Newsletter #42 - January 2005
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The January one week workshop in Sydney is a great way to start the new year. One hundred twenty-five participants came from Australia, NZ, USA, UK, Italy, Malta; Hong Kong and Korea along with 20 instructors and supporting staff. We had a fantastic week together. We had training during the day, evening seminars, and morning talks on topics ranging from different levels of tai chi, to medical research, daily demonstrations, and at the social evening, jokes and African Dancing. It was a great time to learn and to share knowledge and positive energy. My heartfelt thanks to all the instructors, participants and staff who made this event so fulfilling and fun.
We have so many excellent photos, some of them are posted online here.
All photos (full size) will be included in a CD (USD$18 or AUD$25) available for sale at this link
Please note that the photos are copyrighted to Tai Chi Productions. You must not use them for commercial purposes although you may print any of our photos for your own collection.
I have now standardized the Tai Chi for Arthritis, Tai Chi for Diabetes, and Tai Chi for Back Pain instructor/leader's workshops. Participants of any of these authorized workshops who have met the requirements will receive an authorized certificate. These certificates are embossed by the Chinese characters "Tai Chi." Every participant will receive a certificate, either the attendance or the instructor/leader certificate. Each instructor/leader certificate has its own number. Please contact us if you have any questions.
One of the most effective reasons tai chi improves our health and lifestyle is that we can use tai chi principles in everyday situations. In my article "Living Mental Quietness," I discuss one of these situations. "Tai Chi for Arthritis and Double Weightedness" is written by Doug, a retired professor with many years of tai chi experience. He searches deeply into the art. Whether you agree or disagree with his analysis, you'll admire his spirit and depth of knowledge.
Here's something you could try. An international team of researchers has shown that the "Polymeal," (includes wine, chocolate, fruits and vegetables eaten daily) can reduce the risk of heart disease by 76 percent. Click here to the British medical journal for an abstract (free) or full text (require payment).
Kleng's courage and care for others inspires me, what do you feeldo you feel the same?
Last month's package was a big success, we think we hear you wanting package. This is the new package:
Combined 4 Forms Volume 1 - Video:
Combined 4 Forms Volume 2 - Video: Widely considered to be one of the best set of Tai Chi forms ever created, it is suitable for immediate to advanced levels, this is the official set in all major international competitions..
Normally priced at USD$79.90, now the package is USD$54.95. Click here to place your order.
You can find the list of our workshops around the world from this link: http://www.taichiproductions.com/workshops/index.php
Paul Lam MD
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Sun Lu-Tang, a great tai chi master and creator of Sun style tai chi, said that the highest level of tai chi is when it merges with the Dao-the way of life. When one is in harmony within oneself and with nature, he or she reaches the highest level of tai chi.
To reach that higher level of tai chi, one must understand the mental stage called jing. Jing is a Chinese word meaning "quiet." Tai chi text often gives words somewhat different meanings. In tai chi, jing roughly means mental quietness or serenity, a mental phase in which one is not bombarded by various thoughts (mental chatting). Jing refers to being mentally focused, to awareness of the self and the surroundings. Jing puts one in a much more effective mental stage for martial art purposes-maintaining self-centeredness while still being fully aware of the surroundings.
Tai chi is not a confrontational martial art. It doesn't advocate a blow for a blow or the quicker and stronger wins the day. Tai chi's fighting strategy is based on a jing mind which enables one to "listen" to an incoming force, yielding to it, and absorbing this force while maintain one's centre. Only after the incoming force is understood and weakened can one determine the best way to re-direct and then add one's own force to gain total control.
The jing stage is an essential part of tai chi training. Only after training can one get to the jing level within seconds. Switching that rapidly to a mental stage can be compared to a short circuit. Utilizing this technique can help us cope better with stressful situations. Life is full of challenges and crisis. We can deal with them more effectively with a "jing mind." I remember one of my patients, a student, telling me that she would make the most obvious mistakes at stressful times such as in final examinations. She'd misread the questions or answer the wrong questions or miss out answering the compulsory questions, something that she'd never have done if she'd been able to calm down. Along the same lines, a friend described how stressed he'd been prior to a job interview. He couldn't sleep the night before, and during the interview, he looked tired and couldn't perform up to his normal capacity. We can all find numerous occasions to use the "jing mind."
