Beginning tai chi when younger may help avoid problems of aging

Doing taijiquan and its complement, qigong, can add great benefits to the lifestyles of younger practitioners, as well as reducing the effects of growing older. Why younger people don’t get into tai chi is asked often and many reasons have been discussed. One is that “tai chi is for old people,” as discussed in this video clip.

For me, there are many more reasons for younger people to do tai chi than not to do it. For one, I’m convinced that as preventative practices, tai chi and qigong both can help reduce healthcare costs related to aging (which comes sooner these days than we think!). We just don’t expect problems while we’re young and our bodies are still new and healthy. Instead of waiting until we’re sick or breaking down we could do something about it.

But often, you could have greater effectiveness by accepting that you’re going to have those problems sooner or later.

Tai chi and qigong are also complementary activities to many exercises you choose to do for staying shape, which often is a lifestyle choice. We look good when we feel good. These can be enhanced by practicing even just a few principles of tai chi. You don’t even have to do it as a martial art, either.

As a tai chi and qigong teacher, I find more and people in their twenties, even teens, interested in trying tai chi. As a multi-level exercise for mind, energy, and body practice, no other exercise does all that tai chi can. It helps to heal injuries, maintain healthy systems functions, such as nervous and lymph systems and blood circulation. It helps to detoxify and cleanse.

It trains memorization skills, too; like a crossword puzzle for the whole body, not just the brain. Whether you’re in school, on a job, or whatever, that’s a good thing.

Even if you’re in the grips of aging, you might find that a steady, long-term tai chi practice will have positive effects on the flexibility of your brain function.

Neuroscientists talk about “neuroplasticity” to refer to the brain’s ability to disrupt our tendency towards inertia and be more easily changeable. As Catherine Kerr, a Harvard Medical School instructor, says, “For anyone who practices tai chi regularly brain plasticity arising from repeated training may be relevant, since we know that brain connections are ‘sculpted’ by daily experience and practice.” Kerr is investigating brain dynamics related to tai chi and mindfulness meditation at Harvard Medical School.

In addition to tapping into the brain’s capacity, it’s a bio-mechanical stretching method that can maintain and improve elasticity of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles so we may live longer and better.

All of these reasons to start tai chi sooner than later apply to every stage of life, but if you start sooner, you might just be happy you did. Starting tai chi is only a matter of joining a class and making a habit of practicing regularly over time. This is a relatively simple key to success.

If you’re in your twenties and already practicing, feel free to comment about your experience. Maybe we can spread a little enthusiasm for beginning younger in life to others who may be pondering the possibility of giving it a try.

 

 

 

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Tai chi as a strategy to relax

One of the first things you’re asked to do in tai chi is to relax. Not easy for many beginners, who seldom can relax on command. Actually, most of us forgot how, or even define what relaxing is for ourselves. Life is like that.

Tai chi offers a strategy for relaxing. My own approach is two-fold: mind intention and physical activity, both based on tai chi principles with which I have become familiar over time. It takes time, but more importantly, effort. You don’t have to work hard, rather calmly, regularly, consistently.

Breathing meditation, single-basics, stretching, moving meditation and taijiquan forms all combine to form a pretty sophisticated strategy for relaxing using these two core principles. Of course, if you develop a practice using these methods, you’ll not only cultivate relaxation, you’ll also evolve a more energetic, lively composure that will probably amaze you.

If mental states influence physical conditions, where does tai chi play a role?

If mental states affect physical conditions, and researchers don’t know how it happens, then how can the cause/effect relationship be proven? As Stephen Locke, MD, states in The Healer Within (1986), “‘Knowing’ that one’s state of mind influences one’s body does not prove that it does.” In his book he talks about the trend in research to discover how the mental states affect the central nervous and immune systems, thus our health.

The book covers amazing things, but I haven’t got to the part where he talks about tai chi and qigong. I’m not finished reading it, but I doubt it’s there. For me, practices, such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga, are addressing at least some questions that researchers are asking, or perhaps, not asking. Massage is another possible methodology of tapping into the central nervous or immune system’s influence over a person’s physical health. Other modalities, or practices, such as reiki, fall into the category of mind-body treatment.

By current scientific measures, these practices don’t prove the influence of mental states over physical conditions. But researchers continue to explore the causes and effects of the influence of mental states on physical health. In the meantime, tai chi practitioners are engaged in our own explorations. We know something is happening when we do our practice, even though Locke says “Common sense is not science.” Go figure.

Knowing is not proof, they say, yet millions of people who practice tai chi know that they experience both mental and physical changes from regular practice over time. They must, because who would keep making the effort and expending the energy to do something without seeing (feeling) beneficial results at some point? People are rewarded for doing tai chi, but that’s not proof of cause and effect, because science hasn’t figured out a way to prove it. Go figure.

The point I want to make is that practices such as tai chi and qigong actively seek the connection without having to explain it. They presume it, or maybe they don’t, but they trust the process and intend beneficial results. They activate the mind-body connection by virtue of engaging one’s whole being in doing their particular practice. The rest takes care of itself. They make it work somehow without having to prove it.

What I am attracted to in the case of tai chi, qigong and yoga is that they are practices individuals do on their own. We may have a teacher to lead us through the practice, but the work is done ourselves for ourselves. Massage, reiki, and other practices are done to, or on, us by a professional. They may be effective at times and at other times less so. Same with the practices you do yourself.

But to do the practice yourself on your own holds a special allure for me. But like Locke says, even though I “know” it works, I can’t prove the cause/effect relationship. However, I can talk about results that happen when I do enough tai chi and qigong, and I can talk about results when I don’t do enough of either. And that is enough for me. The immediate relaxation responses are enough. The longer-term sense of well-being that develops from practice and that I carry with me between practices is real enough.

