Newsletter #114 - February 2011
Secondly, Pat Webber talked about 13 years of tai chi workshops in Sydney and USA, I will include her talk in next months newsletter. The third talk was from Jennifer Chung, a Master Trainer from Singapore. It was about her and her colleagues’ idea of gathering a group of 400 to have a tai chi lesson with me. This number exploded exponentially when word got around and 2000 people turned up on the day!
Sybil Wong reflects on her long association with BHTCC in the year of its 25th anniversary, citing its achievements and vision.
Ernie Hall continues to learn from her students, by listening she aspires to become a better teacher.
Denise Murray tries to address the basics of what a person should know before working with individuals living with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementia.
This month Caroline talks about “grace under pressure”, a life skill that practicing tai chi cultivates in the aware student.
Mar 05 - March 06, Fullerton, SA, Australia
May 14 - May 15, Sydney, NSW, Australia
May 14 - May 15, Sydney, NSW, Australia
May 29- May 30, Singapore
June 4 - June 5, Singapore
Jun 13 - June 18, Terre Haute, IN, United States
Many other workshops conducted by my authorised master trainers are listed in Workshop Calendar.
Paul Lam, MD
• a place where the tai chi spirit is strong
• a family where we help and nurture each other so that we can all grow
• it is a local school with an international focus
• for the students and instructors of BHTCC it is simply our tai chi family
• it is looking forward to the next 25 years and beyond
• BHTCC is proud and privileged be able to share in Paul’s dream and in his vision
I have learned to be a better instructor by listening to the students. It’s all part of the communication process, similar to playing ping-pong, badminton or tennis. Once the lesson or message is served, the teacher must listen for the return. Students have taught me to be ready for the unexpected as much as the expected. Depending upon what I “hear”, a teaching strategy might need to be changed. Especially in Tai Chi for Health classes that continue long after the complete series of lessons is learned, students come and go. It has been said that the effective instructor teaches to the stage of learning that’s in front of them at the moment. Depending upon how much they have practiced outside the classroom or how long they’ve been away, students may return at a different stage.
Over the past three years of teaching tai chi to diversified groups and individuals, I’ve learned by listening -- being aware of what students may not be saying as well as what they are telling me. Smiles, frowns, looks of concern as well as body language expressing attention or distraction usually tell me how things are going. Oftentimes, and especially if I’m instructing back-on, it’s been necessary to turn and look or simply just ask them, “How’s it going?” Then, of course the most important part is the listening part I must do. The flexible teacher who listens can decide “on the spot” to review, revise or progress with something new. The tai chi principle of awareness applies to teacher and to student.
By listening, I’ve discovered that each class has its own personality. Different groups respond in different ways to some of the various techniques I’ve tried. For example, early on in my teaching experience I invited students to write a brief entry in a journal left by the class sign-in sheet. Many were eager to share how tai chi had impacted their lives in a positive way. Most welcomed the opportunity to give a brief written evaluation of their class experience. Ongoing classes of mixed students who have been meeting for several months or longer often enjoy the variety of seated and standing TCA within the same class period.
After leading one or two sets, I’ve suggested that the students, in one group voice, announce each form as they move through the set, and have encouraged volunteers to lead the warm-up exercises or entire sets. Other ideas tried with intermediate to advanced students include practicing tai chi in a circle configuration, facing different walls as a group with subsequent sets or practicing the first six TCA movements as partners in mirror image of each other. The latter exercise is a nice homework assignment and challenge for advanced students in home practice with a friend. How do I know which methods to continue or abort? The students will tell me what works for them – if I am truly listening.
To effectively serve and teach any special population living with a chronic illness it is important to understand the disease process. Learning about a disease process helps us to adapt tai chi to be an effective and enjoyable learning experience for the participant, and to avoid injury. This is true when teaching tai chi to individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one on the most recognized forms of dementia which accounts for over half of the diagnosed dementia cases. AD is a degenerative brain disease which changes the chemistry of the brain, interfering with learning, memory and the thought process. Symptoms of AD include confusion, disturbance in short-term memory, changes in personality, mood swings and language difficulties. Age is a risk factor in AD; however, AD is not a natural part of the aging process – a person can show AD symptoms by the early 50s. Currently there is no cure for AD, however early diagnosis with proper medical care and a healthy life style may slow the progress of the disease.
AD is a disease that affects the mind-body connection which interrupts how the body communicates internally, with its surrounding environment, and in processing verbal communication. As students of Tai Chi we know how frustrating and humbling it can be to learn a new tai chi form; just imagine how difficult it can be for someone living with the fog of AD. Even for a healthy brain it often becomes difficult to incorporate a small movement into a larger movement, into tai chi flow which gives us the feeling of floating through time and space.
