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 June, 2014

Tai Chi Chuan – Love That Sword!

Posted By Tom Daly on June 11th, 2014

Tai Chi Chuan – Love That Sword!

I’ve been thinking about the sword form and our relationship to that sword.  Maggie Newman, my teacher, reminds us to “accommodate the sword”.  Let me give you my take on this wonderful phrase.

The sword has a specific path that it must move through.  We are there to help it go where it needs to go.  It is central, we are peripheral.  Like a magic prop, it has a specific place in space.  It is as if we see a video of someone doing the sword form, and if we could digitally remove the person in the video, we would then just see a sword going through its path.  We are there to make sure that it fulfills its requirement, its need, its desire, its wish to be here, its wish to go there.

Oddly, this reminds me of the well-made play, a plot devise from the 19th century that dominates just about all realistic drama we see today.

***

From Wikipedia:

The well-made play is a dramatic genre from the nineteenth-century theatre that Eugène Scribe first codified and that Victorien Sardou developed. By the mid-19th century, it had already entered into common use as a derogatory term. This did not prevent Henrik Ibsen and the other realistic dramatists of the later 19th century (August Strindberg, Gerhart Hauptmann, Émile Zola, Anton Chekhov) from employing its technique of careful construction and preparation of effects. “Through their example”, Marvin Carlson explains, “the well-made play became and still remains the traditional model of play construction.”

***

One element of the well-made play is the use of a pivotal prop.  The story in one way or other revolves around this prop and the prop is critical to the plot.  It has equal importance to all the other characters.  In fact, without this pivotal prop, the narrative would die in its tracks.  The world of the play requires this prop in order to exist.  Oscar Wilde even spoofs this in one play where this pivotal prop is carried across the stage on a silver platter by a butler – heralding its centrality while laughing at its use as a narrative device.

Our sword is a prop of sorts as well.  And it may prove pivotal to our lives. 

Forget the traditional sword form for a moment.  If you take your sword and use both hands to cradle it as a means of support and then carry it into the pathway that we are familiar with, it becomes a glowing magical wand floating in space.  This is done without utilizing the familiar hilt grip used in the form, nor the basic tai chi form stances.  Keep your hands under the blade and hilt, moving your hands and feet as needed in order to “float” the sword.  You are the invisible partner in this dance with your sword.  Your weight always supports its weight.  The sword evolves in space in its perfect pathway.  The sword fulfills its destiny.  This “form” is purely about the path of the sword and not about the martial use of the sword.  You are the water and the wind that moves the boat along it journey.

Accommodation.  You are there for the sword.  Once you set it in motion, you follow that motion.  You are not making decisions for that sword.  The chi of the movement has been released and you both fall into that vortex.  Let the sword decide.  Let the sword lead you.  By supporting the sword and not manipulating the sword as a weapon, you might see other relational approaches:

What if you are the loving servant of the sword?  What if you are the willing devotee of the sword and the sword is your teacher, your guru?  What if you are there to respect the wishes of the sword?  What if your love of the sword gives it the power it needs to be fully present?  What if you feel tenderness towards this sword and you want to be sure that its journey is lovingly completed?  What if your caring actions create that sword’s existence?  What if you are gently helping that sword along like you would your dear infirm grandmother?  What if you are gently guiding that sword as you would an inquisitive child?  How would you treat this sword if it was an invaluable one-of-kind ancient porcelain object (worth $1M?)  What if you are birthing the sword into its existence? 

What if YOU are the prop, and the sword moves you?

What happens if this all deeply matters?

I can guarantee you that the sword form will take on a whole new meaning, a whole new feeling.  Like Oscar Wilde’s prop that determines the outcome of the play, your sword might change you and your life.

And what if we approached all people, places and things with this same concern and caring?  The entire world is your sword and you must accommodate that world such that it goes where it needs to go to fulfill its exquisite perfection.  You are then integral to the perfection of that world.  You are a slice of perfect.

Sure, you can return to slice, cut, jab and stab.  That’s the obvious choice.  Lots of fun, that!

But I think we also need to love that sword with every cell of our body, serve it, nurture its journey, feel its chi and let it affect us.  It might teach you more than just a martial art.

