Newsletter #78 - February 2008
-- Some fond memories of the Sydney annual workshop, by Robin Malby
-- How to improve your tai chi ‘outside the box’: inner and outer alignment, by Caroline Demoise
-- My road to health and harmony through tai chi, by Dr Janet Cromb
-- How tai chi has improved my health and wellbeing, by Beryl Appleby
-- What is your ‘absolute’ risk of cardiovascular disease? An article from Your Health magazine
-- Humor, laughter and radiant health, by Dr Bob McBrien
If you want to apply for one of the Tai Chi for Health Community’s scholarships for the June workshop please go to the Community’s website.
In this newsletter
• Robin, from California, came to the January workshop in Sydney, her flight was late and someone rolled a heavy suitcase over her little toe! Despite this, she has some fond memories she’d like to share with us.
• Caroline, in a talk she gave to the recent Sydney workshop, explains how focusing on your inner and outer alignment can bring tremendous improvement in your tai chi.
• Janet, in a presentation at the same workshop, talked about her personal road to health and harmony through tai chi.
• Beryl tells us how, in the space of 4 years, tai chi has dramatically improved her health and wellbeing.
• Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the western world. People at high absolute risk have most to gain from preventative strategies. Your Health magazine explains how doctors treat you depending on your ‘absolute’ risk.
• Dr Bob makes sure you have your minimum daily dose of laughs with some delightful examples of children’s views on romance, love and marriage.
February’s special offer
This month, when you buy a Tai Chi for Arthritis Part II DVD, you will get a free copy of the CD ‘Dr Lam Talks you through Tai Chi for Arthritis’. (The CD talks you through both Part I and II). One CD only with each order.
Review of the month
‘As a wife looking after a husband with Alzheimer’s disease, I am used to having to look for help, and always feeling guilty, that I am inadequate for the task of making sure my spouse has the best quality of life possible. I attend the Sydney workshop, always with that feeling of guilt; I have passed on the job of caring for my husband to complete strangers.
‘I get to the workshop and am surrounded by strangers who take time, not knowing my circumstances, to care for me and my wellbeing. Not only the organisers, who do such a great job, but the instructors and those attending for the umpteenth time, as well as the newcomers who slot into the mould of caring without asking questions.
‘So after a day or so, I shuck off the guilt and enjoy and learn and laugh and eat and drink with friends old and new, and come home to take up the care of my husband with renewed vigour and the satisfaction that he will benefit from the time I have taken just for me me Meee…’
Enter your review of any of our products or workshops on our website at: <http://www.taichiproductions.com/forums/index.php> and you will have a chance to win a tai chi music CD too.
Upcoming workshops by Dr Lam
March 8-9, Sydney, Australia
Tai Chi @ Work Instructors training workshop
April 4-5, Melbourne, Australia
Tai Chi 4 Kidz Instructors training workshop
April 19-20th, Sydney, Australia
- Tai Chi for Arthritis Instructors training workshop
- Tai Chi for Arthritis Update and Part II workshop
- Tai Chi for Diabetes Instructors training workshop
- Tai Chi for Diabetes Update and Enhancement workshop
Paul Lam, M.D.
Robin Malby is a Senior Trainer from California and has practiced tai chi for seven years and taught for six. She attended the recent conference in Sydney, Australia.
Now that I have had a week to settle back into my routine in California, I wish to comment on my trip to the 2008 week-long conference and tai chi training at St Vincents College in Sydney.
What a great experience I had, being able to be in Australia for the first time, see a little of Sydney and meet all the Australian Master Trainers, Master Trainer nominees and other attendees. Such a welcoming country and group of people, although I must admit, because a man rolled his very heavy suitcase over my toe at the airport, and because I proceeded to blow up my hair dryer as soon as I checked into my dorm room, I can’t say I was immediately impressed with this new country.
All that aside, here are some of my fond memories of the week-long conference.
The blissful joy of discovering sunshine and summer instead of cold, clammy US weather… The excitement of touring Sydney, an international and European looking city, with its unique architecture… How glad I was to have a comfortable bed and my own sink in my dorm room!... How fun the common meeting room was, with its neat balcony we all sat on and watched while spiraling cockatoos laughed at us from the tree branches… Great restaurants, as soon as I could flip flop my way to them. Those carrot, apple, ginger frappes…Thai food and Chinese and East Indian and even some lamb and yum yum yum… The Woolworths only two blocks away and a cool deli next door that had “to die for” vegetable spring rolls… The excellent teaching of the In Depth 73 class, thanks to teachers Pat and Fiona… How great it is to do the same tai chi form all week long with a group of fellow players, does it get much better than that?... The excellent talks and demos each morning… Realizing that unlike their video personas, Ian and Sybil actually smile a lot… I even tolerated poached eggs and stewed tomatoes at the cafeteria way longer than I would normally endure!
Arriving home to rain and cold, a toe that still hurts and classes to get back to, I already wish I was back at St. Vincent’s, floating in the pool on a Styrofoam noodle.
Thank you to all those who worked hard to teach us, share with us, and welcome us. What a memorable and productive time. And thank you Paul for creating the opportunity.