Thoughts on Developing Your Home Tai Chi Practice Routine

I was recently asked about developing a routine for home practice. Most of us are probably used to being given a set of movements to do—one set for everyone. I take a different approach, suggesting that you choose a few moves from among the many that we do in class that appeal to you and remember them at home.

While we share a lot in common, every person is different: different bodies, different circumstances, and different interests, needs and desires. So the routine you develop should be customized to you and not have to be a “one size fits all” approach.

Still, you need a place to begin when you’re new to the system. That’s why I share a system made up of loosening exercises, stretching, single-basic moves, qigong, some standing (called Zhan Zhuang), and tai chi form. This is the context out of which a home practice develops.

I also say that that tai chi is founded upon moving in six directions and in three patterns, or shapes, of movement: up/down, left/right, front/back, and circles, figure 8s, and spirals. This is the foundation of your practice.

To add to that, you begin to cultivate an awareness of the energetic piece of the practice, which brings up the questions of “how” to move in the directions and patterns. What you’re doing with your mind, more specifically.

I begin with the question of, “How do you initiate the move and from which point in the body?” You can begin with the dantian point below the navel and inward about three inches (xia dantian), or the zhong ding (central equilibrium/spine). Remember that the focus of your attention is what you’re working on in any particular moment. With experience you can hold your attention on more than a single thing at a time. The key is to develop a concentration and sustain that concentration. This correlates with the meditative function of tai chi and qigong.

With these ideas you have a foundation to begin your home practice. It takes a little time to get familiar with these concepts, but with some effort it comes together. And with a little help from teacher and fellow practitioners you can build a stronger understanding through group practice and testing.

So pick out a few single moves and practice them at home. You can do a few minutes every day whenever your feel the urge, or remember that you have the chance to make a difference in your condition if you try.

This way you’re doing a more customize practice rather than having to do what the teacher forces on you regardless of your unique situation.

Dementia research findings and my pitch for tai chi

Researchers list nine activities that can help prevent as much as 33% of the world’s current estimate of 47 million cases of dementia (expected to triple by 2050), including Alzheimer’s.

Tai chi is a physical activity and mentally stimulating exercise, two factors that recent research suggests can prevent dementia in millions.

In a recently published article (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/one-third-of-dementia-cases-could-be-prevented-alzheimers-report/), researchers list nine activities that can help prevent as much as 33% of the world’s current estimate of 47 million cases of dementia (expected to triple by 2050), including Alzheimer’s.

For healthy mental activities, researchers recommend people  stay in school at least until past the age of 15. The article doesn’t specify kinds of physical exercise, but most articles about that subject usually talk about aerobics, interval training, resistance training, even weight lifting.

More and more, people are talking about the benefits of tai chi and qigong, especially for older people who have put off exercise practices in their younger years. It’s lower impact and offers a wide range of desirable results with proper practice. Plus, it’s one of the more preventative practices I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’m seeing more young people looking into tai chi. I think one reason why is that they are born into more sedentary lifestyles, more urban, more media eccentric, more passive. Yet, they know they need something that gives their mind and body connection more stimulating health and longevity activities.

This is the very same reason Boddhidharma (Damo) introduced exercises to Buddhists in China 2600 years ago. The body is your vessel through life. Treat it well and give it what it needs. We’re all learning what that means and we’re looking for ways to treat our bodies and minds better.

I noticed while reading the dementia article that physical exercise, which it recommends, of course, is known to help reduce the effects of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, three factors that cause dementia.

Rather than reciting the old cliché of killing two birds with one stone, I would prefer to say “giving two birds life with a single act.” I feel like tai chi and qigong offer strong possibilities for helping a lot of people who would otherwise suffer from what the article refers to as the world’s “most feared illness in old age.”

Are you doing tai chi? No?

People ask about getting tai chi right. What’s the right way, what’s the wrong? I tell them not to think of it as either right or wrong, just that you’re refining from where you are in your efforts to learn tai chi. This practice builds on the last practice. It’s cumulative. I believe that this thinking helps to dispel the idea that you have to do it right before you do it at all.

The only way to know tai chi is to do it. If you put off doing anything at all related to tai chi, you may never learn anything. You’re dealing yourself a bad hand by making judgments over whether you’re good enough to do it. A teacher can tell you the way he came and you can apply it to your choices, or not. It won’t matter either way if you don’t practice. Only the individual practitioner sees the way. No one else can see it for you.

So how to overcome judgment of yourself, or of tai chi itself? One view is that the simplest activity can be a practice of tai chi. Even doing a single basic repetition is doing tai chi. Even sitting for 60 seconds and breathing mindfully is doing qigong. Anyone can do that anytime and, every time you do, you’re building on the last time you did that.

The catch is that you have to do it regularly enough to reap the benefits. You won’t see results unless you do something and you do it regularly enough.

A journey of learning entails the step-wise progression of putting pieces of information together and building a body of knowledge. It’s a body of simple, personal observations filed away for later use—not assumptions based on conventionalized thought. It is not one thing or another to be argued right or wrong. It is based on your own discoveries. It is experience and the memories of experience.

Another article highlighting tai chi research results

Ho hum. More good news about tai chi from yet another person discovering what we already knew years ago.

https://www.jenreviews.com/tai-chi/

Recent Article: Tai Chi “may” relieve back pain

Title: “Forget the drugs, the answer to back pain may be Tai chi, massage”

Hmmm. I was wondering…

The answer to lower back pain may lie not in prescription drugs, but in Tai chi,
heat therapy or massage, according to health guidelines released Tuesday.
New guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) detail which
treatments may help with lower back pain,

. . . . Read Full Article here.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/02/14/forget-drugs-answer-back-pain-may-tai-chi-massage/97887446/