Newsletter #28 - November 2003
- Edinburgh and Oslo - By Dr Paul Lam
- Poems for the Instructors and the 36 Chen Forms - By Eileen Landry
- Asilomar: The Beautiful Resort - By Stephanie Taylor
- From Judo to Tai Chi - By Jan Davis
- My Story from Oslo - By Ingeborg Mageroy
- How to improve Qi - By Dr Paul Lam
- Menopause and Funny Bone - By Your Health (a health newsletter)
The first workshop was held in Stirling, Scotland, a small historic town between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The town hero was sir William Wallace who had fought the English kings and lost his life. The movies depicted story in "Brave Heart." Without being biased toward an Australian, I thought Mel Gibson's performance was magnificent. In fact, the town has a new statue of Sir William with Mel's face. See photo.
My son came with me after the workshop and we toured the Wallace memorial and the Stirling castle. The memorial is high and lonely and the castle very tall, big and threatening. I'm including some photos for your opinion.
The workshop had very high quality participants including Ellen from Switzerland who was in a Sydney workshop early this year; Ute from Germany; Ian from Arthritis Care; and, Netta from North Ireland. Derek did a great job organizing so the workshop ran really smoothly. In addition to coordinating everything, Derek also assisted me in both Part I and part II classes.
After the workshop we spent one day in Edinburgh which was beautiful. We found that the Scottish people have great character. We stayed at a B & B near the city park. It was super, almost like a fairy tale house; and breakfast was quite something. Like a first class restaurant, we were given a fancy menu with fancy food to match. As I was talking to another guest during this amazing breakfast, I looked around the wall and saw a couple of Chinese paintings and recognized the signatures. The Chows are a famous husband and wife Chinese paint team from Hong Kong (now living in Miami). Mr. Chow is now 92 and is quite healthy except he doesn't travel as extensively he used to. He is also a well-known tai chi teacher and a friend of my father-in-law who is now 91 and also quite healthy. Some of you might recall that my father in law was my first serious tai chi teacher.
Mr. Chow (the famous painter) told me that many years ago he was unhealthy and his doctor told him to start tai chi, he owes his health and longevity to tai chi. Back in Hong Kong when my wife was a teenager, she studied Chinese brush painting and calligraphy under the Chows for many years. When I talked to the owner B & B, Richard, he told me that his late mother left him those paintings and that she, too, was a student of Mr. and Mrs. Chow back in China for many years. Richard didn't know anything about Mr. and Mrs. Chow so he was glad to find out who they are. How about that for a personal connection between the three corners of the world?
You can see those paintings and their proud owner standing next to them here.
On the way to the hotel my host, Dr Till Uhlig, a visionary rheumatologist from Diakonhjemmet hospital, told me that Norwegians have a love affair with their country's nature. He and his physical therapist colleague, Camilla, made great effort to show us how beautiful Norway is. The capital, Oslo, is indeed close to nature. A quick train ride took us to unspoiled mountains and lakes. Camilla, a true nature lover, took us walking and biking through the mountains. These photos don't show the real beauty of Norway, I hope they show enough to entice you to find out yourself.
I found the Norwegians very friendly, maybe even a little shy to start with, but their friendliness and sincerity are irresistible. Whenever I stopped a stranger to ask for directions, without exception, they would stop whatever they were doing, take time to study my map and give me detailed and clear instructions carefully and patiently. I ask directions frequently since I get lost easily. (I heard my friend and editor Nancy saying "NO KIDDING!" she too gets lost easily. We certainly got lost a lot when traveling together.) I have never come across a city with so many helpful people.
The workshop participants were mainly health professionals, but there were a few others including three experienced, skilled and open-minded tai chi instructors. It was well organized, and held in the physical therapy department of the Diakonhjemmet hospital. This hospital is renowned for its rheumatology department. All the participants were wonderful; I was amazed that right at the beginning, everyone took out a pen and a pad ready to write. (They do make notes frequently.) I loved their enthusiasm for Tai Chi for Arthritis.
There were many interesting episodes. For instance I talked to Ingeborg, a participant, and also Dr Till Uhlig's patient. She told me that a friend gave her my Tai Chi for Arthritis video to see if it helped her rheumatoid arthritis. And she did gain improvement while working with the video. Although I have known many people like her, it's always a great thrill to meet them in person. I feel that even if our effort of creating this program results in improving one person's quality of life, it would have been worth it. In this issue, Ingeborg tells us her experience in her own words.
