Newsletter #122 - October 2011
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I have always been fascinated by a Chinese proverb “I have learned more than in ten years’ study from a discussion with you”. It often reminds me of a new major concept I have learned from a colleague or sometimes a paradigm shift from discussing with people.
In my instructor training workshops, I often meet people who do not intend to teach tai chi, thinking that they will not be good enough to teach without practicing for a very long time. They undergo a major conceptual change during my workshop and decide to try teaching. Not only have they helped many people but they have also found great improvement in their own tai chi and health. As a Master Trainer, Dr Pam Kircher has trained many instructors and thereby helped thousands of people improve their quality of life through the Tai Chi for Health program. However, in her very first two day face to face instructor’s training workshop with me, she did not intend to teach tai chi, nor did she think she was anywhere near good enough to. Caroline and I talked to her and facilitated her conceptual change.
With a paradigm change, when we think of traditional and effective teachers, there is a strong tradition in the tai chi world that you need to have completed many years of practice and possess deep tai chi knowledge before you can teach. On the other hand, how do you judge what makes an effective teacher? In my revised book “Teaching Tai Chi Effectively”, I use modern research and a more subjective method to assess what defines an effective teacher. Essentially, an effective teacher is one who helps their students achieve their objectives. Nowadays, the vast majority of students learn tai chi to improve their health and wellbeing. Studies have quite clearly shown that our training system utilising preparation, pre-requisite qualifications, two days of face to face training, regular updates and continued support is very effective in helping students achieve their objectives. Please read What are the Tai Chi for Health Programs to find out more.
My newly revised book is even more useful and easier to use. My co-writer and editor, Maureen Miller, and I have incorporated new research and concepts and have added three entirely new chapters on how to work with different people. The book is a useful guide to make tai chi accessible for everyone. Here are some reviews and I encourage you make use of the book, even if you have already purchased the original version.
“Here is wisdom distilled from decades of experience in the art of Tai Chi. Dr. Paul Lam's insights into this art, and its instruction, resonate with profound beauty and simplicity. Through these meditations and their lessons, both the destination and the pathway are illuminated."
“Medical research supporting Tai Chi's health benefits has greatly fanned its popularity. A new generation of Tai Chi instructors, armed with both practical and professional skills, is needed to teach this art to an increasingly diverse population. Teaching Tai Chi Effectively is an invaluable resource for new instructors wanting to develop their Tai Chi teaching skills and for seasoned teachers wanting to deepen their craft.”
I am on my global teaching tour and I will be doing two workshops in Nottingham in the UK. I am looking forward to seeing you at these workshops. It is appropriate for me to include articles about a group of amazing teachers. The presentation by Sandra and Sheila last month was so refreshing. I thought I would continue the tradition and have a story about the friendship between Pam Kircher and Caroline Demoise. After all, Tai Chi for Health community is about friendship and growing together.
- Caroline Demoise revisits her first tai chi form.
Henry Shires, Tai Chi Instructor, shares his poem entitled "Song"
Chris Hattle, Master Trainer, gives an account of the Tai Chi for Health Community New Zealand’s inaugural AGM.
David Castleberry has an interesting insight about teaching.
Maree Lamb, a Physiotherapist, Senior Trainer and a great teacher, gives us one of her own stories.
Lisa Valentine shares how Ralph Dehner, Master Trainer, has started tai chi classes for the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.
Jim Starshak shares with us ways to help promote or market your Tai Chi for Health classes.
Pam Kircher and Caroline Demoise talk about their long term friendship and tai chi partnership.
Exploring the Depth of Tai Chi for Arthritis
Tai Chi for Diabetes Instructor Training
Exploring the Depth of Tai Chi for Arthritis
Tai Chi for Diabetes Instructor Training
Exploring the Depth of Tai Chi for Arthritis Workshop
One Week Tai Chi Workshop
Yours in Tai Chi,
What I loved about Sun style was how these movements encouraged me to feel the energy moving through my body during the form. This shifted my perspective of tai chi as flexibility training for external movements to an appreciation of the internal component. When you feel energy and begin developing song, you realize you can rest while doing the form. This brings peace to mind and body. You experience a shift from external effort to internal nourishment. When you are not struggling with the movements, you have the spaciousness to focus more deeply on alignment and can practice the principles to achieve greater depth.