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How to improve your tai chi “outside the box”, by Caroline Demoise
Caroline Demoise is from North Carolina and is an energy healer and Master Trainer in Dr Paul Lam's international tai chi program. She gave this talk at the 2008 annual workshop in Sydney, Australia.
I love the out of the box topics, because when you get “out of your box”, which means out of your thinking mind and into receptivity and awareness mode, you begin to experience the depth that tai chi has to offer you. Most people rely on their teacher as a guide for how to execute tai chi movements, the steps in the learning process and how to keep improving. These are excellent beginning steps, but there comes a time when you desire to make tai chi your own and you begin to explore it yourself by asking questions, listening for the answers and allowing tai chi to teach you directly during your practice time.
One of the questions I asked myself was “Why is alignment so important?” Alignment training begins with your first class…place your feet parallel to each other, shoulder width apart; adjust your pelvis to open up the lower back; bring your chin in to open the energy gate behind your neck, feel a slight expansion between each vertebrae as you bring your awareness to a straight, tall spine; align shoulders over hips; rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth; extend your scalp energetically toward the ceiling; relax into the structure of this alignment…and so on.
The first layer of understanding came from my study of Traditional Chinese Medicine and reading tai chi classic literature. When we align the body in a certain way, the vital life force, “qi” is able to flow unobstructed through the body and this is a foundation for good health. By relaxing into a good external postural alignment and allowing yourself to sink into a deep mental relaxation that is supported by the outer structure, you can rest deeply into your external alignment and fill all the open space in every cell of your body with qi as you flow through the form. This leaves you feeling relaxed, stimulates your immune system and encourages the energy and fluid flow in the body that is essential to good health. Proper alignment is also crucial in martial art applications. When your alignment is just slightly off, an opponent can easily push you over. Alignment gives you more internal strength and stability. Good posture, which is synonymous with good alignment, maximizes “tensegrity” or structural integrity in your physical body. All of this refers to what I would call an outer alignment.
From your understanding of yin and yang, you are aware that when there is an outer aspect, there must be an inner quality balancing, harmonizing and completing the picture. So I asked myself, “What constitutes inner alignment?.” I was then drawn to contemplate line of central equilibrium, which runs from the bahui point on the top of the head down through the center of the body to the huiyin point between the anus and sexual organs. Central equilibrium, called zhongding in martial art circles, is considered an essential structural alignment to maintain throughout tai chi practice. Anatomically, the pineal gland is located deep in the center of the brain behind the nose and a little above the pituitary gland. This would place it near or on the line of central equilibrium. The pineal is an endocrine gland that starts out larger in infants and gradually shrinks until puberty, a finding leading modern medicine to consider that it may be a vestigial organ of no use to adults. It appears on skull x-rays to have an atrophied look in many adults.
Tai chi movement affects the pineal as it does all endocrine glands by stimulating the flow of energy and encouraging normal functioning. My inner awareness and knowing is that the pineal gland, when stimulated, activates awareness of who you are spiritually. Tai chi practice has a rejuvenating influence on the pineal and stimulates you to vibrate with spiritual consciousness. As you vibrate with spiritual consciousness you are creating an inner alignment that allows you to harmonize with tao and move toward the integration of mind, body and spirit. When you relax your mind and your body you are creating an environment in which to become aware of yourself as spirit. And as you spend more time focusing on your inner landscape you come to know your spiritual nature. Spirit is the softest, most subtle yin component of inner alignment, and posture is the more yang aspect of outer alignment. When you align with spirit and allow spirit to lead your mind, you become a sensitive, aware being who can move through life and respond effectively and efficiently to every situation.
Focusing on both inner and outer alignment brings tremendous improvement in your tai chi. It is not all about the external form, the movements of Chen, Yang, Wu or Sun. You begin by learning the external choreography of your tai chi form and then move inward to focus on experiencing more internal aspects like the flow of energy in the body or creating song in your body by opening, expanding and relaxing joints.
My feeling is that improving your tai chi involves finding excellent teachers to guide your learning process, practicing like there is nothing else more important in your life, and then being open to the inner aspects of feeling and awareness so that you can allow tai chi to teach you directly.
Janet Cromb is a family physician and instructor with Better Health Tai Chi Chuan in Sydney, Australia. She gave this talk and also became a Master Trainer at the 2008 annual workshop in Sydney.
When Paul asked me to give a talk about health and harmony, my first instinct (as a result of my scientific training) was to define the question. So I went to Wikipedia and came up with the World Health Organization definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The medical term is homeostasis which is “the body’s ability to efficiently respond to challenges (stressors) and effectively restore and sustain a state of balance”, which sounded to me like a definition of tai chi. Harmony on the other hand appears to be an arcane study of the use of different pitches occurring simultaneously in music, which just goes to show how much time you can waste by consulting external sources!
So I decided to go inside in my search, which is where it all happens in tai chi anyway. I initially came to tai chi as a refugee from yoga. I had the unfortunate experience of allowing someone else to dictate how far I stretched in a posture and injured myself. So I was looking around to find another exercise that I could do for the rest of my life within my existing limitations of arthritis and injuries – and I found tai chi.
