Newsletter #27 - October 2003
- How to Learn Tai Chi? - By Dr Paul Lam
- Part II of my Tasmanian Trip - By Dr Paul Lam
- What Makes Tai Chi Good - By Caroline Demoise
- Tai Chi and Yoga - By Troyce Thome
- Hi Paul - From Ann FitzGerald
- Chicken Soup
How to Learn Tai Chi?
Learning tai chi can be a most enjoyable and rewarding experience. Tai chi is probably the most effective exercise for a holistic approach to health. It will improve your health and fitness, and help you to relax.
It's important to start out right on your journey to learning tai chi. Since we're all different, our approaches to learning tai chi will differ. Each of you will find an approach that will be enjoyable, fulfilling, and will help to improve your health.
Below are some good approaches for beginners to follow:
1. Try to understand why you want to learn tai chi. What is your purpose? To improve health or to practice a martial art?
2. Find a suitable teacher. There are many different tai chi teachers with different styles of teaching and forms of tai chi. Go to the teacher's class, meet with other students and meet with the teacher to find out if the teacher has experience for your needs. For example, if you want to practice tai chi to help your arthritis, then find out if your teacher has been teaching some people who have arthritis.
Some teachers emphasize the martial art aspects of tai chi. If you're interested strictly in improving your health, then that teacher's not right for you. Some teachers use modern coach-like approaches to work with students; others use strict discipline methods. Figure out before you commit, what style of teaching works best for you.
Find out what style of tai chi the instructor teaches. To decide if it's appropriate for you, check out the different styles and their purposes on the Article page of my website, "The Five Major Tai Chi Styles."http://www.taichiproductions.com/articles/display.php?articleid=3
3. Read books, articles and use instructional videos. My website has many articles which introduce tai chi and help you to improve different aspects of tai chi. If you're unable to find a suitable teacher, instructional videos might be the best alternative. A well-constructed video can be a very valuable tool. Videos can also be useful to complement your teacher. If you occasionally miss refined points in your class, you can check them out at home on your video. (See the article "How to choose a video." http://www.taichiproductions.com/articles/display.php?articleid=26)
4. Be persistent in your practise. After you choose a method, or combined methods to learn, be sure you practise what you learn. Give yourself time to absorb and to get over the initial awkward stage so that you can enjoy tai chi and its many benefits. It usually takes a beginner two or three months to overcome this phase before tai chi becomes most enjoyable.
5. Keep an open mind. Expose yourself to different ideas and different forms of tai chi so that you can compare and find out which one suits you the best.
Above all, have fun and enjoy healthier life style with tai chi!
By Dr Paul Lam
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When we arrived in Launceston, we went to dinner at a restaurant called "Fee and Me." The name came about because originally the restaurant was run by the waitress, Fiona, and the Chef. Now it's an international class restaurant and the food is sensational. This restaurant has everything I enjoy: food that preserves the original flavour instead of being covered with sauces; lots to choose from; smaller portions; impeccable service; and, an extensive wine cellar. It's hard to imagine that this classic restaurant, famous and doing a great business, is located in a small city such as Launceston.
On Friday we visited Cataract Gorge. It's a spectacular place. We were advised that they had just experienced their worst flooding since 1975. We noted a lot of debris washed up on the beautiful banks of the gorge. The lookout restaurant of the gorge is famous for its flock of peacocks. They are certainly beautiful, especially standing next to the magnificent gorge. One peacock stood out because he was in a tree, which I found interesting. We all looked at the peacock and discussed why he was in the tree since we had never seen a peacock climb up a tree. Using our imaginations, we decided that this peacock must be a visionary.
Speaking of visionaries, have you read the story about a leader or a visionary in Steven Covey's book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People"? This story is about a group of people working in a very thick forest. They can't see the edge of the forest but are busily chopping down trees to create a road to get out of the forest. There are managers who ensure that the workers are working efficiently and the supplies are flowing. The team of workers are working very efficiently and in perfect coordination, chopping trees, and fervently cleaving debris. The leader is a person who climbs up a tree to have a look at the bigger picture, he discovers that they are headed in the wrong direction. Instead of cutting the shortest way out of the forest, they are heading deeper into the forest. The leader sees that the workers are cutting down the wrong way, so he yells out to them to change direction. Everyone is so busy doing their job, though, that they tell the leader to shut up and come down and start doing some real work.
Anyway, we thought "our" peacock was one of those leaders who have the vision to go up the tree. And since peacocks have such big, beautiful yet cumbersome tails, we thought he might have gotten his tail cut off by the branches for daring to venture up for a bigger picture. This is not unlike some visionaries in our history who have sacrificed their lives to help mankind move toward a better direction. Just a bit of imaginary work on my part to say how important I think it is to be visionary and to climb up trees to look at the bigger picture.