My friends tell me that I notice odd things at times; so let me tell you about the toilet (restroom) in Oslo. The national central train stations have trains from all over Europe. (The great thing about travelling in Europe is that except for security they don't do luggage checks for custom, passport, immigration and all the hassles when moving between countries.) The station is grand and very clean, but you will have to pay about USD$1.80 for a visit to the toilet. Just imagine nature calling and you haven't got Norwegian money! As a globetrotter, I expected that public facilities would be provided in an international train station. But once you get inside it's almost like a hotel room with your own wash basin, hand towel and almost enough space to practice tai chi. Not bad for the most expensive city in the world. Later on I found that most European countries do charge for using the toilet, but not as expensive. No wonder soft drinks don't sell so well there. I have heard some horror stories of people getting caught with full bladders and no correct change. Wow! I wonder what do the homeless people do.
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Cover hand and punch with fist
Leave nothing uncovered
nothing missed, nothing disabled
and harbor no regret
inside the heart
Practice no avenue of escape
leave no opponent
oppressed unless warned
and when you walk:
count the blessings in your
make sure your strike is
just and sane
and take no target
part the wild horse's mane
and we will recall with wide smile
the placement of your fist in toil
the course of your mastery to the eye
and we will bless you by and by,
How nice it is to bend like the bark of
a sturdy tree
and yet to keep a crease
To explore the senses
like a straight-backed boar
but sift the wind like the
wing of a bird
exploring the heavens
Caroline, you are a magic dancer!
a swiftly subtle slowness
in a happy wind
Poem for the 36 Forms Chen style
1. OPENING FORM
How can energy
Be born of nothing
Or the consummation of substance
Come from nothingness?
I stir air and lift my hands
and I worry not about
How it all began.
2. GOLDEN GUARD STAMPING FOOT - RIGHT
Strength is not in the posture
Just take a deeper glance
at how the speed of the fist adjusts
how the palm expresses jest
and the force of intention
3. LEISURELY TYING COAT
the slide and curve of life is
but the strong redress challenge
and find grace
4. WHITE CRANE FLASHES WINGS
Just when you have mastered yourself
watch out for the call of complacency
The wise know that the flashing of the wing
Is practiced to appear a natural thing
5. STEP DIAGONALLY FORWARD AND TWIST STEP
You can't fake clarity
Precision is one of those
Rare-bred birds that soar
And you rarely see a flashing of a wing.
6. LIFT KNEE AND WITHDRAW HANDS
Balance on a thin string
is easy for
7. FORWARD BLOCK
Sometimes it's the simple things
that make us stumble most
this is why the effective hold onto principles
8. COVER HANDS AND PUNCH WITH FIST
I am the sound of the gong
The circling of the moon on watch
yellow along the heavenly floor
peaceful upon the earth
Do not challenge me as I spark the stars
or travel the orbit I must repeat
I am impervious to other light
and I thunder when I speak
9. DOUBLE PUSH HANDS
If one gets caught in thinking
Hope the timing is good
if not, meet your challenge
10. PUNCH UNDER ELBOW
Start one way go another
what's a warrior to do?
Recognize in the journey
the counterfeit from the jewel.
Observe the puppeteer
he manipulates with string
but we must strike with air
11. REPULSE MONKEY
If you look at
the tree bard
I am the color
of the bark
If you look at the leaf
I am the color of the leaf
If you look at
I am the color of the
and if you look at
I am there.
12. STEP BACK AND PRESS ELBOW
You can wrap yourself up
with gold and silver
and give fancy voice some air
but it is in the core essential
that a warrior strikes and snares
13. LEFT AND RIGHT PARTING HORSE'S MANE
Swiftness is chaos
if it is not organized
it will not hit a mark
no matter how loud the quack
14. LEFT AND RIGHT GOLDEN COCK STANDING ON ONE LEG
Bird is light-footed
his beauty is easy to imitate
But doing so leaves too much
The effective do not get troubled by
15. SIX BLOCKING AND FOUR CLOSING -RIGHT STYLE
Do not underestimate my reach
often, the pattern of my foot
or the pounding of my fist
state opinion, trepidation, or fear
But often, they demand resistance
and are resourceful and clear
So remember this:
if I pool my strength
you might mistake the length of my reach
or confuse my stance for jest
Best be vigilant before you decide which
or, I will strike your protest markedly and swift
To be continued next month…
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Asilomar Conference Grounds will be the location for the June 2004 Tai Chi Workshop, USA. Asilomar, which means "refuge by the sea," is located in Pacific Grove, California and is a California State Park.