Recently I joined a large wellness center that has tai chi classes included with membership. One of the three tai chi classes was my first tai chi form. It had been fifteen years since I practiced this form and when I joined the class I realized how being exposed to a variety of teacher’s perspectives on tai chi training has enriched my understanding and experience of tai chi. This class is taught by a woman who studied directly with Cheng Man-ch’ing in NYC forty years ago and what she highlights about doing the form seems very familiar to my first tai chi experience, yet somehow different, new and fresh. As I am revisiting my first form and feeling those movements anew in my body, I realize that learning different expressions of tai chi and practicing regularly has softened my body, increased my awareness and greatly improved my flexibility.
My tai chi life has come full circle now as my first form is back in my life. The experience of how I have grown during the past fifteen years has given me a perspective on the value of learning different tai chi forms from different teachers. Learning a variety of different styles and movements, learning from the unique personalities that each instructor brings to the experience and seeing how the long term practice of tai chi principles has improved my flexibility, fitness, body awareness, alignment, internal strength, mind-body connection, stress management and enjoyment of tai chi has been eye opening. If there is a moral to this story it is to be persistent. Follow your passion and try a new form when it attracts you like Chen fascinated me. Study with teachers who inspire and encourage you. Expect to age with tai chi like a fine wine, becoming better each year. Be patient with yourself and believe in your ability to change.
Albeit very very quietly
To be the better man that I can be
Albeit very very quietly
It fights with me
Albeit in flat shoes and loose comfortable clothing
And albeit very very quietly
Of letting go regardless of the hardness
Not right or wrong
My Chi is yin and yang
My Chi is strong
The practice and the what can be
Of power and possibility
And in the end
In our closing form
We make a decent fist of what we can
Albeit very very quietly
And in the dying of the chi
In the closing up
What ultimately are we
We all are nought but energy
Albeit somewhat leisurely
And repulse the chattering monkeys three
Of saying evil
And having evil said to me
But under elbow
With hollow painted eggs
Or little birds
In either fist only
For all to see
I rain supreme and ultimate
Henry Shires is a winner of Poetry Idol 2011 and will be published in the next Paradise Anthology of poetry. He has been teaching TCA since 2003 and currently teaches beginner and intermediate TCA classes for Arthritis Victoria. He specialises in making TCA accessible to special needs groups such as senile dementia and mental health participants. Henry is also an Integration Aide working in primary schools with children with learning and other difficulties.
Tai Chi Workshops - To Meet The Occasion
Chris Hattle, Physiotherapist and Master Trainer, New Zealand
I Look forward with anticipation to an AGM.
A day in the diary may remind us of an AGM (Annual General Meeting), and it could be one of these days when organisers have glimpsed golden opportunities to offer a tai chi learning curve, with a difference.
Wellington City was the destination for tai chi practitioners from throughout New Zealand. These tai chi people are members of a fledgling society known as Tai Chi for Health Community New Zealand Inc., and the first AGM of the society was scheduled for the first Saturday in August 2011.
The committee, including New Zealand’s two Master Trainers, Toi Walker and Chris Hattle, planned for a day full of tai chi, with the AGM to be held over a delicious lunch.
• Stepwise Method complements learning styles
• using Stepwise Method with slightly longer forms
• using Stepwise Method in very complex forms
• Stepwise Method complements other teaching skills
Greater understanding of this effective teaching model was gained by participants. Workshop challenges ebbed and flowed, then, as participants developed ownership of the Stepwise Method, the enthusiasm bubbled to the surface.
