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 February, 2012

Tai Chi Chuan – Getting to the Root

Posted By Tom Daly on February 19th, 2012

Tai Chi Chuan – Getting to the Root

I have asked my classmate Denise to join me in a point-counterpoint discussion of “root.”  I asked Denise to do this for two reasons. One, I know she really looks closely at tai chi issues and principles and strives to learn more.  Two, we don’t think the same way, so we may not agree!

We’ve agreed that I will start this and she will finish it.

Here goes:

Tom:  We are developing root from the start but to really understand it is a later stage of practice. Root is clearly about your connection to the ground and in a way what is underneath the ground.  The less of you, the more of it.  One can feel it in others.  As you become more empty (of tension), the ground becomes more solid.  Root comes indirectly from a few basic sources.  Relaxation and alignment are crucial so that your weight seamlessly drops through the body into the ground. I think it helps to have a mental sense of extending into the ground.

Some use root to stop an opponent from pushing them, and while I think this is a good test of root – you see it in the videos with Prof. Cheng – I believe root should not be used to block anyone.  Like a bamboo reed, it lets you bend with the wind, but remain solidly connected to the ground.

Ben Lo creates root by pushing students lower and longer in their stances.  I fondly recall my form post Ben Lo camp.  Clearly a greater sense of stability had been created as if by magic (and a week of utter leg pain.)  Maggie takes a longer time with root, focusing on the whole body connected to the ground and using the ground to move the body.  It tip toes in through the back door.

As you progress in tai chi, the body takes up less and less attention.  The mind can focus on other areas.  Does root require attention?  Or does it just develop naturally?  Many students have a moment when they feel that they have found their root.  Suddenly it has appeared more concretely in their body/minds.  Why or how this happens I’m not entirely sure.

Denise: Normally one would start a discussion about Root with a definition, but since it is an enigmatic fundamental principal of tai chi Tom has requested that we skip to observables. Seeing it in others is visually difficult as it takes experience to tell the difference between a nice Qi flow and a grounded or rooted Qi flow. In push hands, however, the difference is apparent after about five seconds.

A player with root has a hidden strength that comes not from muscle. A big strong man seems herculean. A smaller man or woman with strong root suddenly upends presumptions you have made about them based on their body type or sex. They feel solid, but you can’t find their center to push on. They may neutralize by absorbing Qi and then turning it around and giving it back to you, as if you had pushed yourself. They can patiently wait for you to make a mistake, staying in their center and tapping into something extra. On occasions when I’ve connected with that root, I have felt sensations such as a magnetic currents and complete dissolution of boundaries between my partner and me.

What we are connecting to is what Tom terms, ground. Relaxation and alignment facilitate that connection and have what I think is a symbiotic relationship with it. In connecting to the ground, we surrender to the force of gravity and so learn to trust it. With that trust we can feel safe in letting go of stiff muscles that are holding us up. With a little more relaxation, comes a little more root, and so on.

My observation is that players who have really strong root, have generally done a fair amount of standing practice or other forms of meditation. The physical discipline builds the legs so they know where the body is in alignment and can keep the skeleton in alignment even when engaged in push hands.

Tom:  I like that Denise has emphasized the symbiotic relationship of relaxation and alignment.

What is trusting gravity?  What is feeling safe in letting go of stiff muscles?   Do we not feel safe in letting go of stiff muscles?  I like the sense of these statements.  Root is encouraged by metaphoric or psychological words which help in terms of thinking about it and deepening it.  Root may have a mechanical aspect, but the mind aspect goes hand in hand.  Both “safe” and “trust” are comfort words that help move us in the direction of greater relaxation and therefore root.  One can relate to various entities in an emotional way.  For example, “play” with the air, the ground and gravity as “your friends.”  Trust them.  Let them help you to feel safe.  And so on.  Yes, a bit “new agey,” but the mind is a powerful relationship builder and interpreter.  We do what our mind suggests – let’s take advantage of making good ones.

Alignment is a crucial aspect because it creates a central column that allows the relaxation to be central to the body.  Alignment is required when Denise talks about when someone feels as “if you had pushed yourself.”   That is, you bounce yourself off of their ground.  This is why the upright body in the full part of the posture is emphasized in the form.