Asilomar's 107 acres are dedicated to a natural ecological environment and front directly on to the Pacific Ocean. Comfortable lodges and meeting rooms are scattered over the property. We will have our morning meeting in the famous Merrill Hall designed by Julia Morgan. From 1913 to 1928, she designed 16 structures at Asilomar. We will take our meals together in the Crocker Hall. We will have a breakfast and lunch, or a breakfast, lunch and dinner combination. A vegetarian option is available. The accommodations are comfortable and relaxing. Single rooms are available, but costs can be reduced by sharing. Twin, triple and four-bed facilities are available. Each room has its own bath.
Its dedication to serve nature, exemplified by the park district, makes Asilomar a perfect location for tai chi. The closest airport is Monterey, but San Jose and San Francisco are also options if you would like to rent a car. The Airbus will deliver you from San Francisco or San Jose directly to Asilomar, but you need to budget a little time for this.
Monterey's local attractions make it a popular holiday place for families. These attractions include great golf at Pebble Beach or many other courses, shopping, a vast selection of art works and wine tours as well as the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can obtain more information by calling the Monterey Chamber of Commerce at 831-648-5360 or log on to www.visitasilomar.com
Another fun thing to do is to board a bus that takes you to the shooting locations of all the movies made on the Peninsula. You'll see movie clips and hear stories. For more information, go to www.montereymovietours.com. We look forward to seeing you in 2004.
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The first time I saw judo, I fell in love with it. I took it up at age 10. After years of training, I opened my own judo school, one of the largest in Queensland. Over the years, I won many local, state and national championships and at age 18, I was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for my service to judo and the community. More awards and medals followed. And then in 2000, my world came crashing down. I was diagnosed with severe, active rheumatoid arthritis.
My husband and I had just retired from the workforce and moved to Hervey Bay to enjoy the fishing. But my once strong body was starting to fall apart. I couldn't get out of bed in the mornings and had trouble dressing. The pain was unbearable. My rheumatologist immediately started me on disease-modifying drugs, but the next 12 months were a nightmare, having to try one drug after another until one finally worked.
Meanwhile, my doctors advised me to exercise and because I couldn't do my judo, I turned to another martial art-tai chi. I joined a group called Tai Chi for Health. When I first started, I struggled off to tai chi every morning. My body was always stiff and sore, and I tired easily. There were many times when I could have given up, when my feet, ankles and knees felt so weak that I couldn't keep my balance. I stuck with it though, and have been doing tai chi for three years. This, combined with my medication, has given me a life again.
Tai chi has improved my fitness, balance, flexibility and has strengthened my muscles. I still get some flare-ups and get tired, however, I'm back teaching what I love doing. I'm teaching Tai Chi for Arthritis and also Diabetes and am looking forward to a lifetime journey of improving my tai chi and overcoming my illness
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I got the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in the autumn of 1998. One year later the arthritis had taken over my whole body. I couldn't function either day or night. Everything I did hurt. So I fled the cold and humidity of Norway, where I live, and I spent my first two weeks in Gran Canaria. I benefited so much from this, that I brought my family there for one month later that winter, and then the whole of the next two winters. My life down there consisted of training in a gym and in hot water, treatment, and spending a lot of time in the sun. It helped, a lot. During the first of those two winters, my knees, which had been swollen, painful and very weak, were practically healed. I guess I owe it mostly to all the hours I spent on a bike in the gym.
My rheumatologist would probably say that the medication he put me on (Metothrexate), which had started to work the summer before, also deserves some credit here. He is probably right. But the rest of my body still troubled me, especially my shoulders. So when I came down there in August 2001 for my second winter, my focus was to achieve the same for my shoulders as I had for my knees. I kept on with exercise and swimming in hot water, I had physiotherapy twice a week, I went to the gym almost every day, I was in the sun. I did everything my physiotherapist told me to. By the middle of December my shoulders showed no improvement. I had my birthday at that time, and a good friend back home in Norway (who's been practicing tai chi for years) sent me a present. It was a videotape called "Tai Chi for Arthritis." "This must be something for you," she wrote. It was.
