripheral-neuropathy-patients-through-tai-chi

Tai Chi may reduce stroke risk

Session P16 – Poster WP416

American Heart Association

https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-02/aha-tcm021517.php

The magic of tai chi

ptrichard-playpipaThe magic of tai chi is that as a movement method it has universal application to other forms of movement. Tai chi principles, which happen to have developed from the martial arts applications, are increasingly applied to the purpose of improving and maintaining overall health and well-being. In some respects, it’s not tai chi anymore, rather a modernized articulation of a practice and method transferable to many forms of movement.

Filling gaps in learning tai chi

tai-chi-shoulder-roll

I’ve noticed that, while I received basics in beginning tai chi, much was skipped over. I entered mise-en-scene. I jumped into the middle of the stream. There was no actual “beginning.” As a result, I’ve felt a gap in my learning progress. I think it was partly from a lack of organization in the presentation of information. The learning continuity had holes that I would have to fill in years later.I would have to practice regularly for long enough to discover and fill them. I did it by evolving my perspectives on the basics.

Now, I try to help new learners avoid some of this if I can by showing them little practices that they can easily work on in the beginning of their learning journey.

I’m not faulting my teachers, because tai chi in the U.S. has been in a process of evolving since it started becoming better known a few decades ago. We’re working simply to figure out what works for us in terms of pedagogy and content. It’s really a life-long effort, but we’re trying to start up on a fast track. That can cause us to skip ahead a little bit.

Speaking of “skipping ahead,” we also skip ahead in doing individual movements. For example, I might say connect the qi to the back and move incrementally from tailbone to top of the head while performing a qigong move. You then jump from the tailbone to the top of the head, skipping over the rest of the spine. We anticipate where it’s going and in the process jump ahead, missing out on some real therapeutic results.

This is a case of our concentration faltering as the focus on a specific point oscillates. It’s like forgetting something and not realizing we have until a moment comes after time has passed. We then wake up to the fact that we weren’t paying attention, or that we had forgotten to concentrate on the task at hand. This is very common in training for internal movement.

Movement awareness is an effort to begin at points in the body that we typically don’t pay much attention to. I like to direct my attention to a point in the body and move from, around, or through that spot as an exercise in concentration. I want to incorporate a number of principles one at a time, then simultaneously. Being connected, weighted in gravity, whole body moves a single unit, spiraling, agile and changeable are a few. This is the basis for calling tai chi a “moving meditation” or simply “meditative.” This is my particular view.

What we skip is to focus on rather subtle movements and learning how to do them. With beginners, I often start asking them to focus on the soles of the feet—just about where the apex of the arch is located. Many know that this is called the “bubbling well” or “spring.” The idea is to stand and simply be attentive to the feeling of the soles. Sense the ground and your weight, for example. The toes, heels, arch, inner edge and outer edge, and the bubbling well.

This basic, preliminary movement practice is fairly simple to try at home. It’s probably easier to doing with a group so you can get and give feedback as you work with others learning the same stuff.

Practice Suggestion: Focus on bubbling well…

Feel the weight of the body funneling through and down the soles of the feet into Earth. Draw attention to your calves. How do they feel? Strained, relaxed? Try to focus on the skeletal structure and loosen the muscles. Tai chi requires a lot of visualization, which in turn requires concentration.

Stand with one foot forward—a forward stance. Place more weight on the front foot. Hold the weighted feeling as you shift you position in a small circle pattern around the bubbling well. Feel the muscles of the soles of the feet shift as you circle around the bubbling well.

If you get proficient at this, the force of the downward action will reverse and travel up the leg in a spiral pattern and the muscles, tendons, and ligaments will spiral around the bones. This takes a while to see. At first, just focusing steadily on shifting weight in a circle takes most of your concentration. See if you can do this at home.

A quick tai chi lesson

Stand in wuqi, feet parallel, ears over shoulder over over hips over ankles. Hands at side, palms facing backwards. Lift the arms from below by expanding from the dantian in all directions. This is a visualization exercise, not a muscle tensing and pulling exercise. Your body should flow and settle into the movement visualized by the mind. Bring the arms into a circle shape in front of you …hold the ball, or hold the tree, it is called. Shoulder’s down, relaxed, sitting on hips or floating on dantian like a boat on the ocean. Place attention on the very center point of your body. Visualize the point expanding into a sphere; in all directions at once. Expand outward as much as you like, then shrink the sphere back to the point in the center. Do this as often as you like. Get back to me to tell me about your experience.

Yin-Yang Learning

taiji tu

The taiji symbol of yin-yang, light becomes dark and darkness becomes light. Taiji movement expresses these relationships.

A tai chi learning progression

Learning the simplest things in tai chi can be a challenge, not because they are difficult; but, because we’re unfamiliar with them at first. Tai chi is like that. Life is like that. For example, sometimes new learners grasp the details of simple cloud hands with great effort. Or remembering to maintain a proper stance while moving the upper body takes reminding ourselves over and over. With practice though, we gradually build familiarity with the moves, then we become more comfortable, then we can refine what we’ve learned. Every successive move is a refinement of the last one. Over time, with practice and continued focus, we improve at the learning process itself. We are able to sustain concentration longer and with more depth. We look forward to new information so that we can practice learning skills that the moves themselves teach us.