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The Biology of Risk – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on June 11th, 2014

This long article has more to do with investing and its relation to stress and risk management.  However, it does bring out the biology of stress and its relationship to risk taking.  The really interesting thing to me is that increased stress leads to LESS risk taking during times of economic upheaval, therefore missing opportunities and in fact increasing the likelihood of economic downturn.  But be warned, this is a slow complex read….

Tai chi is definitely the middle way, reducing stress but hopefully keeping us engaged to life as it is (and therefore the opportunities that arise in the normal course of “stressful” lives.)  By reducing our biological stressors, we are then better equipped to evaluate which risks are better bets and which are not. 

This article notes that a certain amount of uncertainty in the markets keeps investors on their toes.  If they feel too comfortable (tai chi=collapsed) they ignore the dangers in front of them and respond inadequately.  By not giving into stress when uncertainty appears, they make better choices. 

Again, the body drives decision making beyond our conscious recognition.

The Biology of Risk

By JOHN COATES

New York Times, JUNE 7, 2014

SIX years after the financial meltdown there is once again talk about market bubbles. Are stocks succumbing to exuberance? Is real estate? We thought we had exorcised these demons. It is therefore with something close to despair that we ask: What is it about risk taking that so eludes our understanding, and our control?

Part of the problem is that we tend to view financial risk taking as a purely intellectual activity. But this view is incomplete. Risk is more than an intellectual puzzle — it is a profoundly physical experience, and it involves your body. Risk by its very nature threatens to hurt you, so when confronted by it your body and brain, under the influence of the stress response, unite as a single functioning unit. This occurs in athletes and soldiers, and it occurs as well in traders and people investing from home. The state of your body predicts your appetite for financial risk just as it predicts an athlete’s performance.

If we understand how a person’s body influences risk taking, we can learn how to better manage risk takers. We can also recognize that mistakes governments have made have contributed to excessive risk taking.

Consider the most important risk manager of them all — the Federal Reserve. Over the past 20 years, the Fed has pioneered a new technique of influencing Wall Street. Where before the Fed shrouded its activities in secrecy, it now informs the street in as clear terms as possible of what it intends to do with short-term interest rates, and when. Janet L. Yellen, the chairwoman of the Fed, declared this new transparency, called forward guidance, a revolution; Ben S. Bernanke, her predecessor, claimed it reduced uncertainty and calmed the markets. But does it really calm the markets? Or has eliminating uncertainty in policy spread complacency among the financial community and actually helped inflate market bubbles?

We get a fascinating answer to these questions if we turn from economics and look into the biology of risk taking.

ONE biological mechanism, the stress response, exerts an especially powerful influence on risk taking. We live with stress daily, especially at work, yet few people truly understand what it is. Most of us tend to believe that stress is largely a psychological phenomenon, a state of being upset because something nasty has happened. But if you want to understand stress you must disabuse yourself of that view. The stress response is largely physical: It is your body priming itself for impending movement.

As such, most stress is not, well, stressful. For example, when you walk to the coffee room at work, your muscles need fuel, so the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol recruit glucose from your liver and muscles; you need oxygen to burn this fuel, so your breathing increases ever so slightly; and you need to deliver this fuel and oxygen to cells throughout your body, so your heart gently speeds up and blood pressure increases. This suite of physical reactions forms the core of the stress response, and, as you can see, there is nothing nasty about it at all.

Far from it. Many forms of stress, like playing sports, trading the markets, even watching an action movie, are highly enjoyable. In moderate amounts, we get a rush from stress, we thrive on risk taking. In fact, the stress response is such a healthy part of our lives that we should stop calling it stress at all and call it, say, the challenge response.

This mechanism hums along, anticipating challenges, keeping us alive, and it usually does so without breaking the surface of consciousness. We take in information nonstop and our brain silently, behind the scenes, figures out what movement might be needed and then prepares our body. Many neuroscientists now believe our brain is designed primarily to plan and execute movement, that every piece of information we take in, every thought we think, comes coupled with some pattern of physical arousal. We do not process information as a computer does, dispassionately; we react to it physically. For humans, there is no pure thought of the kind glorified by Plato, Descartes and classical economics.

