Newsletter #64 - December 2006
In this issue:
-- From me to you, by Dr Lam
-- ‘The Chen Elder Movement’, by Caroline Demoise
-- ‘Is Chen Style Tai Chi Appropriate for Older Adults?’ by Sandra Pruzansky
-- ‘Teaching tai chi to kids with juvenile arthritis’, by Paul Duval
-- ‘Widest age gap’ competition – can you do better than this entry from Cheryl Lee Player?
-- An open letter to Dr Lam from Shirley Langford
-- ‘Updated CPR procedures’, by Jim Starshak
-- Book review by Sifu Dan Jones: ‘Tai Chi for Beginners and the 24 Forms’
-- Holiday humor, from Dr Bob McBride
I can’t believe we’ve reached the end of another year. It’s been a busy and rewarding year for me but in many ways a worrying one for the world. Last week I watched the documentary, ‘An inconvenient truth’ by Al Gore, the American ex-Vice-President, who is now travelling the world trying to get people to take the threat of global warming seriously. The message he is spreading is that global warming is going to drastically affect every aspect of our world unless we do something about it very soon. I recommend you watch this film, as the subject is very relevant to tai chi people. Mr Sun Lu-tang the creator of Sun-style tai chi and one of the greatest tai chi masters in history, said that the highest level of tai chi is to understand the Dao. Dao is nature. The ultimate aim of tai chi is to find harmony within ourselves and with other people and the universe. It is our duty to keep the world in good shape for all living things to enjoy and to pass on to the next generations. As Al Gore concludes in his documentary, we mustn’t feel disheartened by what we hear about climate change: if we all work together, we CAN make a difference.
In this month’s newsletter:
- If Chen-style tai chi has ever captivated your heart, but you thought it was too hard for you to learn or felt you were too old to begin this style, you’ll be interested in reading the articles by Caroline and Sandra about their experiences as older persons learning Chen-style tai chi.
- We also feature a wonderful story about children learning tai chi. Last summer, Paul Duval from Canada worked in a kids camp with children who have juvenile arthritis – teaching them my program, Tai Chi 4 Kidz. The picture tells it all… and Paul writes as well as he takes photos.
- Cheryl, a great tai chi teacher from Newcastle, has entered our ‘widest age gap’ competition. She has in her classes an 8-year-old student and also a 84-year-old student. They both have amazing stories about their tai chi journeys. Can you better this entry?
- Cheryl is an amazing teacher. Shirley, one of Cheryl's assistant teachers, tells us about herself and the almost miraculous health benefits she’s gained from learning tai chi at Cheryl’s school.
- Jim talks about the value of learning CPR, or updating your skills. Jim says, as tai chi instructors, we need to be prepared in case one of our students has an accident or medical emergency. Jim will be teaching CPR at one of the evening seminars at next June’s one-week tai chi workshop in Terre Haute, Indiana, USA.
- Sifu Dan Jones, a martial art teacher for 40 years and tai chi teacher for 25 years, has reviewed my newly published book ‘Tai Chi for Beginners and the 24 Forms’.
- Finally, Dr Bob reminds us to make time for laughter and fun during the holiday season. Here’s some festive season humor to help you de-stress and enjoy fun times with your family and friends.
This month’s special offer
A health improvement package such as a Tai Chi DVD makes an ideal Christmas gift. As a Christmas special, during December, if you buy any two of my DVDs you’ll get another one, of the same or lesser value, free. (Limit of one order per customer.)
Make your choice from the product list and place your order as usual, quoting SP1206 in the comments section, together with with the title of your free DVD.
Product review of the month
The most helpful product review this month comes from Robin Malby of Concord, California. Robin said this about the Tai Chi for Back Pain Workshop:
‘I attended Dr. Paul Lam's Tai Chi for Back Pain Workshop last June in Terre Haute. Having lived with a back injury long ago, I was excited to see that he applied the same principles in this workshop that I had learned from top-notch physical therapists and osteopaths ... If you have back pain or have students in your TCA classes who do, I highly recommend taking the back pain workshop, it gives more pointers and explanations on how the lower spine works, how back pain develops and how tai chi can be affective for it.’
You can read Robin’s full review in the Forum on my website.