As I applied myself to learning what I thought was just another form of exercise, I found to my surprise so much more. Initially very concerned about what I saw as my limitations, I found that by paying attention to all those details of posture and structure (knees over toes etc) I was not only protecting my body but training my mind in body awareness. Working on my form with one focus each time was refining my physical skills but also my ability to control my mind and to integrate the two.
About this time, Paul asked me to be an instructor. I found to my horror that I was expected to teach this complex art which I had by no means mastered! However I found that in order to teach I had to go more deeply into the form and this began to have a ripple effect in my life. I felt more confident, and the development of my skills and knowledge was being reflected in mounting self awareness as I answered the increasing challenges.
A happy ending, I can hear you thinking? Not so. The past 12 months have been some of the most challenging of my life. Medical and mental health practitioners recognize what they call “red flag events”, things like birth, death, marriage etc which have a significant effect on the health of people who face these events. I have had 3 red flag events in the past year. However, I have come to understand that the benefits of tai chi are not only for physical health but for mental health as well - the ability to be able to control the effect of the emotions in your body. Let me give you an example. I am walking down the street in Melbourne and I start to feel like I am suffocating. My heart is racing, my skin is prickling all over and I feel nauseated (not unlike what I am feeling right now in fact). I recognize a panic attack and after scanning my immediate environment for tigers stalking across the zebra crossing or axe murderers about to leap out of an alley, I realize that the symptoms are all coming from inside my mind. So I take some time to breathe in a tai chi way, focus my mind as I have practiced for many years and soon the symptoms settle. It is quite a strange sensation to be present in your mind during this sort of event, and I can only assume it is what Paul calls “jing” the ability to step back and in some way observe what is happening and to use your training to deal with it.
I have attended several conferences and workshops over the past year on happiness, meditation and mental health and I have listened to many experts give their perspective on these issues. I have come to the conclusion that a great deal of what they talk about – mindfulness, focus, flow and so on – are things that I am already incorporating into my life with tai chi.
So with apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet, tai chi will not protect you from facing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. However, I have found it to be a real lifejacket to support me through the sea of troubles into which I have been tossed. Tai chi or not tai chi? There is no question.
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I teach eight sessions a week but I actually do eleven sessions, three for myself. It is sheer enjoyment and I feel really fantastic when I do tai chi. I started tai chi as a joke for a friend of mine, just to humour her, but she is no longer doing it while I still am. I am feeling much healthier and happier. It gives me such internal energy. Being a teacher you do expend an awful lot of energy, but after the teaching sessions I still feel great. I also go to the gym and swim. I do about seventeen hours of exercise a week so I am very fit. I climbed up the Macquarie steps [a steep and long set of steps in Sydney] and did not stop once! I worked for the local Classic FM station and have recently started compiling my own CD of classical music to do tai chi.
Your absolute risk is your chance of having a cardiovascular event (such as a heart attack or stroke) over a period of time, usually the next 5 years. You are at high absolute risk if you already have cardiovascular disease, diabetes or kidney disease. However, your absolute risk may also be raised if you have some CVD risk factors:
• High blood pressure
• Raised cholesterol
• Overweight and obesity
• Physical inactivity
Increasingly, doctors are basing decisions to treat you on your absolute risk level. For example, a slightly raised blood pressure requires drug treatment in someone with diabetes, because the risk of further cardiovascular events is already high.
On the other hand, a moderately high blood pressure in a young, healthy person at low absolute risk may not require therapy at all. In this situation, the benefits of treatment may not justify the risk of side effects.
The more risk factors you have, the greater is your risk. A mildly raised blood pressure and cholesterol in an overweight person create a substantial increased risk requiring aggressive management.
For best results, treat all your risk factors, not just one or two. Treating your blood pressure is good, however you will get a much greater risk reduction if you lower cholesterol and lose weight as well. For more information go to <www.heartfoundation.com.au>
Have you had your minimum daily requirement of laughs today? Years ago,
Art Linkletter’s television program ‘House Party’ included a segment where he interviewed children. The audience laughter generated when kids would say ‘the darnedest things’ was the high point of the program.
When adults listen to children explain their views of the world, their descriptions frequently generate laughter. Our laughter is magnified by the positive emotions associated with enjoying the innocence of the child’s explanation. A delightful example is children’s views on romance, love and marriage. Their explanations help us understand where they are developmentally and provide us with many good laughs. Here are a few samples of how young children answered questions about love and romance.
What Is The Proper Age To Get Married?
Once I'm done with kindergarten, I'm going to find me a wife! (Tom, 5)
Is It Better To Be Single Or Married?
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them! (Lynette, 9)
It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I'm just a kid. I don't need that kind of trouble. (Kenny, 7)
On What Falling In Love Is Like
Like an avalanche where you have to run for your life. (Roger, 9)
If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don't want to do it. It takes too long. (Leo, 7)
Concerning Why Lovers Often Hold Hands
They want to make sure their rings don't fall off because they paid good money for them. (Dave, 8)
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.