Newsletter #21 - March 2003
- Ten Essential Principles By John Mills
- Music Makes The Difference from Musica Viva Australia
- How To Present Tai Chi By Glenda Hesseltine
- The Sydney January Workshop From Irene And Dicky More
- Comment On The Traditional Teacher Article By Dahlis
- Your Health - Blood pressure. Reaching your target
2003 Morning Talk - Essentials in Practice.
I want to talk to you this morning about some of the basic principles of tai chi, about what they mean and why we're supposed to follow these principles. Quite a few of you here this week are just beginning tai chi and while you certainly have an interesting path ahead of you, it can sometimes be a complicated and confusing one. There is so much diversity, and so many different answers to the questions. Personally I think that's all part of the attraction, but to understand it all properly I think we need to look back at the origins of tai chi.
When I first started learning, I thought tai chi was this mysterious moving meditation that somehow, in a way I never really understood, just evolved from old martial art movements. It took a while, and it was quite a revelation for me, to realise there are people out there learning tai chi as a martial art. It was an early morning trip to a park where I watched 2 guys pushing hands that made me see there was a lot more to all this than I'd realised. Just in case you don't know what I mean when I talk about pushing hands, it's an exercise 2 people do together, moving in a circle and taking turns to gently push each other, well, sometimes not so gently. The idea is to develop softness and sensitivity to your opponent's movements so you can learn to yield and deflect, then hopefully unbalance him. It's really just one of the steps along the way of learning self-defence. I think there's a tendency sometimes to think of push hands as separate from the forms, but really they work together and complement each other. Yet when I went to the park that morning, I'd never seen anything like push hands before. Watching and talking to those 2 helped me see all the so far unexplained things I'd read, about defeating an opponent, in a completely new light.
Sometimes when we read about tai chi, especially some of the classics, it's not easy to understand why we have to do things the way they say. I think that's because we've lost to some degree the real understanding of what tai chi is all about and where it came from. Once you realise they really are talking about a martial art it helps us to better appreciate what it's all about. You don't have to be doing a self defense class, but I found I had a much better understanding of tai chi when it finally sank in that they're talking about a real opponent, it's not just a vague metaphor.
Let's have a quick look at one of those tai chi classics - the ten essential points of Yang Cheng Fu, but before we do that, I think you first have to understand a little about how tai chi works as a martial art. It is in a way the opposite of most martial arts. In tai chi we seek relaxation instead of hardness, we want correct alignment of the body, and balance, so that when your opponent pushes, or punches, or kicks towards us, we can be soft and deflect him. There's a saying in tai chi that four ounces can deflect a thousand pounds, and that's really the basic idea of the art. A gentle shift of the weight, a turn of the waist, is all it takes to push aside an incoming force. The idea is to get your opponent to overextend, and then to lose his balance. When he tries to regain his balance, you use his own backward movement by gently pushing him in that direction. Once he's unstable, or "in the emptiness" as they say, it's a relatively simple matter to uproot him. Think about a chair. When the chair is sitting on the ground firmly on all four legs, it's almost impossible to tip it over. But if you take that chair and balance it on one leg, or in other words put it into the emptiness, it takes only a touch to make it fall in any direction! Does that make sense to you? If my opponent is firmly balanced, it's hard for me to do anything with him, but as soon as he loses his stability, I can push him wherever I want without much effort at all. It know that makes it sound easy, but you need to be relaxed, you need to have correct alignment or posture, and you need to have perfect balance and control. That takes a lot of slow practice to achieve, and by the way that's exactly why we do the forms so slowly.
Now, let's take a look at the first of Yang's 10 essential points -
1. Keep the head upright as if suspended from above
This is usually one of the first things we're taught but we don't always understand why it's so important. When everything in your posture falls together properly your weight is transmitted down through the feet into the ground, you almost become rooted to the spot and you have excellent control of your balance. But if you're out of alignment, then that introduces stresses, and things don't work together properly. More importantly you lose your balance much more easily. If our heads are not in alignment then the whole body can be thrown out, trying to counter balance. Now to keep your head upright you also need to keep your body upright. That's important in itself because as soon as you lean in any direction you can't easily turn and yield. It's having the upright posture and being relaxed that gives us the freedom to move properly.
