Newsletter #63 - November 2006
In this issue:
-- From me to you, by Dr Lam
--Tai chi throughout the years, by Caroline Demoise, Master Trainer
--Why is research important? by Troyce Thome, Master Trainer
-- Eve’s Story
--Book review by Cynthia Fels, M.Ed: “Teaching Tai Chi Effectively” by Dr Paul Lam
-- Prostate blues. Don’t suffer in silence! An article from Your Health magazine
It was wonderful to meet and work with so many people during my last global round of workshops - and it’s also wonderful to be home. I met many people who told me the most amazing stories of how tai chi has improved their quality of life. For example, one person told me how they started walking again after living a wheelchair-bound life and another person told me how they had been able to go back to work even though previously they had been medically assessed as 100% disabled.
What Inger Wulf from Zurich told me also keeps popping up in my mind. She said that after doing tai chi every morning she feels the air smells fresher, the flowers are brighter and the days just get better. I feel that way too after my tai chi practice. You too can enhance your life like this with tai chi, if you have not already done so.
I hope to see some of you soon at the Korean conference or at the Sydney workshop early next year.
New book release
My staff is now busy sending out your orders for my newly released book, “Teaching Tai Chi Effectively”. I am excited about the positive feedback I’m getting about this book. It is the first time ever that a book has been written about teaching tai chi. The book includes an easy to learn system of teaching that is based on my own experience and that of many of my colleagues. The results of recent research on learning and teaching have also been incorporated into my teaching system. Read Cynthia's review of my book below or go to the website for more information or to order your copy. If you’d like to send me your own review of this book go to the Forum on my website.
In this month’s newsletter:
- The June 2006 workshop in Terre Haute, Indiana, has provided so much useful material for this newsletter. This month we feature talks given at the workshop by Master Trainers, Caroline Demoise and Troyce Thome. Caroline discusses how her understanding of tai chi has changed throughout the years she has been practising it and Troyce talks about the need for evidence-based research studies to validate the known benefits of the Tai Chi for Arthritis program. She’d like to hear from Tai Chi for Arthritis instructors who are interested in being part of a research project.
- Eve begins her story by asking why a person such as her, who lives with schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, would want to learn tai chi? Eve’s story brought tears to my eyes when I read it. Having treated many people with mental disorders, I have some degree of understanding of her situation. It makes me feel proud to have been able to help her improve her quality of life. Bravo Eve and her trainer – you are both inspirational!
- I’ve decided to include a book review as a regular feature in this newsletter from now on. Please feel free to send me your review of any book you’ve read that has some relevance to tai chi and that you would recommend to other tai chi enthusiasts. This month Cynthia starts the ball rolling with her review of my new book, “Teaching Tai Chi Effectively”.
- As our contribution towards “Movember” (a charity event held during November each year, during which participants grow and groom their moustaches and along the way raise as much money and awareness about male health issues as possible) we’re reprinting an informative article about prostate problems from Your Health magazine. It seems many men delay seeking help because of embarrassment or fear of cancer. However, an enlarged prostate is a normal part of ageing and is very treatable.
Product of the month
During November, if you purchase a copy of the book “Tai Chi for Beginners and the 24 Forms” together with “The 24 Forms” DVD, we’ll send you a copy of the “Tai Chi for Beginners” DVD free of charge. For more information about these products and to order your copy, go to the online shop on my website.
Please quote SP1106 to get your free DVD.
Product review of the month
The most helpful product review this month comes from Chris Merton of Victoria, Australia. Chris said about my 2 new books, “Tai Chi for Beginners and the 24 Forms” and “Teaching Tai Chi Effectively”:
“As a TCA & TCD Leader with updates, networking, and local workshop experience, I have found these two to be great publications. I read both books through and keep picking them up for information, constantly… I'd say they are great complementary books to any Tai Chi Leader training that is undertaken.”
You can read Chris’s full review in the Forum.
Thanks Chris 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 our products in the Forum on our website and you will have a chance to win a tai chi music CD too.
Entries for our competition to find out the biggest spread of ages within one tai chi class close 31 January 2007. All you have to do to win a prize valued at more than AUD$100 is send in a photo and story about your special students. You can win 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’ by emailing your story and photo to me at [email protected]. Don’t forget to include your signed approval for me to use the photos and story in my newsletter.
You can find out about Tai Chi for Health workshops conducted around the world by me or my master trainers on the workshop calendar page on the website.
Paul Lam, M.D.