Throughout the afternoon a review/teaching workshop “Sun Style 73 Forms” was led by Toi. Experience of “73 Forms” was very diverse throughout the room and Toi worked expertly at varying his teaching focus to enable each participant to learn at their own level; not an easy task. Toi’s love of tai chi movement permeated through the room as he moved with ease from teaching movements with a global approach, to teaching finer details. Throughout his leadership Toi offered guidance on purpose of the tai chi forms, so participants developed greater understanding of the moves.
At day’s end, the atmosphere was one of radiance. This small, but growing, group of tai chi practitioners farewelled each other, in many cases for another year.
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Begin With the End in Mind, to Change What You Want to Change
David Castleberry, TCA Instructor, Winter Haven, Florida, USA
Dr. Paul Lam occasionally refers to the work of Dr Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in his writings and workshops. One of the 7 Habits, "Begin with the End in Mind" involves the creation of a mission statement. The goal of everyone who creates such a statement is to change something. Knowledge gained from Dr Lam's book, Teaching Tai Chi Effectively, will be very useful in creating a tai chi class mission statement.
The mission statement of a class describes what is to be accomplished through the combined efforts of the students and teacher(s). Create a statement that is realistic and not a mission impossible. Make it simple and brief.
An example of a class mission statement would be: "To focus on improvement, growth and other beneficial changes for everyone involved". This would serve to remind teachers to consistently address the needs of each student and, by doing so, foster a desire in them to return to classes and continue progressing toward their goals. It may be helpful to keep a set of student files, keep a record of the changes they wish to make, and refer to them as needed. A caring teacher will want to remember why their students are in class and often ask: Are you changing what you want to change?
Unfortunately, some things cannot be changed. However, regular exploration and practice of the mindful movements and principles of tai chi will cultivate the calm untroubled mind that will help students accept this.
As a teacher, make it your personal mission to help students understand how including tai chi practice in their life will change their habitual nature in a positive way. And, continue to seek guidance from people like Dr Lam, Dr Covey, and others who inspire us to become highly effective teachers.
If you do not teach but are a student in a class that has no mission statement, create your own, set your goals based on the changes you want to make, and share it with your teacher.
When practicing, begin the form with the end in mind, and end the form with the beginning in mind. Between the beginning posture (representing stillness) and the ending posture (also representing stillness), we change. Tai Chi is about change, and change is the nature of everything.
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Taking a Problem Solving Approach: Laura’s Story
Laura Scurr and Maree Lamb, Senior Trainer, Mackay, QLD, Australia
Laura Scurr has Athetoid Cerebral Palsy, and this provides her with a lot of movement challenges. She describes herself as a “wriggler” because the direction and size of her movements are difficult to control, and stillness can be hard to achieve. Laura began tai chi in her wheelchair but even with her seatbelt on, she felt unsteady and unable to centre and focus. In typical style she solved the problem for her next lesson. She strapped on her knee pad splints, slid to the floor and worked in a kneeling position. Since Laura began her tai chi journey I have observed her adapting the stepping and arm movements so that she can best control her body and posture. Occasionally when I am leading the group in practice I hear a very quiet sound behind me.
This is Laura gently sitting down off her knees onto the floor to watch and think about how she will achieve the next move. We talk about the small parts that make up each move and Laura always likes to make sure her solutions encompass the spirit of Tai Chi as well as the physical aspect. She asked me if her adaptations were “real tai chi”. Read her story. I think you will agree that Laura has indeed been able to achieve real tai chi and why she inspires our whole class to think outside the square to make changes when moves present a physical challenge.
Laura’s Story: I am a 23 year old accountant who was born with Athetoid Cerebral Palsy. I first stepped onto the tai chi floor with my left knee in March 2011 under the insightful and helpful eye of Senior Trainer Maree Lamb. Through Maree’s patience and understanding I have been able to adapt the tai chi moves whilst still experiencing the benefits of the exercise. Doing tai chi on your knees does pose some challenges, such as stepping backwards. However after a lifetime of living with cerebral palsy I have become quite skilled at adapting everyday tasks so that I can participate to the best of my ability. I enjoy the relaxing and friendly atmosphere of tai chi, especially after a busy day in the accounting profession. As a result of having Athetoid Cerebral Palsy everyday tasks such as eating, dressing and mobility pose all kinds of challenges; however I feel that my muscle strength and control has shown improvements over the last 4 months.