Thanks Robin for your review. We would like to send you a tai chi music CD for being our winner. Please email us at [email protected] and give us your postal address.
Enter your review of any of my products in the Forum on my website and you will have a chance to win a tai chi music CD too.
Please note that the 7-13th January 2007 workshop in Sydney is almost fully booked, so if you wish to come please enrol as soon as possible. You can enrol for this workshop and find out about other Tai Chi for Health workshops conducted around the world by me or my master trainers on the workshop calendar page on the website.Wishing you all a wonderful festive season and hoping that next year your life will be healthy and full of happiness.
Paul Lam, M.D.
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If Chen style taijiquan has ever captivated your heart, but you thought it was too hard for you to learn or felt you were too old to begin this style, this true story may be of interest to you. The birth of the “elder Chen movement” had its roots in the hearts of dedicated taijiquan students, instructors of Dr Lam’s in America, and in the enthusiasm of a patient teacher with a passion for teaching Chen style to practitioners wanting to learn this challenging, rewarding form.
The idea was born at a Florida workshop in 2003, when Sandra, Shelia and I vowed to learn Chen when Sandra turned 70. Having heard about a teacher who would not teach Chen to anyone in their 60’s, Sandra was determined to dispel the myth that Chen was only for younger students, by learning it at 70. We liked the idea so much we agreed to join her, but we were not destined to wait for Sandra to turn 70. At the annual June USA workshop in Terre Haute, Indiana, a conversation evolved that led us to plan a workshop at my home in Chapel Hill in August, 2006. Susan joined the group and Dan, another instructor for Dr Lam, was enthusiastic about teaching us what he had learned about the Chen 36 form.
From June to August we dreamed of learning Chen, savored the thought and planned the week to include a visit to a local taijiquan school, an evening of music outdoors in Carrboro, food from the local organic co-op and several outings to wonderful restaurants. The bond between us was growing as we organized, planned and counted the days until we would be together again.
The magic day arrived and when everyone was collected from the airport or had arrived by car, we spent Saturday night beginning our learning adventure. We ate and trained and talked taijiquan from morning until late at night and only went to sleep because we couldn’t stay up any longer. During this magical week, we discovered that with a patient teacher who broke difficult movements down into small absorbable segments, which we repeated until we were ready to add more, we were actually learning Chen and loving the experience. It was like being at a resort, with the delicious meals created in the kitchen by our chef, my partner John, and the long breakfast and lunch conversations on the screened-in porch, with the sounds of water flowing from the bamboo fountain and the beautiful North Carolina trees, birds, squirrels and rabbits keeping us connected to nature.
This was a dream come true, for I had always been fascinated with the explosive power and energy of Chen, but felt it was beyond my grasp as an older practitioner of 63 because of the low stances, challenging movements and the internal force generated during Chen, which had always been a mystery. When I spent a day-long workshop in 2001 trying to learn Chen movements I felt discouraged, but the desire to experience Chen persisted and as my ability to touch the internal realm of taijiquan grew over the years, through the focused practice and teaching of Sun style, I was closing the gap between my perceived abilities, my desire and the actual learning of Chen. Inspired by the desire to keep growing we dared to create the perfect way for us to learn — a private workshop taught by our dear friend Dan.
In looking at the ingredients required for an older student to learn a form like Chen, it takes a strong desire and persistence from the student along with a patient, compassionate teacher who can break down movements and who is willing to teach Chen slowly at first, almost like Yang is taught, with a higher than normal Chen-like stance, using liberal doses of repetition and without a judgmental bone in his body at the process required by each individual student to achieve the dream. But isn’t this really just good teaching? It is certainly how Dr Lam has encouraged us as instructors to approach the art of teaching, by following the energy of the class, being attentive to their learning styles, modifying movements if necessary to keep students functioning within their comfort zone and, above all, holding in our consciousness the goal and vision of success for each student. An observer may have thought we tested Dan’s creativity as a teacher, but in reality it was giving him an opportunity to experience his gift of teaching Chen to older students.