Jing training is practical for martial art purposes because there's nothing more stressful than a life or death fight, and a jing mind gives one significant advantage. But nowadays, more important than physical fighting is fighting sickness and maintaining good health. The jing stage can serve health improvement just as effectively as martial art purposes. Studies have shown that stress contributes significantly to almost all chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions, arthritis and back pain. And studies have also shown that relaxation improves these conditions. Using the jing stage in daily living will enable us to relax and and improve our focus.
How to cultivate the jing stage
The most effective way to cultivate your jing is to practice tai chi. Execute your tai chi movements correctly. Make your moves slow and even in speed without stopping. Move as though the air is dense, pushing gently against it. Maintaining focus on your body, cleanse your mind, be aware of weight transfer, body alignment, and keeping your joints loosened (gently expand your joints from within). Initially, it might take time to reach a certain mental stage of quietness, but once you get there, you'll be able to reach the same stage easily each time you practice. At that point, you can move on to a deeper stage of jing.
I will describe a method that may help your tai chi practice. You can use it during your normal daily activities, but not driving or doing similar tasks that could cause danger. Imagine you're in a rain forest. Be aware of the fresh cool air and the birds. Soon you'll become quiet from within and you'll be able to focus on your body and mind. Starting with your posture, maintain an upright but supple posture, loosen your joints, gently tuck in your chin, and focus on the dan tian (an area about three finger breadths below the belly button).
Cleanse your mind; focus on slow and gentle breathing. If you can, use the abdominal breathing method. Or as an alternative, try the following dan tian breathing method:
Concentrate on the lower abdomen (below the belly button) and the pelvic muscle. When you breathe out, gently contract the pelvic muscle and the lower abdomen. Try to keep the area above the belly button still. The idea is to do contractions so gently that you're not aware of moving, that you do them by simply thinking about them. Another technique is to imagine that you're bringing your pelvic floor just half an inch closer to your belly button, then breathe in and gently allow your muscles to relax, maintaining 10 percent of the contractions.
The secret is regular practice. The more you practice the more enjoyable the stage of Jing becomes. You may never reach the highest level of tai chi, but by carefully following the directions on the road to get there, you'll find the scenery beautiful and discover that your life will be enhanced and enriched.
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I recently learned how to add depth in teaching my advanced Tai Chi for Arthritis (TCA) class by showing them how to avoid what the Tai Chi Classics call the "error of doubleweightedness". I had been thinking about doubleweightedness in the qigong or open and close hands sections of the TCA form ever since I took my first TCA instructors' workshop with Paul Lam in Minneapolis - Saint Paul, Oct. 2000. His own Tai Chi for Arthritis Handbook lists Yang Chengfu's "Ten Essential Principles of Tai Chi Chuan" which includes "Distinguish between substantial and insubstantial" (East Acton Publishing, 2000, p. 54). Master T. T. Liang, in his well known commentary on these guiding principles states that "it is of the utmost importance to discriminate between the insubstantial and the substantial aspects. For instance, if the whole body's weight is on the right foot, the right foot is substantial and the left foot is insubstantial, and vice versa." (T'ai Chi Ch'uan for Health and Self-defense: Philosophy and Practice, Vintage Books, 1977, p. 66). He goes on to argue: "If one can distinguish between the insubstantial and the substantial the movement of steps and turning of the body will be light and nimble. Otherwise they will be heavy and clumsy and ... it is called double-weighting" (p. 66). Of course you need not put your whole body weight on one foot for it to be seen as the substantial one. Even in a 60-40 stance there is still a clear enough distinction between substantial and insubstantial. There should always be little yin in the yang and a little yang in the yin as the eyes in the intertwined double-fish yin-yang symbol suggest. As T.T. Liang argues: "If you want to avoid the defect of double-weighting you must know the principle of Yin and Yang. Yin is insubstantial and Yang is substantial"(T'ai Chi Ch'uan for Health and Self-defense p. 43). In his book, Overcoming Arthritis, Paul Lam puts it this way: "During the course of tai chi movement the feet step apart and yin and yang seem to separate. The foot bearing the weight is yang the other foot is yin" (Overcoming Arthritis, DK Publishing, 2002, p. 95).
