Dementia research and a pitch for tai chi

A recently published article mentions that physical activity and “mentally stimulating tasks” are two factors that recent research suggests can prevent dementia in millions. Tai chi and qigong are not mentioned, but as far as I’m concerned, they are both very good mentally stimulating physical activities. Which means they could be very good for reducing the chance of suffering from dementia in what the article refers to as the world’s “most feared illness in old age.”

In the 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 estimated 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.

However, more and more, people are talking about the benefits of tai chi and qigong, especially for older people. For those of us who have put off exercise practices in their younger years, they offer lower impact activity that offers a wide range of desirable results. With proper practice, tai chi and qigong are among the best “prevention” practices I’ve ever seen.

I see 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-centric (“mediated reality”), more passive. Yet, they know they need something that gives their mind and body connection more stimulating health and longevity activities—a focus that can tap into one’s own inner awareness.

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.

While reading the dementia article, I noted that physical exercise is always recommended 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 dementia.

the homeopathy of tai chi

Sometimes you can use tai chi to treat a particular health issue by doing almost the same thing that causes the problem. It’s akin to homeopathy, where you treat the germ with the germ itself, so to speak.

Take carpal tunnel, for example. You get it by doing the same motion repeatedly for long periods of time. Fatigue sets in and your forearms tighten up. You keep doing it because you have to work, make money, pay the bills.

But then muscles, tendons and ligaments start aching from overuse. Pain sets in and doesn’t go away. You hang on, hoping it will disappear on its own, or you’ll overcome it long enough to make it through the day.

Then you hurt even when you’re not at work. It becomes “chronic pain.” A doctor may say tests show nothing wrong. False hope. You’re in pain and you know it.

Maybe he’ll say it’s probably wise to stop doing whatever behavior is causing the problem. Wish you could, right?

Eventually, maybe, a doctor offers some hope, sort of. He suggests surgery. It’s your gamble, though. It’s a 60/40, maybe 90/10, chance that surgery will heal you.

No guarantees, of course, except maybe that they can operate on you and it will cost a lot of money. The irony is the carpal tunnel came from working for money.

The homeopathy idea about tai chi is that repetitive movement over a period of time, such as single, basic moves, can help alter the pattern of movement that causes problems. Something about the different manner and intent of the movement can alleviate pain, soreness, stiffness, and retrieve ease of movement and range of motion. Plus, it can release overall tension and help you feel a little better all around.

No guarantee there either, but no slice and splice, and no hospital bills.

Zhong Ding

Central equilibrium. This is the Chinese word I know it as—Zhong Ding. I assume readers are familiar with it.  I came to understand that central equilibrium is more than alignment.

Alignment has a linear quality that we can become aware of in our bodies. It is two-dimensional, a line between two points. Equilibrium, which we can also become aware of, is orientation in relation to our environment. It is multi-dimensional. It is how we balance ourselves in response to the pressures from outside, of which there are many.

Almost every move we make is a response to some external force in our environment. The environment could be the physical environment near us or it could be a more abstract environment — distant and foreign.

Part of the release, and the relief, of letting go of things that are not essential to our well-being, which is a tai chi practice, is distinguishing between what it’s necessary to be concerned about and what is not.

We confront the overwhelming pressure from outside with great risk. We cannot defeat it, but we can relax and let it be. We don’t have to be concerned that we must respond. Yin instead of yang. Let yang take care of itself. Focus attention on yin.

So the act, as simple as it may be, of letting something go—tension, stress, anything at all—is emancipating. Our bodies respond accordingly and become satisfied, contented, rested.

Tai chi “mood”

Taijiquan is about cultivating a mood and immersing yourself in it. Continuous and stable, you carry it through the day’s activities—as many as you can. It’s not easy to do this, but many will agree that the mood is very engaging and contagious. I can’t get much more specific without risking mutilating it trying to explain it.

You develop it in group and solo practice. Each practice is a return to cultivating it from where you last left off with it. Often, at some point after leaving class, you might forget this mood. But if you have a big enough taste of it, you’ll want to give it another try.

The more you try, the more you are able to do two things. One is to become familiar with the mood through practice and the second is improved memory. The result is that you’re carrying this mood more and more. You’re not only remembering it, you’re internalizing it. It becomes part of your viewpoint and integral to who you are, as in the case of real long-term practitioners.

It’s like anything that you do. The more you do it, the better you get and the more you get out of doing it. You perceive the external world from the point of view of that mood. It grows, matures, and strengthens. You develop speed, agility, and a greater sense of depth and breadth.

Have you discovered your chi yet?

ma yueh liang

The great Wu Style Taijiquan Master Ma Yueh Liang said it took him 10 years to “discover” qi and the rest of his life to learn what to do with it (Bill Moyers, “The Mystery of Chi,” 1993). We’re all involved in a similar progression of discovery and discerning activities that bring qi into our daily routine.

The real change from a tai chi perspective is in the mind. We think it’s the body because that’s where the problem shows. The pain in there so we think the cause is there.

We have to shift something in our perception in order for the body to make the necessary changes it needs to heal and strengthen.

I suspect that we “discover” qi because it announces itself by virtue of dislodging and flowing, which in turn results from practicing tai chi movement.

You can view many video clips of Master Ma on youtube. I have one of him from many years ago on my website.

Getting Original Qi Back

When I talk about my teachers having so much energy from taiji, it has to do a lot with the fact that they save energy more than actually producing it out of nowhere, which seems impossible to the average person. This is one thing every practitioner who practices long enough learns about taijiquan. It’s true, you get only so much Qi (energy) when you’re born and as life progresses you lose it, or at least, lose access to it. But you can get it back, and one stepping stone to do that is by learning to conserve it, not waste it, use the energy you have wisely, and consciously bringing stuck qi back into availability. By doing taiji movement, you clear out superfluous energy, which in turn attracts your original qi and rebuilds it. It’s fantastic to reunite with what is essentially a part of ourselves.

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