We call ourselves the “elder Chens” or “Chen elders”, an affectionate term meaning older people who are learning Chen style taijiquan. To commemorate the event and inspire other students who have always wanted to learn Chen but thought it was too difficult for their age, we created a tee shirt with the Chinese symbol of longevity and the taijiquan symbol with the words “Elder Chen Elder Chen Elder Chen” encircling the yin/yang symbol as a logo of the new emerging Elder Chen movement.
Please keep in mind that Chen may not be appropriate for some people with serious health challenges or balance issues, but it is within the grasp of some older students who have been dedicated to practicing other styles of taijiquan and have used taijiquan principles in the gradual transformation of their bodies and their physical health. One does not have to nearly sit on the ground in the movement resembling Yang style’s “Snake Creeps Down”, which is called “Dragon on the Ground” in Chen style. We are doing the form with a slightly higher stance and, as conditioning and physical ability permit, over time and with practice, we will grow into a lower stance. The internal force exhibited by skilled Chen stylists will also develop within us and eventually we may sound like Chen players. At the moment we are thrilled with our accomplishment of dispelling the energy that Chen was too hard for us.
During the initial seven-day training, through Chen style, I experienced a deeper level of the heart and soul of taijiquan and felt a stronger connection to the wisdom of the ancients and the roots of taijiquan. My body feels a new relationship to the words of the principles, which tell us to first go left when you want to go right. The masters were telling us to begin a spiral movement by going slightly toward the left before you spiral the movement to the right. The graceful snake-like twisting I observe in Dr Lam’s body when he demonstrates forms is beginning to move closer toward my taijiquan reality as I experiment with moving my dan tian to lead Chen movements. I now feel taijiquan in a deeper way, as the Chen form is all about developing internal energy and this form will teach your body internal principles like no other form I have experienced. The key is readiness and receptivity. As many wise people have said, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. That must have been why Dan came to North Carolina and coached us on the Chen form. Chen is becoming my new mentor and teacher.
The energy of Chen has a very different feeling from the energy of Sun style or Yang, my first form. During Chen, a strong, passionate energy surges through my meridians and floods my body with a powerful feeling of being truly alive and virtually an unstoppable force. I experience more creativity and connection to my true nature as a joyful spirit. Chen energy seems to evaporate fatigue when strongly flowing. It feels like the juice of universal energy. During Sun style practice the energy I experience is more like the flow of a powerful, silent river, deep, meditative and spiritual. Sun provides a different, softer connection to the source and feels like the ultimate in relaxation and stress management. The energy of Yang style to me is like a sturdy tree, powerful, deeply rooted and with the ability to clear cobwebs from my mind bringing me to a clear, calm focused state. It is a stately and powerful energy of connection.
Ultimately taijiquan is not about technique, but about reconnecting to your essence. When you allow taijiquan to mentor you by extracting yourself from mental programming and using your awareness to polish yourself on the stones of taijiquan principles during practice, you allow taijiquan to teach you how to return to your essence. Your essence is in reality connected with nature and universal forces. This connection is obscured by the perceptual and cultural programming in your mind from life’s experiences and the mentoring of parents and teachers as you progress from childhood to adulthood. To become a sage and express the wisdom of experience in life is the challenge of your elder years. Taijiquan is an excellent mentor in this process.
Chen style taijiquan is represented historically as a founding structural essence from which many branches and styles of taijiquan flowered. My experience of Chen is that it is deeply rooted in the powerful cultivation of life energy. As you learn and follow the Chen sequence of movements, the mentoring quality of Chen invites you to strip away layer after layer of attitude, belief, or life experience that is incompatible with a direct experience of nature’s raw power and the tangible connection of your spirit to these forces of nature. Chen is not a mentoring of the mind. Chen calls you to a direct experience of your authenticity as an expression of life force. By allowing Chen’s energy to flow freely through your body, you are allowing yourself to unite with the forces of nature and become more powerful.
Learning Chen 36 is an enriching experience on every level. On the physical level, it develops stamina and body awareness in a deeper way and opens the physical body to permit a stronger flow of energy. The spiral energy of the form teaches body coordination at a new level. There are a myriad of details for the mind to focus on, giving it a rich internal component and cultivating a higher level of mental focus. Chen is a form that has deep roots into the earth and a strong pull to harmonize with the power in nature, giving it a slightly different spiritual connection than other taijiquan forms.
