Newsletter #25 - August 2003
- My Korean Workshop and Tour by Dr Paul Lam
- How to Improve Tai Chi by Ian Etcell
- Acute Low Back Pain - New Guidelines by Your_Health
- A Healing Story - by Elan Abneri
- Success All Around by Sheila Hensby
This is the second time that I've been to Seoul, capital of South Korea. Again, the workshop was held at the Seoul National University, the most prestigious university in South Korea. Last time I trained 50 leaders. Since then, these people taught another 50 leaders. Altogether 100 people have learned how to teach the 12- movement Tai Chi for Arthritis form. It is amazing that out of these 55 came from different parts of the country to attend this Update and Part II workshop.
Most participants were nurse professionals, but there were other professionals, too, including two traditional Korean dancers. The first day, I did an in-depth exploration of the 12 forms and the reverse side. Because there were so many people, I had to stand on a narrow table. That was a great test of how to perform Tai Chi for Arthritis in a small and potentially dangerous space.
On the second day, we concentrated on learning the 9 new forms. I was struck by the strict adherence to the program by everyone. Everything done was programmed ahead with precision; Korean professionals are very punctual and precise, unlike many of us who tend to be too easy going sometimes. All the participants were very, very motivated.
At the end of the workshop, Professor Lee, one of the leaders of the Tai Chi research team from Korean National University, did a solo performance of the 24 Forms that she learned in Sydney this year. I was impressed with her determination and achievement. I demonstrated the 42 Forms, and was happy to be told later that some members of the audience were moved to tears.
Tour in Gyeongju, the ancient capital
This, too, was arranged with great precision. Professor Lee, an ideal hostess, master minded the whole exploration by enlisting the help of her wonderful students.
We went by train, which was most pleasant. The countryside reminds me of the Chinese countryside with a Korean flavour. Gyeongju was a capital of the Silla Dynasty which reigned for around 1,000 years. Incredible! We were greeted by one of Dr Lee's students, Mrs Kim, who presented me promptly with pages of a tightly packed itinerary, notes and reference books.
The first place that we visited was the famous Bulguksa. It's a huge temple with two famous pagodas, one representing men and the other representing women. Typical of Korean culture, the male pagoda was larger, and more elaborate and sophisticated than the women's pagoda. (See photos.) These two pagodas are national treasures number 20 and 21. We climbed lots of stairs, all steep with no side railings. Dr Lee, with her rheumatoid, frailty and just over 60, braved every step, taking what I thought was considerable risk. And she led our group almost everywhere including up steep mountain slopes. I was struck by the beauty of the trees- the maple tree, with a beautiful green and a dark trunk in stark contrast with a pine tree's candlestick light growth. The trees were simply stunning. You can guess that I love trees.
Next we went to a huge park, which was the burial site of the Silla kings and queens. The tombs are huge mounds, like a little mountain hill. Each king has a tomb and if his wife was buried with him, it's a twin tomb, like a two-hump camel. We were able to go inside one tomb, which is called the Heavenly Horse Tomb. It was so named because there was a piece of relic with a painting of a horse flying in the sky, which denotes the name of that emperor. Inside, there were very intricate and well-crafted treasures. The mound was composed mainly of numerous little rocks piled above ground level, and then filled with earth. A meticulous lawn was maintained, unusual for a burial site. That burial ground, with its grass, wood and trees growing on top of the hill, seemed to me to be more natural than, say, the tombs in China where the kings were buried very deeply underground.
As well as famous tourist spots, we visited some interesting places not usually frequented by tourists. We drove through dirt roads and into the burnt remains of the biggest temple that was burned down by the Mongolian invasion. I was told that when the Japanese ruled Korea, they dug their trench under that temple and put some nails into it to kill the spirit or the Qi. In those days, everyone believed in Feng Shui.
Up in the mountains, there were rock carvings of buddas everywhere. On the way back, I saw a replica of the Shaolin temple, the birthplace of the Shaolin martial art. Inside was a replica of the sixth generation head monk of the Shaolin temple, who was really famous in China. It is unbelievable to see it in Korea.
My photos will better explain the beauty of Gyeongju.
Korean people are hospitable, hardworking, self-driving, and the nicest in this world! I also love Korean food. What a variety! My hosts took me to all kinds of restaurants; the most memorable one was a small homely restaurant by the sea. The seafood was fresh and delicious; I learned to wrap raw seafood with sesame leaves, a remarkable combination.
In the busy city of Seoul, we turned into a side street and entered this really nice indoor garden. The restaurant, surrounded by a tranquil garden, is called the Rock Orchid. The food there was sensational. I also liked the exquisite cutlery and crockery and the clean toilet and all that that comes with a top city restaurant.
Hope you can join me in Korea for the next trip!
back to the top
First, let me answer the title question. In short, exercise the 3 Ps-Practice, Patience and Perseverance. Read widely and take every opportunity to talk with others. Appreciate and understand other points of view and understandings. Be open-minded in your approach but think critically about what you read and are told.
But let's start at the beginning. Many people ask me why I started to practice Tai Chi.
