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 January, 2011

Meditation and Brain Matter – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on January 30th, 2011

Tai chi is a form of meditation. The body is the object of focus and the movements require you to keep with it. Here is an article that discusses meditation and gray matter changes. Tom

January 28, 2011, 10:29 am
How Meditation May Change the Brain
By SINDYA N. BHANOO

Over the December holidays, my husband went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Not my idea of fun, but he came back rejuvenated and energetic.

He said the experience was so transformational that he has committed to meditating for two hours a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, until the end of March. He’s running an experiment to determine whether and how meditation actually improves the quality of his life.

I’ll admit I’m a skeptic.

But now, scientists say that meditators like my husband may be benefiting from changes in their brains. The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory.

The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

But how exactly did these study volunteers, all seeking stress reduction in their lives but new to the practice, meditate? So many people talk about meditating these days. Within four miles of our Bay Area home, there are at least six centers that offer some type of meditation class, and I often hear phrases like, “So how was your sit today?”

Britta Hölzel, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and the study’s lead author, said the participants practiced mindfulness meditation, a form of meditation that was introduced in the United States in the late 1970s. It traces its roots to the same ancient Buddhist techniques that my husband follows.

“The main idea is to use different objects to focus one’s attention, and it could be a focus on sensations of breathing, or emotions or thoughts, or observing any type of body sensations,” she said. “But it’s about bringing the mind back to the here and now, as opposed to letting the mind drift.”

Generally the meditators are seated upright on a chair or the floor and in silence, although sometimes there might be a guide leading a session, Dr. Hölzel said.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the human brain is complicated.

Understanding what the increased density of gray matter really means is still, well, a gray area.

“The field is very, very young, and we don’t really know enough about it yet,” Dr. Hölzel said. “I would say these are still quite preliminary findings. We see that there is something there, but we have to replicate these findings and find out what they really mean.”

It has been hard to pinpoint the benefits of meditation, but a 2009 study suggests that meditation may reduce blood pressure in patients with coronary heart disease. And a 2007 study found that meditators have longer attention spans.

Previous studies have also shown that there are structural differences between the brains of meditators and those who don’t meditate, although this new study is the first to document changes in gray matter over time through meditation.

Ultimately, Dr. Hölzel said she and her colleagues would like to demonstrate how meditation results in definitive improvements in people’s lives.

“A lot of studies find that it increases well-being, improves quality of life, but it’s always hard to determine how you can objectively test that,” she said. “Relatively little is known about the brain and the psychological mechanisms about how this is being done.”

In a 2008 study published in the journal PloS One, researchers found that when meditators heard the sounds of people suffering, they had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures, a part of the brain tied to empathy, than people who did not meditate.

“They may be more willing to help when someone suffers, and act more compassionately,” Dr. Hölzel said.

Further study is needed, but that bodes well for me.

For now, I’m more than happy to support my husband’s little experiment, despite the fact that he now rises at 5 a.m. and is exhausted by 10 at night.

An empathetic husband who takes out the trash and puts gas in the car because he knows I don’t like to — I’ll take that.

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Tai Chi Chuan – Oil and Vinegar

Posted By Tom Daly on January 17th, 2011

Tai Chi Chuan – Oil and Vinegar

Oil and Vinegar make for a great salad dressing, and yet they are hard to mix!

I encountered a push hands experience recently that reminds me of two paths in the art. You can’t really say which is “better”. They are both trying to employ ultimately the same principles down the road. But the short term objectives couldn’t be more diverse.

In my world, the push hands form itself is a tool that helps you explore the principles that surround “stick and follow”. A break in the form is a break in principle.

In my world, the root is really what you use in pushing. You don’t directly use it to block or prevent your partner from pushing you. If the partner is blocking you such that they take that pressure down into the ground (good!) but they let pressure build up at the point of contact (not very good!) then I consider this a poor use of the root. We don’t block our partner, even with the root.

I hold high the principle that you don’t let pressure build up; that you let the partner go where they want to go. Invite them in. In a real fight – and push hands is a precursor to a real fight – you most likely wouldn’t want that pressure to build up. In a real fight, the opponent would simply take their fist and hit you. Your ability to “root” in that moment would hardly matter. OK, unless you have the ability to take full punches – and some do – this is not a great direction to move towards.

In my world, one shifts from back to front to back to front. The outer shell of the form is honored. Maintaining less than 4 ounces of strength at the point of contact is key. So you HAVE to shift. Sure, I might force a movement into the partner’s space as a test to see if they respond, but mostly I am looking for a flaw in their form which gives me the signal to push. This means that the energy of the two bodies goes in a new direction such that one body is stable, and the other topples. A push is the logical conclusion of the use of the energetic connection between the two bodies.

I am also trying to understand non-doing within the context of push hands. No mind. Emptiness.

I don’t move my feet. Yes, I think fixed foot push hands is a great way to give oneself a handicap such that you really really MUST use those hip joints.

So how does my world differ from others?

Some use the root to block movement, some play a free form game that does not really use the push hands form, some settle on the front foot and work very hard to stay there even if that means running into a force, some like to go after you to Attack! Attack! Attack! Do! Do! Do! in order to get a push. They feel free to move their feet a bit as in a real fight.

