Tai Chi Class

Welcome to WholenessInMotion. Tai chi is a whole body and mind exercise that combines meditation, martial art and health tonic in one. This particular form is the Yang style, 37 posture short form as taught by Prof. Cheng Man-ch'ing. This fascinating and intricate exercise has many benefits and just about anyone can practice it.

Take a look at this site and consider the study of relaxation and how it can benefit you in your daily life. I look forward to working with you. Tom Daly


 

Archive for September, 2010

Jane Brody in The New York Times writes on Tai Chi benefits

Posted By Tom Daly on September 28th, 2010

September 27, 2010
A Downside to Tai Chi? None That I See
By JANE E. BRODY

The graceful, dancelike progression of meditative poses called tai chi originated in ancient China as a martial art, but the exercise is best known in modern times as a route to reduced stress and enhanced health. After reviewing existing scientific evidence for its potential health benefits, I’ve concluded that the proper question to ask yourself may not be why you should practice tai chi, but why not.

It is a low-impact activity suitable for people of all ages and most states of health, even those who “hate” exercise or have long been sedentary. It is a gentle, calming exercise — some call it meditation in motion — that involves deep breathing but no sweat or breathlessness.

It places minimal stress on joints and muscles and thus is far less likely than other forms of exercise to cause muscle soreness or injury. It requires no special equipment or clothing and can be practiced almost anywhere at any time, alone or with others.

Once the proper technique is learned from a qualified instructor, continuing to practice it need not cost another cent.

The many small studies of tai chi have found health benefits ranging from better balance and prevention of falls to reduced blood pressure, relief of pain and improved immunity.

The latest and perhaps best designed study was conducted among patients with debilitating fibromyalgia, a complex and poorly understood pain syndrome.

Dr. Chenchen Wang and colleagues at Tufts Medical Center in Boston reported in August in The New England Journal of Medicine that tai chi reduced pain and fatigue and improved the patients’ ability to move, function physically and sleep. The benefits persisted long after the 12 weeks of tai chi sessions ended.

The study was financed primarily by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health. To be sure, documenting tai chi’s purported health benefits is a challenge. As an editorial in the journal noted, it is virtually impossible to design an ideal study of tai chi. There is no “fake” version that could serve as a proper control to be tested against the real thing. Thus, researchers have to rely on less-than-perfect comparison groups. In the fibromyalgia study, for example, the control group was given stretching exercises and wellness education.

And unlike evaluations of drugs, tai chi studies cannot be double-blinded such that neither patients nor researchers know which group is receiving which treatment. Those guided by a tai chi master would undoubtedly know who they are and could be influenced by the teacher’s enthusiasm for the practice.

Still, scientists have come to better understand and appreciate the mind-body connection, which for too long was dismissed as nothing more than a placebo effect, and most doctors are now more willing to accept the possibility that stress-reducing activities can have a profound effect on health.

A Stress Reducer

There is no question that tai chi can reduce stress. As the study authors described it, tai chi “combines meditation with slow, gentle, graceful movements, as well as deep breathing and relaxation to move vital energy (called qi by the Chinese) throughout the body.”

If nothing else, this kind of relaxing activity can lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve cardiovascular fitness and enhance mood. For example, a review in 2008 found that tai chi lowered blood pressure in 22 of 26 published studies.

Thus, it can be a useful aid in treating heart disease, high blood pressure and depression, conditions common among older people who may be unable to benefit from more physically demanding exercise.

Regular practitioners of tai chi report that they sleep better, feel healthier and experience less pain and stiffness, though it cannot be said for certain that tai chi alone is responsible for such benefits.

Yet as Dr. Wang and co-authors noted in an earlier report that analyzed the literature on tai chi and health, a majority of studies have been small and poorly controlled, if they were controlled at all. Therefore, the tai chi practitioners could have been healthier to begin with or could have practiced other health-enhancing habits.

Perhaps the best-documented benefit of tai chi, and one that is easiest to appreciate, is its ability to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls, even in people in their 80s and 90s. The moves are done in a smooth, continuous fashion, as weight is shifted from one leg to the other and arms are moved rhythmically. This can improve muscle strength and flexibility, and enable the muscles in the legs and hips to function in a more coordinated and balanced manner. Thus, practitioners become more stable and sure-footed.

Another benefit, again especially important to older adults, is the apparent ability of tai chi to improve immune function. In a 2007 study also financed by the Complementary and Alternative Medicine center, those who practiced tai chi had a better response to the varicella zoster vaccine that can help prevent shingles.

Talk to a Doctor First

Tai chi is not a substitute for professional medical care, but rather an adjunct to such care and a way to keep debility at bay. As with other forms of alternative medicine, it is best to consult your physician before signing up for instruction.

This is especially important if you are a pregnant woman or have serious physical limitations, joint problems, back pain or advanced osteoporosis. While such conditions do not preclude practicing tai chi, you may have to modify or avoid certain positions.