The newly formed Chen elder group worked hard very hard for seven days straight and were enriched in spirit more than we could have imagined. The bond that developed between us is sacred. By sharing our experience we hope to inspire you to consider the benefits of expanding your taijiquan experience, so if you have ever dreamed about learning Chen and would like to make it a reality, we invite you to consider attending Dr Lam’s June workshop in Terre Haute, Indiana, and becoming part of the Chen experience.
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Some years ago Dr. Lam mentioned in a talk that some teachers would not teach Chen to older adults. You must understand something about my personality. I am a contrarian; just tell me I can’t do something and I will find a way to prove you wrong. So, of course, after I heard this I was determined that I would learn Chen Style 36 forms at age 70. As Caroline describes in her article, this wonderful dream became a reality this summer in my 67th year. I love the form and continue to practice regularly to improve my skills. However, I have been concerned that the explosive and speed components of Chen might, indeed, not be appropriate for many older adults. Recently I attended a Personal Trainer Conference in NYC that eliminated my concerns.
I discovered that in the past few years there has been considerable research looking at the importance of power training for healthy older adults. Most of us have heard about the advantages of strength training for older adults but what is power training? While strength is the capacity of a muscle to produce force, power is a measure of the rate at which that force can be developed. It can be thought of as explosive or dynamic strength, the ability to generate force rapidly.
Many activities of daily living require power. Several research studies have shown that power training correlates higher with functional tasks, such as rising from a chair or climbing stairs, than strength training. Some of the exercises that were suggested for increasing power were small jumping motions, rapid sideways motion, fast stepping patterns, multidirectional lunges and squats that incorporate high-speed concentric and controlled, low-speed eccentric movement patterns. That sounded to me just like what I was doing in Chen Style!
Not only do I love doing Chen but now I’m finding out it’s good for me too. So all of you “older adults” who were concerned that Chen might be too explosive for you research is showing otherwise. Researchers are beginning to show that moving rapidly and with an explosive component will help you maintain function as you age.
If you are interested in more details of the research on power training for older adults a good summary article is: Power Training and Aging: a Practical Approach by J. Signorile, in the Journal on Active Aging, Vol. 4, No. 1, Jan–Feb 2005. You can also download a copy of this article as a PDF file from the website of the International Council on Active Aging. The article contains links to extensive references.
If you are interested in learning Chen Style 36 forms sign up for a class at Dr Lam’s week-long workshop in Terre Haute, Indiana, in June, 2007.
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Just a few words to let you know about a wonderful experience I had last August as I was given the opportunity to work with wonderful kids at the annual week-long summer camp for children with juvenile arthritis held at "Camp Papillon" (Camp Butterfly) by the Montreal branch of the Canadian Arthritis Society.
Though it was raining that day, about 30 children divided in two groups of 15, ages from 8 to 14 years old, attended their first ever one hour Tai Chi class, right after completing their morning warmup and light stretching exercices. After a short introduction, I introduced them to the greeting "salute", using the following little story they seemed to have enjoyed:
"A long time ago, in Ancient China, people playing Tai Chi would get together very early in the morning to practice. As they were very happy to see each other, they wanted to say 'Hello!' to each and everyone when they met, and 'Goodbye!' before leaving after practice. At the same time, they didn't want to disturb or wake up people who were still sleeping nearby. They found the following solution: instead of speaking, they thought of a special greeting salute that everyone would understand - with the right hand, they would make a gentle fist with the right thumb bent over the front of the fingers. That would represent strength. With the left hand, they would hold all the fingers straight and together representing friendship, with the left thumb slightly bent on the side of the hand representing respect. Then, they would slowly bring their arms up, gently pressing the right fist into the left palm right in front of them, and then slowly bring both hands down by their sides releasing the fist in the right hand. Using this special salute to say 'Hello!' and 'Goodbye!', they would also, and at the same time, remind themselves and each others to be 'Strong in Friendship and Respect Everyone'. To this day, people all over the world are still using that same special greeting when getting together to learn and practice Tai Chi."