Individuals living with AD also struggle with bilateral movement. Bilateral movement is movement that engages both the right and left hemispheres of the brain and body. (The right side of the brain controls movement on the left side of the body and left side of the brain controls the right side of the body). For example, in Dr. Lam’s punch kick warm-up movement (performed seated), a person living with AD is only able to either punch or kick. Also if one side of the body is engaged in movement, they struggle to execute a movement with the other side (hemisphere) – they are unable to punch with the right side while kicking left.
Teaching tai chi to individuals living with AD becomes more Qigong in nature – focusing on a single small movement, and practicing it with repetition.
Working with individuals living with AD can be very rewarding; however it can be challenging. Avoid high expectations because there is no cure for the disease at this time. There will be classes and participants’ behaviour that will test your confidence in your ability to work with individuals with AD. Disruptive behaviour can be a sign that the activity is overwhelming for them, or they may just be having a bad day. Don’t give up – we all have bad days. The good classes are what will keep you coming back. They will inspire you, as you observe their human spirit fighting through the fog of dementia to follow your movement.
One of the wonderful benefits of long term tai chi practice is learning how to exhibit grace under pressure. This is a useful skill in all aspects of life. My experience at a recent workshop reminded me that practicing tai chi principles beyond the form enhances every aspect of life. Twenty five years ago my first teacher described tai chi as learning “grace under pressure”. That concept fascinated me and it’s been my intention to allow tai chi to mentor me in that direction. But first let’s get a clearer picture of what she meant by that expression “grace under pressure”.
Tai chi principles involve going with the flow, being aware of your environment and transitioning smoothly from one movement (or situation) to another. Whatever experience life brings our way; we listen to the incoming force, yield, flow with it and redirect if possible to achieve the best outcome possible in every situation we experience. This is the tai chi way of responding to energy whether you practice with a partner or with life and leads to cultivating grace under pressure. When we remain aware and responsive to a changing environment, this tai chi skill is translatable to any life experience. Tai chi practice develops fluidity in physical movements through repetition. When the mind is peaceful and aware of every situation, we can harmonize with life. When our intention involves developing the ability to flow with life and remain in jing mind regardless of what happens, the ability to flow mentally with any situation is being consciously trained. Advanced tai chi skill involves a transformation from reactivity to grace under pressure.
Grace under pressure is the best response when you have an altitude headache at a workshop and are short of breath during tai chi movement. That was my experience in Teller County, Colorado, not too far from Pike Peak. Grace under pressure was essential when an elderly woman tripped and fell, face first, between two parked cars. I witnessed this shocking event through a picture window during an instructor training workshop as I was leading the class through the TCA form and quickly needed to mobilize the emergency response as no one outside had seen her go down. As it turned out, the experience provided an effective lead in to the discussion on precautions, safe teaching and handling emergencies as a tai chi teacher. I will never forget the time, years ago in England, when Dr. Lam handed me a lapel mike and casually informed me that I needed to stand on a table when I taught TCA movements so they could see my feet. If he had told me earlier it may have been a different story, but having no time to think or worry, I was able to adapt to the situation and just do it. When we are challenged with a situation that calls for grace under pressure, it is an opportunity to see how far we have come in developing this deeper tai chi conditioned response.
My most recent demonstration of the value of grace under pressure was during a workshop when unexpectedly notified that a local TV crew would be arriving momentarily to do an interview with me and film a segment of the training. The element of surprise could evoke anxiety or uproot a peaceful mind unless your mind plays push hands and meets the situation by yielding to the incoming force and following the energy. I felt myself instinctively focusing on maintaining the jing quality of tai chi mind and being in the moment. This strategy worked. Words just flowed out of my mouth in answer to the reporter’s questions. Life is so much easier when the mind retains its serenity. If only I could embody that mental attitude in every situation I encounter in life.
All the mindfulness practices, like tai chi, influence the brain circuitry and over time we can shape our mind and behaviour. The neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to chart a path of change by creating an intention to harmonize with life. When we focus on that outcome and are aware of all the opportunities we have to choose our responses in life, slowly over time we change the way our brain functions. These small changes make an important difference in the quality of our life. Grace under pressure is a gift that the mindful practice of tai chi principles gives the practitioner.
A key theme in my humor and laughter essays is the importance of using our capacity to discover humor in our lives. Think of humor as a daily vitamin with a minimum daily requirement in order to stay healthy. Finding humor and having a good laugh builds our resilience and helps us get through the downturns life sends our way. Here are quotes about the meaning of life that may bring on a smile or a laugh.
• After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say "I WANT TO SEE THE MANAGER."
• Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.
• Hard work has a future payoff. Laziness pays off NOW!!!
• Brain cells come and brain cells go, but fat cells live forever.
• Money will not buy happiness, but it will let you be unhappy in nice places.
• Life is like an onion; you peel off one layer at a time and sometimes you weep.
• Life is like a cobweb, not an organization chart.
• Life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or just standing still.
• Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.
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.