I look forward to the new set of solutions that I will develop as Maree continues to guide my tai chi journey.
Lisa Valentine, Director, RSVP, USA
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Washington County (RSVP) believes that the greatest challenges we face can be overcome through volunteer service – people helping each other. A few years ago, we noticed that an extraordinary number of seniors were falling, with injuries ranging from black eyes and bruised egos, to broken bones and extended hospital stays. Preventing falls in older people is especially close to our hearts since the average age of our volunteers is 75, with many serving up through their nineties.
We researched ways to prevent falls in seniors and tai chi stood out as the most beneficial exercise for our target group, age 60+. The Arthritis Foundation referred us to Master Trainer Ralph Dehner who came to our facility for a two-day workshop.
A little over a year later, twelve volunteer leaders are teaching 15 Arthritis Foundation Tai Chi classes at 8 locations across rural Washington County. With the exception of two younger community volunteers, our leaders range in age from 67 to 76 years old. Seniors in every community have free classes brought to them by RSVP.
In May, Ralph returned for a three-day workshop. The focus for the first two days was to fine-tune our current group and train four new leaders recruited from our classes. The final day was for the leaders interested in learning the advanced nine movements.
The four new leaders are currently shadowing experienced instructors until they are comfortable with teaching and have been cleared by Ralph. The volunteers will be placed at new locations when ready.
What makes our program successful is the support network we have in place. Our Volunteer Coordinator, Ashby Seyler-Schmidt organizes “instructor playtime” for two hours every Monday afternoon. Leaders are encouraged to attend at least one time each month. Dr. Lam’s DVD, “Tai Chi for Arthritis,” is used to make sure we all are using the same verbal cues and all the movements are pure and consistent with our training. Peer networking keeps bad habits from creeping into our tai chi.
None of this would be possible without Ralph. We are in contact with him on a regular basis. We send him videos for his critique, and he fixes feet and fine-tunes movements via phone or email. He offers encouragement, answers questions and has gone above and beyond to make sure that our tai chi program continues to thrive.
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World Arthritis Day - www.worldarthritisday.org
World Osteoporosis Day - www.worldosteoporosisday.org
World Diabetes Day - www.idf.org/worlddiabetesday
Feature Profile - Long Term Tai Chi Friends
Pam Kircher, Master Trainer, Durango, CO and Caroline Demoise, Master Trainer, Chapel Hill, NC.
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Humour, Laughter and Radiant Health
Dr Bob McBrien, Master Trainer, Salisbury, MD, USA
A simple memory trick to help identify the positive, uplifting forms of humor I write about in my essays is to use the acronym HUMOR.
• Helps reduce stress or tension;
• Unblocks the person from the narrow thinking distress creates and frees thinking for solving problems;
• Moves people closer together through play, sharing, laughter and having fun;
• Opens the neural pathways to creative thinking and optimism; and
• Reminds the person of other experiences with laughter and fun.
The following story, based on college football and keen rivalries in the USA can bring on a bit of laughter and provide a does of H*U*M*O*R energy.
A graduate student conducted research titled ‘Pavlov’s Pigeons’ as his Master’s degree thesis. Here is a brief summary of his research in Pavlovian Psychology.
The Boston University graduate student spent an entire summer going to the Harvard University football field every day.
Wearing a black and white striped shirt, the student walked up and down the field for ten or fifteen minutes, throwing birdseed all over the field, and blowing a referee's whistle as he walked. When he finished walked off the field.
On the first Saturday in September, Boston U played Harvard on their football field. At 1 PM sharp, the referee dressed in his official black and white striped shirt, walked onto the playing field and blew his referee’s whistle to start the game.
The game was delayed for 30 minutes waiting for the flock of pigeons to get off the playing field.
Yes, the student received his degree.
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.