It seems to me that when you get pushed by someone with a deep root, it feels like MORE of them have pushed you than their actual size suggests.  ALL of them – every cell – have helped in the push.  It is hard to identify the arms as the “pushers”.   If the alignment creates a good connection into the ground, there is a solid path for energy to transfer up and down the body.

Denise: To term words such as “safe” and “trust,” as a “new agey,” is a disservice. Their opposites, “dangerous,” and “afraid,” are primal motivators. While most of the time, I may not be in the kind of physical danger that requires mammalian survival instinct (except for that walk to the office past New Haven’s least gentile inhabitants that does sometimes raise the hair on the back of my neck) there are still stressors in my life that find a nice home in the muscles in my neck and shoulders. To release that is not easy. There have been times in class that my teacher has taken the weight of my arm, and still I could not let go of that tension.

While I absolutely agree that the mind is a powerful relationship builder and interpreter, I don’t use the words “safe” and “trust” as metaphors. In studying this martial art, we choose to embrace a system of combat. While nowadays, few of us have a mortal enemy lurking outside our temple, we nevertheless, do battle at the office, at home, and most difficultly, with ourselves. The modern study of tai chi is as much about facing our fear in the face of battle as ever. It is just that the battlefield is a lot harder to define.

Root, then, makes it easier to know ourselves and face fear. As it develops, we are more at ease in all situations – especially in the laboratory we call push hands. On the rare opportunity when I’ve felt the “perfect” rooted push, it has been as if a gentle breeze redirected either my opponent or me. Matter (my body) and force (making movement) dissolve along with any sense of self or doing. To be released from that, even momentarily is what keeps me at this practice.

Tom:  I actually did not term the words “trust” or “safe” as “new agey” nor as metaphors.  My statement is far more complex.  We can quibble over word usage but my point is that the body takes on the messages we send it, real or perceived.  How we think about our root can be helpful in deepening the experience.  I would also suggest that the radical departure of tai chi is that it is less a system of combat, but more a system of peace interacting with a combatant.

But here is my main interest: deepening the root and using it to our best advantage.  One mechanical way is to feel the tailbone drop straight and hang.  Add to this the image of the central core sinking into the ground below, and the feeling that follows.  Root of course congers up the image of the root of a tree, adding support or nutritional advantage to the tree.  Metaphor? Real? Perceived?  All that matters to me is if this helps.  If not, disregard!  We all have different relationships to words.

My second interest is in what is gained – functionally how do we use it?  Those that have great root and great pushes – at least in my experience – never block me.  Instead, they are never there, never in reach, never in my way.  They disappear.  The root functions as the pathway that the body can use in order to NOT let pressure build up.  This is more than relaxation – it is the ability to read an intention and utilize the root to direct a partner’s intention into a neutral space.  We neutralize force, not block or “absorb” it.  You can only be neutral if your body is relaxed and has a base it can rely on.  That base is the root in the ground.

Denise: Another way of experiencing root is when you can move past directing a partner’s intention into a neutral space and dissolve any difference between individuals. By entering a deeper state of consciousness, wuwei, you enter being the same space with your partner and as one you change directions. It is not until you disassociate, or disconnect, that you feel that you have neutralized an incoming force.

While these are difficult skills to develop in push hands, there are any number of exercises that two people can do to experience the sensation of becoming one and then disconnecting, even as beginners. But to develop one’s own reliable connection to ground, standing meditation is a key practice. Then one can learn to stay rooted despite being in movement through form practice and then again with the challenge of another person in push hands.

It is in form practice that I find metaphor particularly useful. Whether I’ve chosen to think about my legs serving like tree roots connecting the matter of my body to the energy of the earth, or envisioned my legs drilling to the center of the earth I can deepen the feeling of gravity that pulses through my body. At a certain point though intention to root can be undermined. One explanation is that root is an insubstantial entity that through concentration turns substantial and in that transformation, disappears. As odd as that sounds, I’ve felt this in a demonstration. This is where that symbiotic relationship between root and alignment and relaxation are particularly valuable. You can refocus your attention on those mechanics and reestablish your connection.