Although tai chi is a gentle exercise, one can get carried away. Overdoing any activity, including tai chi, can result in sore or sprained muscles. On its Web site, the Complementary and Alternative Medicine center notes that “tai chi instructors often recommend that you do not practice tai chi right after a meal, or when you are very tired, or if you have an active infection.”

Also important is assurance that your instructor is well qualified. Instructors do not have to be licensed, and the practice is not regulated by any governmental authority. There are many styles of tai chi — the yang style is most commonly practiced in Western countries — and there are no established training standards.

Traditionally, would-be instructors learn from a master teacher. Before choosing an instructor, you’d be wise to inquire about the person’s training and experience.

Learning tai chi from a qualified instructor is critical. The Complementary and Alternative Medicine center cautions that trying to learn it from a book or video is no guarantee that you will be able to perform the moves safely and correctly. Reliable sources of instructors include Y.M.C.A.’s and Y.W.C.A.’s, and well-run commercial gyms.

Finally, attending a few sessions or even a 12-week course is not enough to guarantee lasting health benefits. As with any other form of exercise, tai chi must be practiced regularly and indefinitely to maintain its value.

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The cost of losing your balance – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on September 16th, 2010

I was surprised to see the cost of losing one’s balance. Research on tai chi has long established it as a great way for learning greater balance (along with many other benefits.) I quote a portion of a New York Times article that, alas, did not mention tai chi’s balance benefit.

September 15, 2010

Staying on Balance, With the Help of Exercises

New York Times by John Hanc

Unintentional falls among those 65 and older are responsible for more than 18,000 deaths and nearly 450,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Most of these falls are caused by a decline in that complex and multidimensional human skill known as balance.

To remain upright and sure-footed, explained Dr. David Thurman, a neurologist with the center and a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology, “there are several components of the nervous system, as well as motor or movement functions, that need to be intact.” These include the vestibular system of the inner ear, vision and proprioception, the ability to sense where one’s arms, legs or other parts of the body are without looking at them, as well as the strength and flexibility of bones and soft tissue.

“All of these,” Dr. Thurman said, “tend to degrade with age, particularly as people move into their seventh and eighth decades.”

Yet, unlike many effects of aging, balance can be improved, and the age-related declines can be delayed or minimized with proper training.

“The preponderance of evidence,” Dr. Thurman said, “shows fairly convincingly that strength and balance training can reduce the rate of falls by up to about 50 percent.”

Hence, the Department of Health and Human Services in revising its national physical activity guidelines, issued in 2008, added a recommendation for the elderly to include balance exercises as part of their overall physical activity regimen.

The problem, said Michael Rogers, an exercise scientist at Wichita State University, is that while most major public health agencies recommend 30 minutes a day of cardiovascular exercise for the heart and two or three sessions a week of strength training, “there is no real exercise prescription for balance.” So activities that promote balance tend to become integrated into other activities. Mr. Morea does this with older clients like Ms. Luftig in twice-weekly, 30-minute strength-training sessions.

Of course, while it is good to have supervision by a certified fitness professional, not to mention the benefit of a gym full of balance toys (and there are many these days, including wobble boards, balls and cushions), one does not have to work out with a personal trainer to get the benefits of balance training.

“You can do it anytime, anyplace,” said Mr. Rogers, who is research director at Wichita State’s Center for Physical Activity and Aging and teaches exercise classes to older adults. “You don’t have to be involved in a systematic program.”

He added, “You don’t have to be standing on one foot, which is often too difficult for some older people. You can challenge your balance while brushing your teeth.” Simply put one foot in front of the other while you brush, or stand with your feet closer together.

Balance training is often seen as part of a larger trend called functional fitness exercises, which are geared to helping one handle the physical challenges of day-to-day life. Around holiday time, for example, Mr. Rogers tries to prepare the elderly in his class for crowded shopping malls. He has them walk between narrow gaps, occasionally getting brushed by others. This, he said, “helps give them confidence” to face the holiday throngs.

Trainers like Mr. Morea devise balance training drills for their older clients. For example, a woman was having trouble bending down in her kitchen to reach to the back of a floor-level cupboard and retrieve cooking pots. So he developed “pot squat and reach” — a movement that basically imitated what she was doing, except on an unstable surface, so that she could develop the strength, neural connections and balance to confidently perform that movement at home.
One of the nice things about balance training is that the results can be evident fairly quickly.

“The nervous system has considerably more regenerative capacity well into the senior years than we used to think,” said Dr. Thurman. “The capacity for adjustment, compensation and even developing new skills remains there.”

Which is exactly what Ms. Luftig, who lives in Greenwich Village, has found. “I feel more confident,” she said. “In my neighborhood, you have bicycles whizzing by you all the time. You could lose your balance when they come so close. But when that happens now, I feel more stable. I have this ability that I didn’t used to have.”