Our challenge response, and especially its main hormone cortisol (produced by the adrenal glands) is particularly active when we are exposed to novelty and uncertainty. If a person is subjected to something mildly unpleasant, like bursts of white noise, but these are delivered at regular intervals, they may leave cortisol levels unaffected. But if the timing of the noise changes and it is delivered randomly, meaning it cannot be predicted, then cortisol levels rise significantly.

Uncertainty over the timing of something unpleasant often causes a greater challenge response than the unpleasant thing itself. Sometimes it is more stressful not knowing when or if you are going to be fired than actually being fired. Why? Because the challenge response, like any good defense mechanism, anticipates; it is a metabolic preparation for the unknown.

You may now have an inkling of just how central this biology is to the financial world. Traders are immersed in novelty and uncertainty the moment they step onto a trading floor. Here they encounter an information-rich environment like none other. Every event in the world, every piece of news, flows nonstop onto the floor, showing up on news feeds and market prices, blinking and disappearing. News by its very nature is novel, adds volatility to the market and puts us into a state of vigilance and arousal.

I observed this remarkable call and echo between news and body when, after running a trading desk on Wall Street for 13 years, I returned to the University of Cambridge and began researching the neuroscience of trading.

In one of my studies, conducted with 17 traders on a trading floor in London, we found that their cortisol levels rose 68 percent over an eight-day period as volatility increased. Subsequent, as yet unpublished, studies suggest to us that this cortisol response to volatility is common in the financial community. A question then arose: Does this cortisol response affect a person’s risk taking? In a follow-up study, my colleagues from the department of medicine pharmacologically raised the cortisol levels of a group of 36 volunteers by a similar 69 percent over eight days. We gauged their risk appetite by means of a computerized gambling task. The results, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the volunteers’ appetite for risk fell 44 percent.

Most models in economics and finance assume that risk preferences are a stable trait, much like your height. But this assumption, as our studies suggest, is misleading. Humans are designed with shifting risk preferences. They are an integral part of our response to stress, or challenge.

When opportunities abound, a potent cocktail of dopamine — a neurotransmitter operating along the pleasure pathways of the brain — and testosterone encourages us to expand our risk taking, a physical transformation I refer to as “the hour between dog and wolf.” One such opportunity is a brief spike in market volatility, for this presents a chance to make money. But if volatility rises for a long period, the prolonged uncertainty leads us to subconsciously conclude that we no longer understand what is happening and then cortisol scales back our risk taking. In this way our risk taking calibrates to the amount of uncertainty and threat in the environment.

Under conditions of extreme volatility, such as a crisis, traders, investors and indeed whole companies can freeze up in risk aversion, and this helps push a bear market into a crash.

Unfortunately, this risk aversion occurs at just the wrong time, for these crises are precisely when markets offer the most attractive opportunities, and when the economy most needs people to take risks. The real challenge for Wall Street, I now believe, is not so much fear and greed as it is these silent and large shifts in risk appetite.

I consult regularly with risk managers who must grapple with unstable risk taking throughout their organizations. Most of them are not aware that the source of the problem lurks deep in our bodies. Their attempts to manage risk are therefore comparable to firefighters’ spraying water at the tips of flames.

The Fed, however, through its control of policy uncertainty, has in its hands a powerful tool for influencing risk takers. But by trying to be more transparent, it has relinquished this control.

Forward guidance was introduced in the early 2000s. But the process of making monetary policy more transparent was in fact begun by Alan Greenspan back in the early 1990s. Before that time the Fed, especially under Paul A. Volcker, operated in secrecy. Fed chairmen did not announce rate changes, and they felt no need to explain themselves, leaving Wall Street highly uncertain about what was coming next. Furthermore, changes in interest rates were highly volatile: When Mr. Volcker raised rates, he might first raise them, cut them a few weeks later, and then raise again, so the tightening proceeded in a zigzag. Traders were put on edge, vigilant, never complacent about their positions so long as Mr. Volcker lurked in the shadows. Street wisdom has it that you don’t fight the Fed, and no one tangled with that bruiser.

Under Mr. Greenspan, the Fed became less intimidating and more transparent. Beginning in 1994 the Fed committed to changing fed funds only at its scheduled meetings (except in emergencies); it announced these changes at fixed times; and it communicated its easing or tightening bias. Mr. Greenspan notoriously spoke in riddles, but his actions had no such ambiguity. Mr. Bernanke reduced uncertainty even further: Forward guidance detailed the Fed’s plans.