What has always concerned me about the TCA Form is that in the most repeated movement of the Form, the open and close hands or qigong movement, yin and yang are not clearly distinguished in the stance. In fact the description of the form in the Overcoming Arthritis book shows a diagram of the end of first movement clearly labelled: "Feet should be shoulder's width apart ... Weight equally distributed" (p.114). The second movement is, of course, Open and Close hands. When I teach this to beginners I encourage them to slowly straighten their knees slightly as they open their hands and to sink their weight again as they close them. This is not just because their knees may not yet have the strength to allow them to stay low for the entire Form, but also because it teaches them to coordinate the movements of the upper and lower body. This is in accordance with another of the ten essential principles of tai chi (SeeTai Chi for Arthritis Handbook p. 55). T. T. Liang, in his commentary on this guiding principle observes that this too is derived from the Tai Chi Classics and concludes: "If one part moves and the other parts do not move, the whole body will be in confusion" (T'ai Chi Ch'uan for Health and Self-defense p. 66).
I think it is important to compare how we do the forms with the Tai Chi Classics because such principles "provide a focus that will keep your Tai Chi practice fresh, interesting and challenging" (Tai Chi for Arthritis Handbook p. 53). In an article "On Being a Good Student" published in T"ai Chi: The International Magazine of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Alex Yeo, a tai chi instructor from Singapore, suggests that one reason for becoming familiar with the Tai Chi Classics is that, as his teacher's teacher liked to ask of each movement in the form being taught: "How do you think this movement fits [this or that sentence in the classics]?" (T"ai Chi Magazine , Vol. 27 No. 6, Dec. 2003, p. 9). So what about the Open and Close Hands movement in the TCA Form? Is the equal weight distribution here the error of doubleweightedness? T. T. Liang's teacher, Cheng Manching, has the clearest statement of the principle that I have seen: "If the weight is divided between the two feet, this is double-weightedness" (Tai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions, Sweet Ch'i Press, 1986, p. 18).
To gain some idea how important this particular principle is seen to be, even among Western practitioners, we can look again to T"ai Chi Magazine, one of the longest running English language publications devoted to tai chi. For some years they have had a policy of republishing articles of particular importance which they had published in their earlier years. One such article, entitled "On the Meaning of Double-Weighting" by the late Dr. Wen Zee of Shanghai originally published in 1986, was republished in 2004, two years after the author's death (T"ai Chi Magazine, Vol. 28, No. 2, June 2004, p. 55). Not only does the act of republication indicate the importance ascribed to the principle, but the little article itself is most useful for gaining a better understanding of doubleweightedness. The author argues that "Every movement stance or posture in T'ai Chi Ch'uan comprises void and solid kinetically" (T"ai Chi Magazine , Vol. 28, No. 2, June 2004, p.55). In order to explain this distinction between "void and solid," or what we have been calling "insubstantial and substantial" Dr. Wen Zee introduces the metaphor of pedalling a bicycle. When you push down on one pedal you must ease up on the other and let it rise. If you put equal weight on both pedals at once they don't turn, the wheels don't turn, and the bicycle goes nowhere. I think it is most interesting that Master T. T. Liang also uses the bicycle pedal metaphor in exactly the same way. (T'ai Chi Ch'uan for Health and Self-defense p. 42). The bicycle metaphor is particularly apt here because Tai Chi and qigong are, of course, all about balancing Qi. If we are guilty of doubleweightedness or do not correctly alternate yin and yang while pedalling a bicycle it will not move forward and we will eventually lose our balance and crash.