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Tai Chi Chuan is a Vertical, Not Horizontal, Vector

Posted By Tom Daly on September 15th, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan is a vertical, not horizontal, vector.

I’ve been chewing on a thought for some time, a “life at its core” kind of thought. Ready to join me?

I love vectors, real or imagined, and I see life as having many vectors. There is the career vector, the family vector, the love vector, the health vector (for some), the money vector, the birth vector, the dying vector and no doubt many others.

Fundamentally, however, I see to two primary vectors: the horizontal vector and the vertical vector.

The horizontal vector is time based and looks forward or looks back. You make plans and execute them. You measure progress or no progress. It is like walking down the street with a goal in mind as to where you need/want to go to next. Even if that goal is to just get out of the house and breathe some fresh air, there is a goal here, a beginning-middle-end, and onto the next vector that moves you forward into the next plan, goal, or desired situation.

Then there is the vertical vector. You don’t really move at all and it is not time based. You just be and expand in all directions. This includes, of course, an up and down direction and an in and out direction. But because you are not moving forward or sideways, primarily it is up and down, as if reaching into heaven and digging into earth. This is ultimately a “being” experience. Your “being” can be bigger or smaller, exclusive in inclusive. But it is not concerned with progress, progression, getting something or getting somewhere, landing somewhere, achieving something or avoiding something, or plans to achieve or avoid. It is the vector that takes a break from time itself. This vector forgets time. This vector likes to be where it is. I am more and more convinced that the vertical vector is the real link to happiness.

The horizontal and vertical vectors are not mutually separate. They do have a relation to each other and affect each other. The more developed the vertical vector, the more smoothly the horizontal vector will function. The better you balance all the issues that surround the horizontal vector, or follow that vector with a proper sense of pace, the more likely you are to have time and space to sit with and live through the vertical vector. To be working with your goals is a horizontal vector, to hold your baby and stare into his/her eyes is a vertical vector.

Here comes tai chi chuan. Horizontally, you may be concerned with progress in your tai chi. But the actual experience of tai chi with its physical emphasis on upright posture and relaxing and sinking into the ground clearly demonstrates its verticality. Oddly, to focus on progress or success in tai chi only gets you so far in your development because at its root, tai chi is “non-doing”. That is its essential puzzle: a non-doing that leads to the fulfillment of some action (a form, for example, that does have a beginning-middle-end.)

If you are in a hurry to get it, most likely what you have skipped is any sense of relaxing and sinking into the ground. These are the very elements that create movement in tai chi. Without them you are merely practicing a dance based on your old method of horizontal doing. Somehow, you have to leave that behind, at least for a short while and experience something else. That something else is not related to getting and doing.

Then, surprise! You have a new tool that morphs into a new way to deal with life’s stresses and pressures. Being. This takes time and a willingness to not go forward or look back, but to just be here, right here, really here, the here that is really NOW. This is tai chi as meditation. And like any real meditation, the “goal” is not to get more of something, but to “be” all of what you are and to inhabit “now” more fully. It is a commitment to the fullness of your spirit as it joins the rest of the world, not from a perspective of action (soldiers marching in step), but from the perspective of connection (swimming together in the ocean).

When you are really practicing tai chi as a vertical vector, you slow down to the point where just being still is a pleasure.

I recall a time when only the horizontal aspect of the form – getting it done, getting through it, getting past certain postures that seemed to be landmarks in my mind – was what I experienced. I even thought that it was taking too long and I should have already finished the current posture. “Why haven’t I gotten to the next posture by now, this is taking too long!” I would say to myself, adding an unnecessary layer of tension.

But then it shifted and getting it done for some reason disappeared. Now the form seems to go by much faster, even though I still practice it rather slowly. I have not added speed to the equation; I have removed that sense of “getting it done for the day.” It now gets “done” by merely starting it. After that point, the challenges and pleasure of the moments within the form have my attention. It doesn’t matter if I finish it or not. Getting to the end is not the point, but being in it is the point. And when I do get to the end, I want to work on some piece that grabbed my attention during practice. I enjoy being here and continuing to work on the challenges tai chi presents.

But why? I think it has to do with the vertical vector, the being within it, the innate pleasure of being here and now. Like a baby that enjoys splashing water just for the sake of splashing water, to see water, to feel water, to experience water, to be with water, to BE water. It seems that this is where we start in life and that we are hard wired to keep in touch with just that. If you lose that vertical vector, life might become one dimensional and very dry.

While other activities can give you the same, tai chi is a great way to work with this because of its health benefits, its philosophical/psychological aspects, the way it forges togetherness with others, and of course tai chi is a fascinating martial art. You get so much for the price of one. The downside? Like anything worth doing, it takes time, commitment and thoughtful attention.

My guess is a fully realized life has vectors in all directions. I haven’t arrived there yet, but I do believe it is waiting for me to discover.

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