My response tends to vary according to the circumstance but a more relevant and interesting question would be, why am I still at it?
Like all of us here, at some point in time or perhaps over time, I came to realise that there was more to this Tai Chi thing than meets the eye and this thought prompted me to try and find out more about it.
So how do you find out more? I started by reading. I haunted as many bookshops as I could find and began reading as much as I could about the subject. What I discovered amazed and bewildered me. There seemed to be a bewildering array of differing points of view and opinions about the range of styles/families of tai chi and their variations, and apparently strongly held opinions about which were authentic and what was right and wrong about them.
But you see, I'm a simple man. I find it very difficult to deal with confusing and complex issues. Thinking too hard gives me a headache. Then I remembered a lesson I learned as a younger man during training to join an organisation's sales force. Have you heard of the phrase K.I.S.S.?
KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.
That thought made me feel better and as I continued to read and research the subject I started to ignore the differences and look for common patterns and recurring themes. As a result of this approach, I gradually discovered those writings collectively known as "The Classics."
The most recent of these writings and the one that seemed best to crystallise the others-if that's possible-is The 10 Essential Points of Yang Cheng-Fu.
While I recognise and acknowledge that all 10 points are interrelated and inter-dependant, to my simple mind (remember KISS) the 10 points can be roughly divided into:
· those that address the mechanical requirements of the body, ie structure/alignment
· those relevant to how you move and coordinate movement, and
· those that describe higher level accomplishment
I would recommend that you become familiar with this text and use it as the guiding foundation for your ongoing practice.
I became aware of other consistencies that I think of as "Attitudes for Practice." They are:
· Jing - a quiet mind
· Song - relax or soften
· Chen - sinking.
· Mind - There are several aspects here I would like to discuss that are inter-related but can be roughly divided into:
· Quiet mind. Concentrate on the job at hand. Leave all your troubles at the door. Approach your practice free of troublesome and distracting thoughts.
· Conscious and Subconscious mind or the Learning and Performance mind. During the learning stages, the conscious or learning mind is engaged. We all use this aspect when learning a new form. We break down each form into its component parts and practice each part individually, putting them together, and then gradually building and linking each individual form into a whole. It's at this stage that we begin to practice integrating the essential principles one at a time into the Form.
As time passes and practice becomes more integrated, the conscious mind gradually gives way to the unconscious or performance mind. This mind leads the body, gradually integrating mind and body/thought and action into a single integrated whole.
· Mind leads the body There can be no action without intent. Imagine lying on the lounge at home watching your favourite show on TV. As long as you're content and have no need to move, you won't. If, for example, you need another beer, it's this thought that initiates an action, i.e. to get up and go to the fridge. Another simple example. You arrive at your house from work and stand facing the front door. The mind conceives an action, i.e. open the door. The body responds to this message and reaches for your keys. Where do you look while taking action to open the door? At the lock of course. Why? Because looking at the lock enables the body to efficiently coordinate the actions necessary to insert the key in the lock. You may well be able to achieve the same result without looking, by touch for example, but this method would not be as efficient and coordinated.
In summary, the mind conceives an action. It provides intent or purpose, and the eyes provide the focus for the body to coordinate efficiently to achieve the purpose of the action. The mind leads the body.
· Song - Song is translated into English as relax. But this meaning is generally regarded as incomplete. It also can mean loosening, releasing tension, relaxed alertness. To my mind the state of Song is directly related to correct posture and structural alignment as described in the 10 Essential Points.
By realigning the body to attain and maintain correct natural alignment of the skeleton several things result. Internal organs are able to locate in the body as they were designed to enabling them the opportunity to function at their optimum. Secondly, correct natural alignment enables the skeleton to assume its job of supporting the body as it was designed to do. Consequently the ligaments, tendons, tissue and muscles of the body can also assume the particular job they were designed for, namely to support the skeleton and not expend additional energy or create unnecessary tensions.
If we can achieve and maintain this natural state, then we can allow the body to function naturally and optimally. In this state, we have a chance of achieving the state of Song from the inside out rather than superficially from the outside in as we all tend to do.
· Chen - Sinking. Sink the chi to the Dan-Tian. How often have you heard that and what does it mean? Have you noticed that the command to sink the chi to the Dan Tian occurs on exhalation? So, is it the breath we are sinking or the chi or both? Does one lead the other or does it happen simultaneously? Does it matter?
On the subject of breathing, I subscribe to the view that movements that are up and in represent opening movements and inhalation. Movements that are down and out represent closing movements and exhalation. With these guiding principles in mind you should allow the body to breathe naturally. The human entity has an innate ability to adjust breathing patterns in accordance with this principle as a result of regular and sustained practice. Too much emphasis on conscious control of breathing patterns can tend to create tensions in the body that may inhibit the development of Song.
As for sinking, I think that during practice the chi will sink to the Dan Tian on exhalation as a natural consequence of observing the requirements of the 10 Essential Points. In other words, the body is maintained in natural structural alignment and is in a state of Song. As I said earlier, I also think that the state of Song is directly related to attaining and maintaining natural structural alignment.