Under both chairmen fed funds became far less erratic. Whereas Mr. Volcker changed rates in a volatile fashion, up one week down the next, Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Bernanke raised them in regular steps. Between 2004 and 2006, rates rose .25 percent at every Fed meeting, without fail… tick, tick, tick. As a result of this more gradualist Fed, volatility in fed funds fell after 1994 by as much as 60 percent.

In a speech to the Cato Institute in 2007, Mr. Bernanke claimed that minimizing uncertainty in policy ensured that asset prices would respond “in ways that further the central bank’s policy objectives.” But evidence suggests that quite the opposite has occurred.

Cycles of bubble and crash have always existed, but in the 20 years after 1994, they became more severe and longer lasting than in the previous 20 years. For example, the bear markets following the Nifty Fifty crash in the mid-70s and Black Monday of 1987 had an average loss of about 40 percent and lasted 240 days; while the dot-com and credit crises lost on average about 52 percent and lasted over 430 days. Moreover, if you rank the largest one-day percentage moves in the market over this 40-year period, 76 percent of the largest gains and losses occurred after 1994.

I suspect the trends in fed funds and stocks were related. As uncertainty in fed funds declined, one of the most powerful brakes on excessive risk taking in stocks was released.

During their tenures, in response to surging stock and housing markets, both Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Bernanke embarked on campaigns of tightening, but the metronome-like ticking of their rate increases was so soothing it failed to dampen exuberance.

There are times when the Fed does need to calm the markets. After the credit crisis, it did just that. But when the economy and market are strong, as they were during the dot-com and housing bubbles, what, pray tell, is the point of calming the markets? Of raising rates in a predictable fashion? If you think the markets are complacent, then unnerve them. Over the past 20 years the Fed may have perfected the art of reassuring the markets, but it has lost the power to scare. And that means stock markets more easily overshoot, and then collapse.

The Fed could dampen this cycle. It has, in interest rate policy, not one tool but two: the level of rates and the uncertainty of rates. Given the sensitivity of risk preferences to uncertainty, the Fed could use policy uncertainty and a higher volatility of funds to selectively target risk taking in the financial community. People running factories or coffee shops or drilling wells might not even notice. And that means the Fed could keep the level of rates lower than otherwise to stimulate the economy.

It may seem counterintuitive to use uncertainty to quell volatility. But a small amount of uncertainty surrounding short-term interest rates may act much like a vaccine immunizing the stock market against bubbles. More generally, if we view humans as embodied brains instead of disembodied minds, we can see that the risk-taking pathologies found in traders also lead chief executives, trial lawyers, oil executives and others to swing from excessive and ill-conceived risks to petrified risk aversion. It will also teach us to manage these risk takers, much as sport physiologists manage athletes, to stabilize their risk taking and to lower stress.

And that possibility opens up exciting vistas of human performance.         

 

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The Art of Focus – New York Times David Brooks

Posted By Tom Daly on June 3rd, 2014

Of interest to those of us interested in tai chi and focus… Tom

The Art of Focus

David Brooks

New York Times

6/2/14

Like everyone else, I am losing the attention war. I toggle over to my emails when I should be working. I text when I should be paying attention to the people in front of me. I spend hours looking at mildly diverting stuff on YouTube. (“Look, there’s a bunch of guys who can play ‘Billie Jean’ on beer bottles!”)

And, like everyone else, I’ve nodded along with the prohibition sermons imploring me to limit my information diet. Stop multitasking! Turn off the devices at least once a week!

And, like everyone else, these sermons have had no effect. Many of us lead lives of distraction, unable to focus on what we know we should focus on. According to a survey reported in an Op-Ed article on Sunday in The Times by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, 66 percent of workers aren’t able to focus on one thing at a time. Seventy percent of employees don’t have regular time for creative or strategic thinking while at work.

Since the prohibition sermons don’t work, I wonder if we might be able to copy some of the techniques used by the creatures who are phenomenally good at learning things: children.