Here's the picture to prove the point.
The workshop was great; Tasmanians are very much like their country, beautiful and sincere. I have met many friends; some of them are planning to join us at the January one-week workshop in Sydney.
By Dr Paul Lam
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During break time at the Connecticut Tai Chi workshop in June, a student, new to the Sun Style, ask me about another student, "What makes his tai chi so good?" As I thought about his question, I realized that it wasn't simple to answer nor is good tai chi simple to achieve. But we recognize it when we see it. Yes, his posture and alignment were relatively good. He wasn't struggling with the shape of the movements, coordination or the sequence of movements, and he was developing a smooth, steady, connected flow. And yet achieving this is only the beginning of what makes tai chi good.
If we taught a scarecrow and a human the shape and sequence of tai chi movements, we would notice the absence of qualities in the scarecrow's movements that are present when we recognize "good" tai chi. A person can put "life" into the movements. What does it mean to put life into the movements? The process of animating "the form" and the qualities of expression that we choose to put into our "form" are the exploration of the depth of tai chi.
This exploration begins with focusing our awareness on how we are moving our bodies in space and expanding our awareness of every aspect of our movements (foot placement, alignment, coordination of upper and lower body, breathing, moving against resistance, flowing, etc.) To achieve this, we must develop the quality of "feeling," which is different from thinking about how we move, breathe or flow. To develop deeper levels of feeling in your body during tai chi, it is helpful to quiet the mind and cultivate the attitude of silently, without judgment, observing ourselves.
According to creator Sun Lu Tang, Sun style should have the feeling of "moving in water." This quality has also been described as moving against gentle resistance. Hours devoted to practicing that quality, results in people recognizing that we are developing depth and beauty in our "expression" of the tai chi movements.
Deepening our tai chi would not be complete without increasing our awareness of breathing during our tai chi movements and practicing abdominal and reverse abdominal breathing. The movement of "open and close" in Sun style is deepened by allowing the breath, with intention, to initiate movement. Open and close follows the breath and follows intention.
These are some of the aspects of internal development that require years of practice to develop to a high level and which are instantly recognizable as good tai chi. Developing depth in tai chi begins with our intention to improve. Energy follows intention. The more passion we put into that intention, the more passion we put into our practice. The more of a priority we make tai chi in our lives, the more people will be touched by the beauty, grace, and depth in our tai chi.
By Caroline Demoise
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In Tai Chi we are taught that the most important principal is for the Yi to lead the Chi, that the mind must lead the energy.
Easy to understand, harder to do. How can one truly allow the mind to lead the energy? The first prerequisite is to be able to quiet the mind thus allowing the mind to become calm and stable. Once again, easier said than done. How can we quiet and settle the mind? One technique is through the practice of Yoga.
Yoga is the art of calming the mind and relaxing the body, thus allowing body and mind to fuse together. When the body is tense and the mind is agitated there is no opportunity to blend the mind and body into a harmonious relationship. The word Yoga means to yoke. The idea is to be able to yoke the mind and body together. Bringing the mind and body into unity is the clear objective of all yoga practice. All of the limbs of yoga seek to accomplish this goal.
By practicing the various asanas (postures) in yoga we stretch the body and thus relieve tension in caught in the body. Most often we are quite unaware of the tension we are holding in the body. Through the gentle stretching techniques the tension we are holding releases and the body is able to relax at a deeper level. When the body can relax at a deeper level the mind begins to quiet as well.
Mind and body are completely intertwined at all times, so when the body begins to relax, the mind the mind follows. Likewise when the mind begins to relax so goes the body. To give an example of this, imagine an instance when you have been under a great deal of stress. Say, perhaps it is big exam you are about to take. Can you remember how your body and your mind are both "keyed up" before the exam. You are carrying a lot of emotional tension in your mind and your body responds accordingly. When the exam is over, what is the first thing that you do? Usually it is a big sigh! A big breath, with a long slow exhale, releasing the tension in your body and immediately your mind calms down a little. Can you remember a time such as this?
There are many examples of how the body and mind are integrally linked together. For instance have you ever felt like you were "floating on air"? Where was your mind, when your body felt this way?
Have you ever experienced the feeling of "being all tied up in knots, unable to even breathe"? What was your state of mind when your body felt this way?
So we know that in order for the mind to be calm and clear the body must be relaxed as well. In the practice of yoga we accomplish this through asanas and through pranayama (breathing techniques).