I started practicing, following the instructions of the videotape. I felt immediately that something good was happening. Long before I had even learned the 12 movements properly, I felt improvement in my shoulders. There was warmth, blood circulation, more mobility. My shoulders came to life again! It felt like those tight joints loosened up and regained space. And then, remarkably fast, the pain vanished and the strength came back. I had had big problems with hanging up a towel. I had to bend down to the floor to brush my hair, etc. Now gradually I could do these things more and more easily, the normal way, without pain. But it wasn't just my shoulders that benefited. My neck and arms became less painful, and I got more energy overall. And of course I slept better at night. And, maybe the most important: My depression disappeared. On bad days, normally due to bad weather, not only had my body been affected but my mind as well-sometimes even more severely than my body. During those days I could see no solution to any problem, and I felt totally useless. I cried a lot. Now, during January 2002 I noticed that bad weather didn't affect me that way anymore. It did, and still does, affect my body to a certain extent, but not my mood!
I still have arthritis. On days of bad weather, I'm still reminded of it. There are variations all the time in my condition, and my hands and feet are painful now and then. But I spent most of last winter at home in Norway, and I intend to stay home even more this winter, because it works just fine. Imagine what that stability means to my two children who are 7 and 10. I feel that I have control now. I can make plans for my life. I practice tai chi almost every day, and my knees and shoulders are still fine, even on rainy days, and those days still don't affect my mood. And it all came from a videotape.
I have a lot of things to be grateful for. Among those, I am so grateful that there is a doctor on the other side of the planet who has taken the trouble to record his tai-chi program for arthritis on video, and distribute it all over the world. And I am so grateful that I have a friend who found a copy and took the trouble to send it to me.
After all these months of practice with only the videotape to instruct me, I was very excited when my rheumatologist in Oslo, Dr. Uhlig, told me that you where coming here to lead a workshop for health professionals. Knowing how eager I was, he encouraged me to join, even though I'm just a patient. I am grateful to him, too. It was truly a great inspiration to have "live" instructions from the master himself. And to be authorised to instruct fellow arthritis patients and bring the benefits of tai chi to more people.
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According Chinese Traditional Medicine, qi is the life energy we were born with in abundance. This life energy governs our health and vitality. It mobilises blood and body fluid, maintaining the bodily function and substantiating inner strength. Stronger qi will make one healthier. In tai chi, qi is the driving force of the internal power.
Qi circulates throughout the body. Small amounts slowly dissipate through the crown of the head. That's why, as we get older, our qi and therefore vitality diminishes. The core training of tai chi is to cultivate qi, thus providing inner strength and better health. There are virtually thousands of different Chinese martial arts, all of which can be broadly classified into two types: the internal and external. The major difference is the emphasis on cultivation of qi for the internal styles. Tai chi is the most famous and popular internal style.
In tai chi, the methods of cultivating qi are consistent with the fundamental principles of tai chi. They include: using the mind and not the harsh force. They incorporate a breathing method, control of movements, mental focus etc. For these essential principles, please read my article "The Essential Tai Chi Principles for Beginners" and "The Variation of Speed." Below I will discuss some important ways to cultivate qi.
Learning to feel your Qi
Every living being has qi, only humans can be taught to feel it. Feeling your qi, helps to cultivate it even more. You know you are practising correctly when you feel your qi is strong and natural. Qi can be different to different people. As your tai chi level progresses, you might develop your own description of what you feel. Most beginners feel a warm and somewhat heavy feeling, most commonly in the centre of the palms, in the arms, in the dan tian (an area about three finger breadths below the belly button and slightly inside) and in the centre of soles. Some people feel qi travels along the body like warm water or a gentle electrical current. Some people might just feel something different on these areas. Generally the feeling is warm and pleasant. It could be said that when you are feeling good, your qi is usually good.
If you want to practice feeling your qi, the Four Qigong Exercises in my "Tai Chi for Beginners" system (also named the Step Four of the Six Easy Steps) will help.
Do them in the right order, and when you reach the fourth exercise, Yin-Yang Harmony, notice that qi is circulating in a microcosmic circle so that it doesn't escape through the crown, but rather replenishes itself. This explains why practicing tai chi helps to retain vitality. By practicing these exercises regularly, you'll feel the qi growing stronger and be able to establish the correct posture and inner feeling. If you encounter any problem, though, please consult a doctor, or if you're not progressing as well as you think, you should then work with a good teacher.