I recently stumbled across an interview in The Paris Review with Adam Phillips, who was a child psychologist for many years. First, Phillips says, in order to pursue their intellectual adventures, children need a secure social base:

“There’s something deeply important about the early experience of being in the presence of somebody without being impinged upon by their demands, and without them needing you to make a demand on them. And that this creates a space internally into which one can be absorbed. In order to be absorbed one has to feel sufficiently safe, as though there is some shield, or somebody guarding you against dangers such that you can ‘forget yourself’ and absorb yourself, in a book, say.”

Second, before they can throw themselves into their obsessions, children are propelled by desires so powerful that they can be frightening. “One of the things that is interesting about children is how much appetite they have,” Phillips observes. “How much appetite they have — but also how conflicted they can be about their appetites. Anybody who’s got young children … will remember that children are incredibly picky about their food. …

“One of the things it means is there’s something very frightening about one’s appetite. So that one is trying to contain a voraciousness in a very specific, limited, narrowed way. … .An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways. … Everybody is dealing with how much of their own alivenesss they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.”

Third, children are not burdened by excessive self-consciousness: “As young children, we listen to adults talking before we understand what they’re saying. And that’s, after all, where we start — we start in a position of not getting it.” Children are used to living an emotional richness that can’t be captured in words. They don’t worry about trying to organize their lives into neat little narratives. Their experience of life is more direct because they spend less time on interfering thoughts about themselves.

The lesson from childhood, then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.

The way to discover a terrifying longing is to liberate yourself from the self-censoring labels you began to tell yourself over the course of your mis-education. These formulas are stultifying, Phillips argues: “You can only recover your appetite, and appetites, if you can allow yourself to be unknown to yourself. Because the point of knowing oneself is to contain one’s anxieties about appetite.”

Thus: Focus on the external objects of fascination, not on who you think you are. Find people with overlapping obsessions. Don’t structure your encounters with them the way people do today, through brainstorming sessions (those don’t work) or through conferences with projection screens.

Instead look at the way children learn in groups. They make discoveries alone, but bring their treasures to the group. Then the group crowds around and hashes it out. In conversation, conflict, confusion and uncertainty can be metabolized and digested through somebody else. If the group sets a specific problem for itself, and then sets a tight deadline to come up with answers, the free digression of conversation will provide occasions in which people are surprised by their own minds.

The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.`

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Tai Chi Chuan – A Supplementary Balance Exercise

Posted By Tom Daly on June 2nd, 2014

Tai Chi Chuan – A Supplementary Balance Exercise

In general, I don’t prescribe exercises in this blog series.  But I have been given an exercise that is so delicious, I have to share it.  This was given to me by my Physical Therapist who is helping me revive my “surgical” leg. 

Here we go…

Place your feet side by side, gently pressed together and touching.  Now feel your neck float upwards.  Don’t forget to let the chin relax and tuck in a bit without force.  Feel the spine lengthen without tightening it.  Feel the weight of the pelvis hanging.  Feel the feet grounded on the floor.  Feel your center equilibrium from the ground to the top of your head.  I’d even say, let yourself be “open”.  Be in touch with the “bubbling well” in each foot.  This is the basic preparation for this series.  Take quality time to establish this each and every time you move into the next placement of the feet.

Now close your eyes for 30 seconds.  What do you feel?

Next place your feet gently pressed together altered in a half step, left foot forward, where your left heel presses into the area of the right instep, and the ball of the right foot presses into the left instep.  The left foot is again a half step forward and the two feet are joined together as one unit.  Again, with eyes open, do the preparation.  Now close your eyes for 30 seconds. 

Repeat this half step, but reverse the feet with the right foot a half step forward gently pressed against the left foot.  Do the preparation, and then close your eyes for 30 seconds.

Lastly, as if on a straight line, put your left foot in front of your right foot, left heel touching the right toe.  Do the preparation and feel this one for a moment with eyes wide open.  Then close your eyes for 30 seconds.

Reverse with right in front of left foot.  Preparation, then eyes closed.

Frankly, with this last one, I do it in a hallway to catch myself as I fall.  I haven’t mastered it yet but I love the challenge.

What you are getting here are the all the small adjustments of the muscles being used in balance.  Balance is not a frozen event or a static place in space.  Balance is movement.

I hope that you have as much fun as me in taking on the Balance Challenge.  Last one standing gets a piece of cake!

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