As recommended in the Tai Chi for Kidz program, we did 20 minutes of Tai Chi, followed by a 20 minute recess, and another 20 minutes of Tai Chi. That worked just great with the children especially for those with a more acute juvenile arthritis condition. Considering the short amount of time we had for each group, the children have shown genuine interest and enthusiasm in regards to the movements and several of them did share with the rest of the group that they were feeling much more relaxed and that they really enjoyed the Tai Chi movements they had just learnt.
It was an amazing day and a truly exciting experience for me and the people at the Arthritis Society who were very pleased. We are looking forward at repeating next summer, hoping to be able to plan at least two one-hour sessions for each of the two groups.
Thank you for all the wonderful Tai Chi programs you create and make available for the whole world to enjoy.
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My youngest student, Guss Blunden, is 8 years old and started weekly classes of Tai Chi 4 Kidz with me on 1 May 2006. Guss has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and his doctor recommended Tai Chi to his parents. He has completed the program along with his brother Arthur, aged 10. Guss recently joined me at his school to do a Tai Chi demo. He was wonderful and I was so pleased to hear that he afterwards received the Principal’s Award for it (the school’s highest award). Both boys have successfully completed the program and I would like to present them with a certificate.
My eldest student, June Brooks, turned 84 last week and has been doing Tai Chi with me for 6 years. She started in a class of 8 ladies, most of them seated for the lesson, and had at that time new hips and knees. She couldn’t even lift her arms then. June had a toe amputated last year through diabetes, but is still an enthusiastic, vivacious member of our Tai Chi family who enjoys much improved lifestyle thanks to her Tai Chi training.
We have another lady, Wynne, who is 94 years of age and used to do the class up until four years ago. Wynne comes to class twice a week with her daughter, Dulcie Barrett, but is now just happy to watch. We love having her in class and she often joins us for coffee afterwards.
Cheryl Lee Player
Can you better this entry? Have you got any current students (not necessarily in the same class) with a wider age gap between them? If so, send us your story and a photo of your special students by 31 January and you can be in the running to win a prize valued at more than AUD$100. The winner will get autographed copies of my two new books ‘Teaching Tai Chi Effectively’ and ‘Tai Chi for Beginners and the 24 Forms’, and the DVD of ‘Tai Chi for Older Adults’ and ‘Tai Chi 4 Kidz’. Don’t forget to include your signed approval for me to use the photos and story in my newsletter.
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Having experienced back and neck problems for over 35 years, I have tried many things to get some relief. Mobility at times could be very limited, like having to get someone to put shoes on, leaving things on the floor until I could justify bending down to pick them up, leaving feet damp after a shower, not being able to sit for any great length of time, standing was perhaps the only other option besides lying down.
In the late 1970s I started the merry go round to find some relief. Major back surgery in Sydney was the first, then a body plaster cast for about 5 weeks after the operation, then came a series of different back braces, traction; it seemed everybody had a cure for back pain. All to no avail, however, because of a damaged sciatic nerve. Stepping off the kerb on my left leg was not possible, to sit on a chair it had to be done from the right side first and turning over in bed was a matter of sitting up first with my legs over the side of the bed, then turning on my side. Because of the surgery I've had, I now have chronic arachnoiditis, to go with my osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease of the lower back and neck area. Due to medication etc, stress-related problems then became a big issue, causing stomach, bowel and oesophagus illnesses.
Four years ago I was told by the specialist to go away; there was nothing that could be done for me, so I decided to try Tai Chi. I joined the Cheryl Lee Academy and the first class I went to, I loved it. I began to feel better about myself, especially as far as the stress conditions were concerned, so I thought two classes a week may improve my mobility and, as they say, the rest is history. I now have an instructor's certificate to teach your Arthritis Form and am also a very proud Team Leader in the Academy.
Tai Chi has been my lifesaver - my health has improved beyond all expectations and recently I was part of a team from the Academy competing at the Tamworth Regional Tai Chi Championships. All of this has been a journey that I never thought I would be a part of, let alone be able to enjoy, so many thanks to Cheryl, who has guided me all the way. I hope people reading this can perhaps find as much relief and enjoyment of life through the practice of Tai Chi as I have.Shirley Langford
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As Tai Chi instructors, we all know the importance of being fully prepared to teach our classes. But our preparations need to go beyond our teaching and Tai Chi skills. We need to be prepared in case one of our students has an accident or medical emergency.