So how do we teach avoiding the error of doubleweightedness using the TCA Form? As Dr. Wen Zee warns: "The theory of void and solid is difficult to appreciate for the beginners." He goes on to note that "If the tutor does not stress this key point and explain to the students, the clever one who can keep on in training may gain understanding anyway, while others will never know what the matter is." (T"ai Chi Magazine , Vol. 28, No. 2, June 2004, p. 55). I myself am obviously not one of "the clever ones". The breakthrough for me came in September of 2004 when Master Zeng Nailiang, retired head coach of the Chinese National Wushu Team, visited our Association (The Peng You Taiji Quan Association) to teach an intensive week-long workshop on Sun style Tai Chi Chuan. Master Zeng is a specialist in Sun Style as well as the modern New Style Competition Forms. He is, for example, responsible, along with Prof. Kan Gui Xiang, for the new 42 Sword Competition Form, which he introduced to us on his previous visit the year before. On his return. he provided refresher workshops on the sword forms, but his main focus was to introduce us to a shortened 37 Form Sun Style which he was also responsible for creating based on the longer 73 Form competition routine. I was very pleased and honoured that he asked me to demonstrate the 73 Form with him, just the two of us, at his going away party. But it was through the week long workshop on his 37 Form that I learned how to make the forms flow in a way I had never fully understood before.
In the open and close hands movement he taught us to shift some weight slowly to one foot as we opened hands and to shift weight to the other foot as we closed hands, continuing to shift weight fully to that foot at the end of close hands to be ready for the next move, whether it be step into single whip or brush knee. I could see immediately that this simple adjustment in the way I had been doing the Sun Style made the transition between movements much more fluid and seemed to make the whole Form flow more smoothly. He taught many other such adjustments, of course. For example, in the transition to brush knee from close hands, the hands circle into the ready-for-brush=knee position rather than moving there directly. Further, in order to drive the arms in such circles, the waist begins turning slightly in the opposite direction to the major turn, providing a little bit of yin in the yang of the movement (where yin and yang here mean passive and active rather than empty and solid, or insubstantial and substantial). I am sure you have to try it in order to understand the description. Rather than going into more detail on such minor adjustments I will conclude by discussing how I have attempted to apply and teach the insight into doubleweightedness in my advanced TCA class.
The advanced class consists of students who have taken a minimum of three ten week TCA courses at the beginner / intermediate level. They can perform the full 12 movements in both directions and have at least started to learn the "nine new moves." Many of our students (my wife Mary Lou and I team teach all courses) have been with us for four years, continuously through twelve ten week courses. Paul Lam has conducted workshops at our Association on three occasions to date. In fact, five of our advanced students are also certified TCA instructors. Counting Mary Lou and myself, there are, then, usually seven certified instructors in the classroom at any one time. Yes, on occasion the certified instructors have nearly outnumbered the students. We joke about such a favourable student-teacher ratio. Some of our advanced students are also long-time members of the Peng You Taiji Quan Association and take regular classes in Yang Style, the 8, 16 and popular 24 Forms, as well as the 48 Combined Forms and Tai Chi Sword and Fan. We have for the past few years been most fortunate to have an extremely dedicated and very proficient advanced class which continues to be a pleasure to conduct.
In introducing them to some of Master Zeng's adjustments, I talk about the Tai Chi Classics and doubleweightedness using the some of the sources discussed above. While doing so, I take them through the Form. I will describe the first two moves as an example.