In yoga we strive to move with clarity, awareness and intention. In Tai Chi we strive for the same ideal. Practicing the art of yoga can help Tai Chi practitioners attain the state of mindful practice.
We often refer to the normal state of mind as the monkey mind, always jumping here and there. Forward and backwards, but hardly ever in the present moment. We are usually too busy living in the past or imagining the future to ever really be fully in the present moment. The beauty of practicing tai chi and/or yoga is that they both allow us to be in the present moment.
When we can stay "present" for longer periods of time we can begin to explore the depth of tai chi, the internal components. It is the exploration of the internal components and how they manifest in the external form that makes the study of tai chi so magical. It is the ability to embody the principals of tai chi in the form that makes the form so beautiful to experience. These can only begin when the body is "sung" and the mind is clear.
In the words of Daisetz T. Suzuki "The mind has first to be attuned to the Unconscious. If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an "artless art" growing out of the Unconscious. This state of unconsciousness is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill."
Life does offer us vast experiences, some more pleasant that others, but none so pleasant as a peaceful mind, a healthy body and the serenity that comes from practicing the arts of Tai Chi and Yoga.
By Troyce Thome
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My name is Ann FitzGerald, and I recently attended your workshop in Connecticut (June 2003). I am also one of the two women who ran into you, Nancy, and Ian at a restaurant in Hartford, CT the night following the workshops' close. My friend Kathy Youngson is an occupational therapist, and I am a speech pathologist. Afterwards, we walked with you, Nancy, and Ian to your hotel room where we "dropped" you off to return to our own.
I am writing to you to ask for your permission re: the use of some of the materials which you have authored. I understand through the Forum that you are comfortable with the use of your articles for non-profit, educational purposes… Kathy and I have begun teaching our first class (Ta Da!), and have been passing out handouts to the students each week. Among them: Benefits of Tai Chi; Warm-Up and Cool-Down Exercises; and Useful Resources.
Kathy and I just taught our second class this morning, Paul, and to rave reviews! We never knew teaching Tai Chi could be so exciting or rewarding! Our class of seniors are truly THRILLED. The power of Tai Chi is just stunning. Kathy said: "It is almost as if people are seeing how beautiful they are - on the inside - through this simple form." It is transforming. And this, after only a second hour of class! We're both ready to give up our "day jobs."
Thank you for letting us know how you feel about the use of materials drawn from your book, Paul. And a deeper, larger thank you for creating this wonderful program and teaching us to teach it in a way that makes it accessible to "ordinary" folk.
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CHICKEN & LENTIL CACCIATORE
FROM YOUR_HEALTH NEWSLETTER
Preparation time 15 minutes.
Cooking time 45 minutes.
Per serve: 7.8g fat, 1060 kJ.
8 (1.5kg) skinless chicken thigh cutlets
1 medium (150g) onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 x 400g cans low-salt tomatoes
300g button mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon no-salt tomato paste
1 cup (250ml) chicken stock
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup (65g) red lentils
½ cup (80g) seedless black olives
1 tablespoon drained capers
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Heat large non-stick pan, coat with cooking-oil spray, add chicken, cook, turning occasionally until browned, remove.
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Dermatitis (eczema) is a common skin condition causing red, dry and scaly patches. Dermatitis often flares up in the dry winter air and can be very itchy and distressing.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type and has no obvious cause. It usually starts in the first few years of life, particularly on the face, elbow and knee creases, wrists and ankles. This condition usually improves with age. However, patches of dermatitis are also common in adults with dry skin, especially the elderly.
Some patients get 'contact' dermatitis from touching irritating substances, e.g. chemicals or detergents, or from an allergic reaction, e.g. from plants or jewellery.
Strategies for prevention
o Keep the skin moist. Avoid soap where possible - use a soap substitute instead e.g. sorbolene. Use a bath oil. Have less frequent, shorter baths and showers. Use a moisturiser, e.g. sorbolene and 10% glycerin, after bathing & during the day.
o Avoid triggers, e.g. wool, nylon, carpets, grass, sand and chlorine pools.
o Don't scratch!
o Avoid overheating. Do not overdress, turn down the heaters, have cooler baths.
How to treat dermatitis
Although there is no cure for dermatitis, good control can be achieved in most cases. Steroid (cortisone) creams are the mainstay of treatment - they clear the rash and reduce the itch. Use your cream till the rash has gone and restart at the first sign of relapse.
Steroid creams are safe if used as directed by your doctor and are quite different to steroids used by athletes and body builders. With prolonged or incorrect use over large areas, they can cause thinning of the skin but serious side effects are rare. Strong creams for the body should not be used for delicate areas such as the face.
For more info, visit www.eczema.org.au.
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