So going back to the question of improving your Tai Chi, be sure you:
· Practice in accordance with the Essential Principles
· Be patient with yourself
· Think critically about what you are doing
· Practice regularly
Most importantly - PRACTICE!!!
back to the top
ACUTE LOW BACK PAIN. NEW GUIDELINES.
Patients with acute low back pain should stay as active as possible and continue normal daily activities, according to new guidelines from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
It is not always clear what causes acute back pain. Most cases result from injuries to muscles, ligaments, bones and discs in the back. However, serious causes are rare and 90% of cases settle within 2 weeks.
How to get better sooner
The guidelines advise that you:
o Stay active. The old days of bed rest for back pain are gone. Limit rest in bed to 2 days as it tends to cause the back to tighten up. Light activity will not cause further injury. Avoid sitting or staying in the same position for too long.
o Exercise regularly. Start aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming, cycling) at a low rate and try to gradually increase, aiming for at least 30 minutes a day.
o Pain relief. If required, paracetamol is safe and effective. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory tablets.
o Stretching. Back loosening exercises can relieve muscle spasm and pain. Try a warm shower or hot pack before exercise.
o Back exercises. If you get repeated episodes of back pain, back strengthening exercises may be helpful.
o Work. Return to work as early as possible, even if there is still some pain.
Are X-rays needed?
X-rays are usually not required initially, unless you have had an impact injury which may have caused a bone fracture. X-rays for low back pain are unreliable and are rarely helpful in identifying the cause of pain.
Your doctor may advise more sophisticated and accurate tests in special circumstances.
back to the top
When I was in my teens I developed back pain. The doctor told me I had "wedging of the vertebra" and sent me to a physical therapist who gave me exercises for my abdomen and lower back. Subsequently, I took up karate, and at 22, earned a black belt. But even though I was relatively strong, I continued to have pain. I tried a chiropractor; I tried acupuncture. They provided only temporary relief.
Then, at 25, I discovered Tai Chi and slowly phased out of karate. I also had deep tissue bodywork. The practitioner said that my vertebra and muscles between my shoulder blades didn't have proper mobility. They seemed to be "glued together." After many painful bodywork sessions, and after much practice of Tai Chi and Qigong, I had less pain, and my posture had improved but my back still had not opened up.
When my son was born, I was 33, and at that point, I became more serious about my career. For 10 years, I didn't practice Tai Chi regularly. I did, however, stick to a healthy diet and did enough physical activity to keep in decent shape. But by 2001, at age 43, I realized my neck and back were once again hurting. I went back to Tai Chi and Qigong with a passion.
After a year, I was doing one and a half to two hours of Tai Chi and Qigong a day but my back still bothered me.
I became aware of Dr Lam from his videotapes, and when I noticed on his website that he was giving a weeklong workshop in Connecticut. I decided to go and take the Chen 36. On the first day of class, Dr. Lam made a subtle correction to my posture. Thereafter, I got up each morning at 5 a.m. and did one to one and a half hours of practice before the class started. And after dinner, I either did additional practice or participated in the evening events or both. Wow! I was probably doing about seven hours a day of Tai Chi, and I was having the time of my life. I must say that my legs were experiencing some heavy-duty pain by the fourth day. But by that same night, I felt I was standing a little bit straighter; I felt more comfortable. I didn't realize at that time that the condition that had plagued me for over 30 years was beginning to heal.
Over the next several weeks I continued to practice daily, adding my newly learned Chen form into my daily routine. Over the next several weeks I noticed that my back felt different. The "stuck" area seemed "unstuck." I felt straighter, and that felt good. The long hours of practicing Tai Chi, the workshop's healing atmosphere, and my increased Chi gave me the power to heal.
Elan Abneri, a licensed professional engineer, lives in Port Jefferson Station, Suffolk Co., New York with his wife and two children. He's been involved in the martial arts since 1974.
back to the top
This year, in one of the Tai Chi for Arthritis classes I was teaching, there was a delightful lady-let's call her Anne-who found she didn't know her right from her left, so to speak. When we first started the warm up exercises, it became apparent that she couldn't coordinate her arms and her legs. She had us all in fits of laughter.
Anne said she'd been like this all her life and didn't really think that the class would bring about any changes. But I kept trying each week, gently telling her that in time she would see improvement. For about six weeks, nothing happened, but by week 10, it was obvious that Anne was improving. By the time she had finished the 12 weeks, Anne was a very happy lady.
She continued coming to class each week, all the while improving, and during these classes, I taught a few Qigong exercises from your videos. For years, Anne has been on medication for "nerves," but is feeling more relaxed these days. I told her to let her doctor know. She's now going to be one of my "helpers," so all credit to your program, Dr. Lam.
My personal news is that since I have been doing the Qigong exercises over the last six months, there have been a lot of medical problems going on with me. A few times, the tears would come on all of a sudden, but the other day while I was driving, I could feel the emotion rising into my throat. I did my Qigong breathing and a bit of visualising and the pressure in my throat and the tears behind my eyes disappeared. I felt in control again. So thanks from me for your programs.
Sheila Hensby, Darwin, Australia
back to the top