We begin, as usual, with heels together, toes pointing to the corners at the front of the room. We raise arms to shoulder height, palms facing each other, fingers pointing straight ahead and slightly down as if the hands are are experiencing some resistance as they rise. Weight is equally distributed on both feet, knees unlocked. I usually ask them to visualize reaching for the horizon but keeping their arms rounded, elbows slightly bent (unlocked), shoulders down. We then sink the weight by bending the knees slightly while lowering the arms to hip level. The weight it still equally divided between both feet. Now, as the hands circle in to the abdomen and and up to chest height we shift the weight to the right foot, lift up the left heel and step forward with the left foot placing the heel down, but still keeping all the weight on the right foot. This is the beginning of the separation of yin and yang, insubstantial and subsantial. I tell them yin and yang will continue to alternate from this point on throughout the entire Form. This is also a good point to introduce the metaphor of pedalling a bicycle discussed above. We then shift the weight to the left foot (allow the energy to flow into, to fill, the left leg) while pushing both hands forward (handing the ball). Follow step with right foot, placing it parallel with the left, toes pointing forward, feet shoulder width apart. Here I talk about the principle in the Tai Chi Classics that one must coordinate the movement of the upper and lower body. So when the hands stop moving forward, the right foot has landed; it too stops moving. I keep telling them: "When one part of the body stops, the whole body stops. When one part of the body moves, the whole body moves." (I am sure they think I repeat this far too often).
We had been used to shifting the weight evenly between both feet at this point. Now, however, I suggest we begin to shift the weight to the right foot as we bend the elbows and point the fingers toward the ceiling with hands in front of the chest, palms still facing each other, in open and close hands position. As we open hands we continue to shift weight to the right foot (about 60-40), then shift weight back to the left leg as we close hands. We will continue to shift weight completely to the left leg as we turn the waist and step into the next move, single whip, which, of course, involves shifting the weight back to the right (again, about 60-40). I am not suggesting any change or innovation in teaching single whip or the following move, cloud hands. They already involve continuously alternating yin and yang. All I am doing with the advanced class is extending this yin yang separation to the teaching of open and close hands.
In open and close hands we can also visualize energy flowing from one leg into the other as we coordinate shifting our weight with the opening and closing of our hands. However, at this point it is important to remind the class that Tai Chi is an internal martial art and that any weight shift must therefore be an internal weight shift. I tell them we don't want to see them swaying back and forth like trees in a wind storm. I also remind them of a teaching strategy I use in the beginner's class. This consists of using a child's toy called a slinky to demonstrate the way our weight should shift in tai chi stepping. The slinky is a long spiral coil which, many of you will remember, can walk down a flight of stairs by flipping end over end as the coils gently flow from the higher level to the lower. To demonstrate how our weight should shift I hold the slinky in front of me with one end resting in each hand. As I alternately raise and lower my hands we can see the coils slowly flowing from one hand to the other. I ask the class to visualize energy flowing slowly and gently up out of one leg, through the abdomen, and down into the other leg as they shift their weight to that leg. Their energy or weight should flow from one leg to the other just like the slinky, slowly, evenly and continuously. When they can see the slinky right there in front of them, they can more easily internalize the weight shift. It is actually quite amazing to watch them. They usually begin by swaying considerably from side to side as they concentrate on shifting the weight smoothly and slowly. Then gradually, as they think about internalizing the weight-shift following the slinky, the swaying begins to decrease until, finally, it is barely perceptible. In the beginners class, I use this technique when teaching cloud hands. It also works equally well to introduce yin yang separation in the open and close hands form.
The beauty of the weight shift in the open and close hands form is that it sets you up for the next move. You do not have to start the next move by shifting your weight, as you have already done so or at least are in the process of so doing. This is, in part, what makes the entire Form flow more smoothly. It is, therefore, important to make sure that you end up with your weight on the correct foot. This requires some planning. You will have to work it out. For example, if you want to do a left brush knee after open and close hands, you will have to shift weight to the left while opening hands and then back to the right during close hands. Once you go through the entire Form in both directions a few times you should find the shifting will become second nature. I hope you will agree that the entire Form will feel more flowing, more a part of you. We sometimes like to tell our class to let the Form perform you rather than trying to perform the Form.