Once you can feel the qi and understand how to enhance it, apply this skill in your normal tai chi practice and you will find your practice more effective.
Reaching the Unconscious
We know that stress is bad for us, but most of us can't consciously make ourselves relax no matter how hard we try. The inner tension is not controllable by the conscious mind and that's why we can't relax whenever we want to. Qi can be a key to reach the unconscious mind.
Focus not on how to relax but on the essential principles of tai chi, e.g., maintain an upright posture which allows the qi to flow better; loosen all the joints which opens the energy channels to facilitate the flow of qi; be aware of your movements. Be aware of your mental stage and focus on serenity.
Imagine yourself in a quiet environment such as a tranquil rainforest. Imagine yourself becoming quiet from within, feeling mentally balanced and serene, and focusing on what your body is doing.
When you're focusing well and practicing tai chi correctly, your qi will feel stronger, and thus you become more relaxed. Your unconscious responds to this method, making the qi a pathway to help you control the unconscious.
Qi continues to grow with regular practice, and so does your skill in improving your qi. The reverse is true if you stop practicing. You will slip back like rowing a boat against a current. (The current is the normal aging and degenerating process.)
Dan Tian exercises
As you reach higher level, you could add this exercise. Imagine that inside your Dan Tian there is a trackball which corresponds to all parts of the body. Visualise using this ball to control the body. For example, moving the upper right hand corner higher makes your right arm moves upward. The qi ball moves in the same direction as your body. As Dan Tian is the qi storage house, the control ball connecting qi to the body flow. This method mobilises the qi very effectively, but it is more suitable for advanced practitioners.
To improve qi, practice your tai chi regularly and correctly. The four qigong exercises help to facilitate your improvement of both qi and tai chi.
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MENOPAUSE. WHAT'S NEW?
1. HRT and breast cancer
Around the time of the last menstrual period (menopause), many women start hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to relieve hot flushes/night sweats, mood swings, irritability, insomnia and a dry vagina.
Recent research has confirmed that there is a small increase in breast cancer risk when 'combined' HRT (oestrogen + progestogen) is taken longer than 5 years. However, most women require HRT for only 2 - 3 years until symptoms settle. Combined HRT taken for less than 5 years does NOT increase breast cancer risk.
Women who have had a hysterectomy and take oestrogen only (no progestogen), do not appear to be at increased risk.
2. The latest form of HRT
A new oestrogen nasal spray has recently become available and gives excellent relief from menopausal symptoms. The standard dose is one spray in each nostril once a day.
The spray is convenient to use and causes less breast tenderness than oestrogen tablets and patches. It may cause irritation in the nose and sneezing. However these reactions are mostly
short-lived and mild.
3. Other treatments
Several antidepressant medications, such as paroxetine and venlafaxine, have recently been shown to effectively reduce the severity and frequency of hot flushes.
Another drug, tibolone relieves menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. It also prevents osteoporosis and increases libido (interest in sex).
4. Natural remedies for menopause
Black cohosh is a safe and well-tolerated herbal remedy which is often effective in treating hot flushes. On the other hand, wild yam cream, progesterone cream, evening primrose oil and dong quai are not effective. The results of research into phytoestrogens is mixed and their effectiveness is uncertain. Lifestyle changes may help. Try reducing spicy food, alcohol, hot food and drinks and have regular relaxation.
A patient goes to the doctor with a carrot in one ear, a bean in the other and a pea in each nostril.
He asks, 'Doctor, I am not feeling well. What is wrong with me?'
The doctor replies 'You're not eating properly'.
A man is at home drinking a few beers and there is a knock at the door. He opens it and sees a huge cockroach. The cockroach punches him in the face and runs off.
He reflects on this the next day and thinks he must have had too much beer.
The next night he has no beer and there is a knock at the door.
He opens the door and the huge cockroach is there again. The cockroach kicks him in the shins, pushes him over and leaves.
He realises that it was not the beer. He goes to the doctor and asks, 'Am I crazy? I think I have been beaten up by a giant cockroach'.
The doctor replies, 'No you're not mad. There is a nasty bug going around'.
Doctor, doctor, I swallowed a bone.
Are you choking?
No, I really did!
Doctor, doctor, I've got wind! Can you give me something?
Yes - here's a kite.
Doctor, doctor, my little boy has just swallowed a roll of film!
Hmmm. Let's hope nothing develops.
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