Functionally, I believe root simply becomes a part of you – part of your personal packaging. You can’t use it, per se, but is part of the fabric of your movement and existence in space.

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Tai Chi Chuan and Parkinson’s Disease

Posted By Tom Daly on February 9th, 2012

Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease

Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., Peter Harmer, Ph.D., M.P.H., Kathleen Fitzgerald, M.D., Elizabeth Eckstrom, M.D., M.P.H., Ronald Stock, M.D., Johnny Galver, P.T., Gianni Maddalozzo, Ph.D., and Sara S. Batya, M.D.

N Engl J Med 2012; 366:511-519

February 9, 2012

Background

Patients with Parkinson’s disease have substantially impaired balance, leading to diminished functional ability and an increased risk of falling. Although exercise is routinely encouraged by health care providers, few programs have been proven effective.

Methods

We conducted a randomized, controlled trial to determine whether a tailored tai chi program could improve postural control in patients with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. We randomly assigned 195 patients with stage 1 to 4 disease on the Hoehn and Yahr staging scale (which ranges from 1 to 5, with higher stages indicating more severe disease) to one of three groups: tai chi, resistance training, or stretching. The patients participated in 60-minute exercise sessions twice weekly for 24 weeks. The primary outcomes were changes from baseline in the limits-of-stability test (maximum excursion and directional control; range, 0 to 100%). Secondary outcomes included measures of gait and strength, scores on functional-reach and timed up-and-go tests, motor scores on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, and number of falls.

Results

The tai chi group performed consistently better than the resistance-training and stretching groups in maximum excursion (between-group difference in the change from baseline, 5.55 percentage points; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.12 to 9.97; and 11.98 percentage points; 95% CI, 7.21 to 16.74, respectively) and in directional control (10.45 percentage points; 95% CI, 3.89 to 17.00; and 11.38 percentage points; 95% CI, 5.50 to 17.27, respectively). The tai chi group also performed better than the stretching group in all secondary outcomes and outperformed the resistance-training group in stride length and functional reach. Tai chi lowered the incidence of falls as compared with stretching but not as compared with resistance training. The effects of tai chi training were maintained at 3 months after the intervention. No serious adverse events were observed.

Conclusions

Tai chi training appears to reduce balance impairments in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, with additional benefits of improved functional capacity and reduced falls.

(Funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00611481.)

Supported by a grant (NS047130) from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Disclosure forms provided by the authors are available with the full text of this article at NEJM.org.

No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.

We thank all the study participants (in Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, and Portland) for their support and dedication to this research project; the neurologists for providing medical clearance and Parkinson’s disease stage diagnoses for their participating patients; the project instructors (Vicki Anderson, Denise Thomas-Morrow, Don Hildenbrand, Brian McCall, James Lusk, Nancy Nelson, Teena Hall, Machiko Shirai, and Julie Tye); the research assistants (Debbie Blanchard, Kristen Briggs, Ruben Guzman, Daehan Kim, Lisa Marion, Arissa Fitch-Martin, Kimber Mattox, Julia Mazur, Donna McElroy, Jordyn Smith, and Rachel Tsolinas); the physical therapists (Andrea Serdar, Jeff Schlimgen, Jennifer Wilhelm, Ryan Rockwood, and Connie Amos at Oregon Health and Science University); the study data analyst, Shanshan Wang; Kathryn Madden and the members of the institutional review board at the Oregon Research Institute for their careful scrutiny of the study protocol; and Ron Renchler for proofreading earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Source Information

From the Oregon Research Institute (F.L.), the Oregon Medical Group (K.F.), and the PeaceHealth Medical Group–Oregon (R.S.) — all in Eugene; Willamette University (P.H.) and BPM Physical Therapy Center (J.G.) — both in Salem, OR; Oregon Health and Science University, Portland (E.E.); Oregon State University, Corvallis (G.M.); and Oregon Neurology Associates, Springfield (S.S.B.).

Address reprint requests to Dr. Li at the Oregon Research Institute, 1715 Franklin Blvd., Eugene, OR 97403, or at fuzhongl@ori.org.

 

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