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In the beginning, when I began learning tai chi, I didn’t really understand the complexity of the art. I’d been told that it would be good for me so I went to class. It felt like an exercise designed to show me how uncoordinated and stiff I really was and it appeared to be created to teach me humility. As a beginning student I was preoccupied with where to place my feet, how to move my arms and how to transfer weight from one foot to another through a series of what felt like awkward positions that they called Cheng Man Ch’ing’s Yang style. The first ten years of classes were outside in a park in southern California. Initially, it was all experiential, but after several years I began to read about tai chi, the classic principles and Taoist philosophy. This beginning phase lasted many years. It helped my body to become more relaxed and coordinated and taught me about relaxing my mind. I began to see tai chi as a pathway to follow that led indefinitely into the future.
As an intermediate student, my focus turned to skill development and I wanted to be more precise and accurate in my movements. I was interested in things like weight transfers, fluidity and what the words “substantial” and “insubstantial” really meant. The language of the Chinese masters fascinated me and I wondered exactly what those ancient teachers were trying to communicate through the classic principles. I pondered the meaning of expressions like “movement is rooted in the feet, issued by the legs, governed by the waist and expressed in the fingers”. I could grasp a surface meaning to the words, but somehow couldn’t get my body to internalize it or express it. Keep practicing, I was told by my teacher, for “all things are revealed with enough practice”.
Studying Taoist philosophy changed how I perceived life. The principles of tai chi were applicable to the physical body as an exercise and to the mind in developing strategies to cope with difficult situations. I enjoyed using tai chi concepts to make life easier at work. Yield to people when their minds are closed. Redirect the incoming energy of colleagues who are trying to control my behavior. Use softness during conflict. My experience as an intermediate student involved much reading and pondering about the words that referred to the internal depth of tai chi, along with hours of practice. My form during these years was basically an external expression, but I had a desire to become more internal.
As I look back over the last twenty years of my life, during which tai chi was my friend and teacher, I can see how tai chi has worked its magic by giving me a more flexible, coordinated body and a calmer, clearer mind. The weaving of form movements with the philosophic roots of tai chi have also helped me achieve a more integrated functioning of mind, body and spirit. I now believe that tai chi is ultimately a teaching and cultivation of the “Unity Principle” in the body and mind.
Unity expresses on the physical level as more coordinated movement, greater fluidity and improved health. By practicing tai chi we improve the level of “structural functioning” in the body or “tensegrity”. Communication between the mind and body is faster and more integrated. Energy pathways are more open and connected throughout the body. We become stronger and more unified physically.
Unity is demonstrated on the mental level as “grace under pressure”. It expresses as a calm, serene mind not easily uprooted into anger, anxiety or judgment. It is the person who can mentally redirect the incoming force of strong personalities with expectations and demands of us by listening, calmly discussing and negotiating issues while staying true to himself or herself. Perception is enhanced and we are able to observe ourselves during the form and during situations in life. The detached observer, cultivated in the mind, helps us to mentally see situations more clearly and thereby have an opportunity to choose how to respond.
We don’t experience the unity principle mentally by thinking. Unity is accessed by tuning our minds to an awareness mode. We learn to feel our bodies, noticing the subtle changes, the flow of energy as we move and how to use intention to guide our tai chi movement. As we step back from the thinking mind into awareness, we are free to mentally observe ourselves and others interact and see the bigger picture of the situation. From this expanded perspective we can free ourselves from the tendency to be judgmental and begin to operate without an agenda from the ego. We learn to see from a perspective of unity that connects us with ways to harmonize and cooperate with others.
On the spiritual level, there has always been only unity. Glimpses of this emerge into our consciousness as tai chi teaches us how to participate in the stream of life, the endless flow of creative expression in the natural world by being in unity and resonating with the Dao. The Dao is the creative principle, the unifying force of nature, which expresses as endless change and movement. It is the motivating force behind the unfolding of the planets, the changing of the seasons and all expressions of nature including human life. Tai chi invites us to slow down, resonate with and pulse with the earth’s energy to experience unity in the natural world.
The complexity of tai chi’s art continues to reveal itself to us through our practice over the years. What tai chi looked like in the beginning, an exercise for the body and mind, grows with patience, practice and increased skill level into more awareness of how to apply the underlying principles more deeply to the external form. As our skill develops, we are able to see and feel the movements in a deeper way. As the mind and body begin to integrate with spirit, tai chi will show us how to harmonize with nature and experience the ever-present unity underlying life.
Throughout the years of practice, as our relationship with tai chi unfolds, the attitude of “beginner’s mind” gives us a clean slate every day, to see, feel or learn something new and integrate that with what we have already experienced. This allows tai chi to teach us at a deeper level. We listen, we feel and we follow the thread of energy within our movements. We watch, we observe and we recognize how things are connected.