It is always a good, if frustrating, experience for me to push with such folk. The initial shock is one of “they are doing this wrong”. But really the issue is that my skill set has not yet risen to a level where I can deal with their skill set on MY terms. Often these players have skill within the parameters of their practice. Often this equals good rooting and being very responsive to the opponent.

I believe that playing a game where principle overrides winning is a crucial and an important way to train and gain skill. I also appreciate those who take this game seriously enough that winning keeps the pressure on. It is a martial art. We are not just hugging trees here! Finding that edge is very tricky. Can you be in the game totally, yet give yourself some space to just be, within that game, totally?

When I encounter the aggressive player, usually what happens is that my greatest deficiency comes to the fore. Ouch! And that is REALLY not fun.

So…

To my fellow players who like a competitive game, you might try to explore a total commitment to the push hands form itself, with non-doing, never putting pressure on the partner, and never moving your feet. You will definitely learn a thing or two by giving up winning. And where does that push come from anyway?

To those of us who are mostly “drilling” to deepen the principles of tai chi and push hands, it’s good to play the game with those who love a good wrestle. You have to REALLY be on your toes and look for new ways to employ principles. Fast! And you have to be really clear when you break the principles as you get caught up in that urge to win. Also, you may lose a lot!

Ironic reminder here: Just because you knocked someone off their feet doesn’t mean you won. You may be using force. In my world, you just lost!

For today, I find it satisfying to work mostly on the principles. In the future, I hope these principles feel functional, where winning by using the principles is truly an organic possibility.

Yep, we have to shake it up sometimes to mix oil with vinegar to find a good combination that tastes good.

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Don’t Sit – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on January 16th, 2011

Use it or lose it… again! Tom

January 12, 2011, 2:43 pm
The Hazards of the Couch
By RONI CARYN RABIN

Many of us sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day, and then go home and head for the couch to surf the Web or watch television, exchanging one seat and screen for another. Even if we try to squeeze in an hour at the gym, is it enough to counteract all that motionless sitting?

A mounting body of evidence suggests not.

Increasingly, research is focusing not on how much exercise people get, but how much of their time is spent in sedentary activity, and the harm that does.

The latest findings, published this week in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, indicate that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.
The study followed 4,512 middle-aged Scottish men for a little more than four years on average. It found that those who said they spent two or more leisure hours a day sitting in front of a screen were at double the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event compared with those who watched less. Those who spent four or more hours of recreational time in front of a screen were 50 percent more likely to die of any cause. It didn’t matter whether the men were physically active for several hours a week — exercise didn’t mitigate the risk associated with the high amount of sedentary screen time.

The study is not the first to suggest that sedentary activities like television viewing may be harmful. A study last year found that men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars were more likely to die of heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less, even if they exercised. And a 2009 study reported that young children who watch one and a half to five and a half hours of TV a day have higher blood pressure readings than those who watch less than half an hour, even if they are thin and physically active.

Another small study found that when overweight adults cut their TV time in half, they burned more calories than those who watched five hours or more a day. Children whose TV time is cut tended to eat less, but that wasn’t true for adults. And the light activities adults filled their time with, like reading and playing board games, actually burned more calories than watching TV.

In both the United States and Britain, people are spending three to four hours a day on average watching television, said the study’s author, Emmanuel Stamatakis, of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London.

“This is excessive,” he said. “It is more than 20 percent of total waking time for most people.” And, he added, “it’s 100 percent discretionary.”

During the study’s follow-up period, from 2003 to 2007, 325 men died of various causes, and 215 suffered a heart attack or other cardiac event. Even after adjusting for differences in weight, smoking, occupational physical activity and risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and other longstanding illnesses, as well as marital status and social class, those who spent four hours or more of their leisure time in front of a screen each day were 50 percent more likely to have died. Those who spent two hours a day in front of a screen for entertainment were 2.2 times more likely to have had a cardiovascular event.

Recreational screen time has an “independent, deleterious relationship” with cardiovascular events and death of all causes, the paper concluded, possibly because it induces metabolic changes.

One possible mechanism, demonstrated in animal studies, is that being sedentary may affect lipid metabolism. Prolonged inactivity appears to sharply reduce the activity of an important enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which is responsible for breaking down circulating blood lipids and making them available to muscles for energy, Dr. Stamatakis said. Lowered enzyme activity leads to higher levels of fats and triglycerides in the blood, and to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Exercise has very little impact on the enzyme’s activity, he said.

Extended sitting may also lead to high levels of low-grade inflammation, which can also lead to heart disease, Dr. Stamatakis said. A marker of low-grade inflammation called C reactive protein was about three times higher in the study participants who spent the most time slouched in front of a screen.
The study focused on recreational screen time because it’s the easiest to curtail, Dr. Stamatakis said. But he encouraged employees who work at computers all day to get up and take breaks and short walks periodically.

One reader adds:

It’s understandable that for a white collar worker, after 9 hours at the office and about two hours of commute, the easiest thing to do is to sit on front of a computer or TV screen. People probably don’t want to engage in intellectually challenging activities like playing board games or reading a book (even if the game is relatively easy and the book is light), and they’re too physically tired, too drained out at the end of the day, to do lots of housework or exercise. A sedentary work, with all the stress and uncertainty that it involves nowadays, just tends to lead to a sedentary lifestyle overall. The inertia of a sedentary work leads to inactivity at home.

Maybe a light physical activity like Tai Chi (or a light yoga), which can be done pretty much anywhere, could help somehow.

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