Being prepared as a Tai Chi instructor includes having current certifications in both CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and First Aid. As a CPR instructor, I have talked to numerous people who “know CPR” because they took a class a few years ago. It is both amusing and scary that about all they can remember is that CPR uses 5 chest compressions to 1 breath. Well yes, that was the standard procedure - last century! Do you realize that medical and scientific communities have updated these standards twice since the old 5:1 ratio was in effect?
For those who have not refreshed their CPR skills lately, allow me to briefly summarize the current CPR procedures. Of course, just reading the new procedures does not make one competent to do them.
For adult CPR, the first change is that we no longer check for a pulse on an unconscious victim. Medical science has determined that most unconscious adult victims have some sort of cardiovascular issue and checking for a pulse will delay the start of life-sustaining CPR. The next change is our hand position. We now place the heel of our hand directly in the center of the body on the sternum, or breastbone. This is a quicker and easier method than trying to find the xiphoid process and then trying to place your hand two fingers above it.
The most obvious change is the ratio of compressions to breaths. The two previous ratios of 5:1 and 15:2 were updated with the current ratio of 30 compressions to 2 breaths. These compressions are fast too, with the 30 compressions only taking 18 seconds. What science found is that the heart needs to be primed just as other pumps do. They discovered that the first few compressions were merely “priming the pump” and not effectively circulating blood. They also found that the hemoglobin in our red blood cells was capable of holding more oxygen than the body immediately needs. These two facts led to an increased number of compressions with less frequent breaths.
The final key aspect in most new CPR classes is the inclusion of training on the automated external defibrillator, or AED. CPR is a critical bridge to help sustain life, but CPR alone will not restart the heart. An AED can analyze a heart’s rhythm, apply an electrical shock if needed, and restart a heart in many situations. This AED training is especially important to us since AEDs are becoming more common in places we may teach Tai Chi, such as fitness facilities, community centers, assisted living facilities, and other public venues.
OK, so maybe some of us are a little behind in our CPR skills, but won’t the old standards still work? Yes they do still work. However, they are not as effective in savings lives as the new procedures are and we are probably not as competent in our skills as we were when we first learned them. Just think how good your Tai Chi skills would be if you never practiced them for one or more years! If you are not current in CPR, please take a course as soon as you can. You can do it for your students, your boss, your family, or yourself. The important thing is to just do it.
Note: Jim will be teaching CPR at one of the evening seminars at next June’s one-week tai chi workshop in Terre Haute, Indiana, USA.
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As I started reading Dr Paul Lam’s book, co-authored with Nancy Kaye, 'Tai Chi for Beginners and the 24 Forms', I tried to look at it from a beginner’s perspective. Right from the beginning it takes the reader step by step through the process of learning tai chi. Breaking the process down into six easy steps helps to put the reader at ease by making the learning process obtainable for anyone. The information is given in a gradual way, which allows the reader a chance to gain a level of proficiency and comfort before moving on. The illustrations and explanations of movements and concepts are very impressive and easy to follow. This is the best beginner’s tai chi book I have ever read.
Sifu Dan Jones
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Remembering to make time for laughter and fun is especially important during the holiday season, that begins with Christmas and continues through New Year’s Day. What with the commercialism, the pressure to have a perfect holiday, holiday travel, rich foods and beverages and perhaps maxing out the credit card limit, we are piling on the stress. When we add too much stress to our lives, we also subtract the opportunity to enjoy fun times with family and friends.
Sharing jokes like the ones below can lighten up the moment and bring smiles to those around you. Young children really love the question and answer type joke.
Q: What do the reindeer sing to Father Christmas on his birthday?
A: Freeze a jolly good fellow!
Q: Why does Father Christmas like to work in his garden?
A: Because he likes to hoe, hoe, hoe!
Q: Where does Santa Claus keep his red suit?
A: In his Santa Clauset.
Q: What do Santa's helpers make the day before Christmas?
A: Eight dollars an hour plus time and a half for overtime!
Q: What is Santa's favorite American state?
A wise person said that the three phrases that best sum up the Christmas season are: "Peace on Earth", "Goodwill to Men" and "Batteries not included".
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.