No matter how many years I continue to learn and teach, I will always choose to be a beginner
for there is always so much more to learn. I want to remain in “beginner’s mind”, because a beginner’s mind is open to learning and experiencing and tai chi always has something more to teach us.
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Most of us, as tai chi instructors of the Tai Chi for Arthritis program, know from either personal experience or from countless testimonials from our students how the practice of tai chi has helped ease the pain and the stiffness caused by arthritis. Because of our experience in working closely with students who have received such benefit from doing tai chi we may feel that these facts are clearly self-evident and that there really is no need for tedious research studies that prove what we and our students already know.
We may feel that a simple subjective survey given to students before they begin tai chi, after 6-8 weeks of tai chi and then again after 16 weeks of tai chi should be evidence enough to prove to any researcher that the practice of the Tai Chi for Arthritis program has enough substantial positive results to be considered a safe and effective form of exercise that can substantially reduce the pain and stiffness caused by arthritis when practiced on a regular basis. This, coupled with the fact that there are no hidden risk factors, should move tai chi into the limelight as a preferred form of exercise for those people who have tender joints or other rheumatological disorders.
However clear and self-evident these facts may be, we still need to seek the help of researchers to confirm what we already know. Western medical practices are based on this sort of scientific research analysis and, to gain esteem in the eyes of many medical practitioners, being able to cite evidence-based research is vital to the success of any program or regime.
Of course when it comes to prescription drugs, evidence-based research is most valuable in determining the expected outcome of adhering to a prescribed course of action with any disease or illness.
Likewise, an exercise program targeted for a population with specific health concerns should also be tested for reaching the desired outcome. Many articles are being written lately on the benefits of tai chi for people with arthritis. But not all tai chi programs are suitable for people with arthritis and some could potentially do more harm than good when working with people with tender joints.
Every style of tai chi has different characteristics and even within the styles there are notable differences in execution of the form. Some styles have very low stances with explosive movements. These styles are not suitable for most people with arthritis. Other styles have one leg bearing the body’s entire weight for extended lengths of time, which may also cause further damage to the joints.
The style of tai chi that has been approved by the Arthritis Foundation USA has been specifically developed for people with arthritis. The style has higher stances, and a follow step or brisk step keeping the movements lighter on the joints. The style is very easy for beginners to learn and is filled with many qi-gong movements that are useful for a resting period within the form and for a chance to focus on correct postural alignment.
Many problems with arthritis are exacerbated by poor alignment and the frequent qi-gong movements in this form allow the practitioner to do a “body scan”, bringing them back to a moment of attention to detail regarding alignment. No other form has so many “rest” periods where one can scan the body, with postural alignment being a primary focus.
It is natural then that when a style has been so specifically designed for a targeted population that a proper research study should be conducted to determine if the desired outcome of the program meets the criteria that is was designed to do.
Small research studies have been conducted with results showing a significant increase in fitness, endurance and an overall sense of well-being after practicing the Tai Chi for Arthritis form for periods averaging six weeks or more. But larger studies would be most helpful in providing doctors and rheumatologists with the information and the resources they need to feel completely confident in recommending a specific form of tai chi for their patients with arthritis.
We are currently working on plans to implement an evidence-based research study.If you are a Tai Chi for Arthritis Instructor and are interested in being part of a research project please forward your contact information to AnneMarie Groth at: [email protected].
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Why would a person who lives with schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) want to try and learn tai chi? Can you imagine someone who lives with a mind that is totally occupied every day by self-destructive thoughts ever being able to learn tai chi?
My first lesson in Tai Chi for Arthritis was extremely difficult. I had been inactive all my life and my mind was sluggish. I had never before learned a physical/mental discipline and my mental and physical co-ordination skills were poor. I was also unable to distinguish between left and right. To begin with, I could not remember the movements of the form at all. Even my tai chi teacher thought I would give up the class. But my stubborn inner self kept telling me that if I couldn’t learn tai chi I would have a miserable life and that thought frightened me, so I persevered.
Sooner or later a person with schizophrenia and OCD slowly begins to grasp the complete picture of a programme like Tai Chi for Arthritis. I have been learning for two years now and I am going through the form for the third time. Now I find tai chi graceful, intelligent and vital for keeping me feeling balanced. The form now feels graceful and healing. There is a place I reach within myself when I’m doing tai chi that is beyond words, mental concepts, physical limits. This place is full of silent bliss.