In conclusion, I would remind you that our suggestion to introduce the yin yang weight shift into the open and close hands part of the TCA Form should only be attempted in advanced classes. We do not recommend teaching this at the introductory level. There is enough detail to get through as it is. It is important to concentrate on coordinating the breathing with the open and close hands, and to get people with arthritis moving through a complete Form as soon as possible. Further details and greater depth can be added later.
I am sure Paul Lam had this in mind when he created the TCA Form. I take this as simply a larger application of his step by step teaching method. Just as we break down each movement in the Form into smaller parts which we practice over and over before putting it altogether into, say, a complete brush knee, so there is only so much we can teach about the entire Form in an introductory class. We always add more and more sophisticated detail as our understanding of tai chi grows These are the features which I believe make Paul Lam's Tai Chi for Arthritis Form one of the best vehicles for introducing beginners not just to Sun Style Tai Chi but to the fundamental principles of Tai Chi Chuan itself.
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Being at the one-week workshop was like living in another world altogether, a world of peace and tranquility with no worries and living only with one focus in mind-tai chi and good health.
I started tai chi approximately four years ago, having done it in combination with kung fu as a teenager in Malaysia When I started tai chi four years ago, I didn't know the impact it would have on my life two years later.
I have always been a "sporty" type of person and once my family was completed, I decided that it was time to "get into action" again. I took up karate and yoga when I was in my 30s and had to give up karate just prior to getting a black belt when I suffered a prolapsed inter-vertebral disc. Then I took up weight training with the aim of strengthening my back.
I got hooked on weight training and would describe myself as a gym junkie, reaching my goal of bench-pressing my bodyweight. Then I suffered a shoulder injury. Twelve months later, I discovered I also had chondromalacia (disease of the lining of the knee joint) of both knees.
At that point, I decided to take up tai chi seriously and enrolled in the TCA (Tai Chi for Arthritis) course in May 2003. Two weeks before the workshop, I was told I had to have a mastectomy. I did not let this hold me back and went ahead with the workshop knowing that I would have surgery two weeks after. I put my whole mind into TCA and started planning where I would try to start my classes after getting my leader's certificate. The surgery went smoothly, and I was out of hospital in less than a week. Two weeks after, I was interviewed at the local community centre and told I could start a class. Two months after my surgery, my class for TCA commenced. As you can see, I had no time to think about my surgery.
I have never asked "why me?" because I feel that if it is not me, it would be someone else and I have always been a believer in things happening for a reason. Besides, if anything "bad" were to happen, I would like it to be me and not my family because I know I can handle it. In October the same year (five months after the mastectomy), I had an arthroscopic capsulotomy (key hole operation of the capsule) on my shoulder. To finish off a "great" year, I had an MRI of my left hip in December and was diagnosed with a labral tear (tear at the joint of hip). Through out all of this, I purchased several of your videos and learned the 24, 42, 73 and 32 sword on my own at home. Without tai chi, I know by now, I'd be a mess and probably be in a state of depression. My family knows that I am crazy about tai chi and my children gave me your videos as presents for Mothers Day, birthday and Christmas all in the same year. Now you know why I have been so interested in your own experience as an arthritis sufferer and how tai chi has helped you.
Currently, I give four TCA classes and students are my biggest inspiration. I marvel at their enthusiasm and their desire and willingness to learn and do something positive to mange their arthritis.
And it's back to the old adage: If they can do it, so can I. I attend a tai chi school as a student twice a week, work as a midwife on the weekends and, of course, look after my wonderful family. So you can see, I have no time to be depressed following my exciting year of 2003.
…Thank you for your words of encouragement and inspiration during our chat.
Look forward to seeing you at the Back Pain workshop in April.
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END OF NEWSLETTER
Warning: Dr. Lam does not necessarily endorse the opinion of other authors. Before practicing any program featured in this newsletter, please check with your physician or therapist. The authors and anyone involved in the production of this newsletter will not be held responsible in any way whatsoever for any injury which may arise as a result of following the instructions given in this newsletter.