Tai chi gives me inner and outer strength. It gives me mental relaxation, better posture, better health and self-acceptance. When I practice tai chi my disabilities dissolve into the universe and I start to feel eternal. It gives me a feeling of completeness.
Footnote by Eve’s teacher
I knew of Eve’s mental condition when she first came to learn Tai Chi for Arthritis. I did not know how she would take to the class but was happy that she wanted to try it. However, from the first day I thought that it would be impossible for her to learn the form. She could not distinguish between left and right, could not remember any of the movements, and her neck and shoulders were completely rigid. Each week I expected her to give up.
Now, two years later, I am delighted that she did not give up. Eve has memorised the first 12 movements and she practises her tai chi at home. She can now feel the rigidity in her upper body and is working on loosening her neck and shoulders. But most importantly, she consistently speaks of tai chi giving her a level of mental balance that she has not before experienced. She says that as she has continued to learn tai chi, the destructive thought patterns that are the normal experience of someone suffering from schizophrenia have sunk into the background, to the extent that they do not command her focus all day. Eve regularly speaks of a newly found feeling of mental balance and she is quite clear in crediting tai chi practice with this change in her mental state.
Two years ago, Eve could not tell her left side from her right. And now she is about to learn the reverse 12 movements. It is hard to emphasise what a great and wonderful accomplishment this is. Both Eve and I hope that her story inspires other tai chi teachers to welcome people with mental disabilities into their classes.
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“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”
No doubt there exists in many cultures the notion that teachers are honored members of that culture, yet getting to the point of becoming a “great” teacher is indeed an art and one that is seldom achieved without much direction.
Historically, the teaching of tai chi has been a system in which only the “elite”, the ones who are total masters of the form, can teach others. At one time tai chi was only taught in secret and kept among a select few, and even today it is frequently only taught in one way, with little or no room for teaching variation. In his book, “Teaching Tai Chi Effectively,” Dr Paul Lam, physician, tai chi master, and world leader in the field of tai chi for health programs, breaks away from this set mold of teaching and offers a new perspective for the teaching of tai chi. He says, “I have met many effective teachers with only basic tai chi skills, but hardly any effective teachers who have high level tai chi skills but poor teaching skills.”
His book is a concise handbook on how the tai chi instructor can improve their teaching skills, and in it Dr Lam shares his own successful, “Stepwise Progressive Teaching Method”. Indeed, his book includes many teaching stories and ideas, so that tai chi can be shared with the general public and enjoyed by the many, rather than the few.
Examples of some of the teaching ideas that are included in the book are:
- Dr Lam’s successful, “Stepwise Progressive Teaching Method”
- Fundamental safety rules
- Being a positive force in the classroom and giving positive feedback
- How to handle a student who is talking too much or taking up too much valuable classroom time
- Public speaking and working with the media
- Setting up a tai chi business and advertising
- Basic forms for tai chi classes, (evaluation, release forms, etc)
- Basic tai chi principles
- Developing lessons
- And more
Most people who do not have a background in education and learning theory have no idea where to begin when they start teaching, or how to most effectively get their teaching ideas across to their students. Dr Lam’s book is designed to not only help the novice tai chi instructor begin their tai chi teaching journey but to make it a successful and effective one. It includes ideas that will enhance the seasoned instructor’s teaching experience as well.
(For more information about "Teaching Tai Chi Effectively or to order your copy go to the online shop.)
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Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate that affects more than half of all men over 50 years of age. The prostate is a small walnut-sized gland below the bladder. Enlargement from BPH can result in a gradual squeezing of the urethra (water pipe) causing:
- Waking at night to urinate
- A weak urine stream, with difficulty starting and dribbling at the end
- A feeling that the bladder is not completely empty afterwards
- Frequent or urgent urination
These symptoms can make life miserable, causing disrupted sleep, daytime tiredness, reduced work productivity and difficulties participating in social events.
See your doctor
Many men delay seeking help because of embarrassment or fear of cancer. However, an enlarged prostate is a normal part of ageing and is very treatable. Furthermore, the above symptoms do not mean you are more likely to have prostate cancer.
Mild cases do not need active treatment. However, if symptoms are troublesome, medications can be used to relax the prostate and bladder or reduce its size. Some men get relief from serenoa repens (saw palmetto), a herbal remedy. In more severe cases surgery may be advised.
What’s new in BPH treatment?
An improved form of tamsulosin is now available and has a lower risk of side effects. It is effective in relieving symptoms and improves sleep and quality of life.
Laser treatment of the prostate is becoming more popular. It results in less bleeding, a quicker recovery and shorter hospital stay.
Help is available! See your doctor or visit www.andrologyaustralia.org.
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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.