2. Depress the chest and raise the upper back
Depressing the chest means keeping the chest slightly concave. We do this because it makes breathing down to the dantien easier, and it's all part of trying to stay as relaxed as possible. Don't stick your chest out, otherwise your breathing is harder and you actually become top heavy. Relaxing the chest helps in turn to relax the rest of the body. Want to try something for me? Throw your shoulders backward and stick your chest out, then take a few deep breaths down to the dan tien. When you've taken a couple of breaths, relax the shoulders and round them a little. You should notice immediately how much easier it is to breathe all the way down. Doesn't that feel better? If the shoulders are tense your whole body reacts, but once you depress the chest and allow your breath to come easier, the rest of your body relaxes too.
3. Loosen (relax) the waist
I think this is fairly easy to understand, just not so easy to do. A tense waist makes the movements stiff, you start to become awkward and your stability suffers. If your waist is loose and relaxed, it's easier for you to move into the stances and to maintain your control and your balance.
4. Distinguish between substantial and insubstantial.
I remember this one was always a bit vague to me, yet the books keep telling us it's extremely important and if you don't do it properly "your steps will be sluggish, and you can easily be thrown off balance". Remember they're talking about a real opponent and this idea of being thrown off balance is meant to be taken literally. It's mainly all about how you control your weight shifts. When you're moving forward for instance, it's important to place the front foot first, and only then move the weight. You move all the weight to the front foot before you pick up the back one. The leg holding your weight is substantial, the other insubstantial. But just saying that doesn't explain why it's so important. If you don't shift your weight properly, then you start to "float" between moves. Every time you take a step you're actually losing control and balance. Instead of being firmly planted on the leg holding your weight, the substantial leg, you're in the emptiness just like the chair on one foot. That opponent we're talking about could easily push you off your centre every time you take a step.
5. Sink the shoulders and elbows
This is about relaxing the shoulders, and allowing the elbows to point downwards. If you lift the shoulders then everything, including your chi, seems to come up with them, but if you relax the shoulders and point the elbows down that actually lowers your centre of gravity, and makes your stance stronger.
6. Use your will (mind) and not force
I touched on this one earlier when we looked at the idea of using 4 ounces to move a thousand pounds. It means the body should be relaxed and there's no real force in your movements. It's a difficult concept to understand for a martial art, but remember the effectiveness of tai chi comes from being able to unbalance your opponent by being soft. You use gentle deflections instead of direct blocks, and then you use his own energy or momentum to uproot him with a gentle push.
There are some other points, about co-ordination, about not having breaks or stops in the forms, and about seeking stillness within the movements. Co-ordination is easy to understand. If you're more coordinated then you're not only more balanced but you can obviously be more effective. The idea of not having breaks, or "rolling on like a great river" as they say, is simply that a pause in the movement gives your opponent a solid opening to use against you. Instead of being fluid and soft, a pause suddenly introduces a point of hardness and a support for your opponent to take advantage of. Stillness in movement is the ability to be mentally calm and quiet, trying to sense your opponent's move almost before he actually does it.
What we've just done is take a very quick, and almost simplistic look at some of the basic principles in one of the great classics of tai chi. When I tried to describe how tai chi works, I said we seek softness, correct alignment or posture, and balance. These 10 essential points are about how to achieve these things but hopefully you're beginning to see we can understand it all a little better when we appreciate that it's about martial applications. I know it's really much more complicated, not least because of the very diversity of tai chi. Sometimes different styles seem to do things differently and after watching Kam's demonstration yesterday of Chen style tai chi, you'd be forgiven for wondering about all this talk of softness! But the classics of tai chi, are the real foundation of the art. They embody all the essential principles we keep referring to, and they're common to all styles of tai chi even though not all styles interpret them the same way. Whether you're learning self defense, or you're only interested in the exercise and the relaxation, the same ideas should still direct the way we move. We need to spend time thinking about these principles during our training. You'll find you get more out of your practice and actually improve your tai chi, if you stop sometimes to think about how you move. Take a break from just doing the forms, and deliberately concentrate on things like relaxing the waist, sinking the shoulders and elbows, how to shift your weight. You should take some random movements out of the form and think about how you do them, or even practice the principles by doing the tai chi walk. Mind you, just practicing the walk can be a trap, because you may not be actually translating the ideas into your form. We need to practice these things in short sections, and not always in the same part of the form. If you keep using for example the beginning of the form, you'll find after a while your first few moves will be great but then you'll quickly drop into all your old bad habits and probably not even know you're doing it. So vary your practice. Mix it up. Play with different moves.
More than anything else, it's important that you just do some tai chi. Enjoy it. My trips to the park at Cabramatta also taught me the pleasure of getting up early in the morning, and even though I now understand tai chi a lot better, (at least I think I do), I still enjoy every day a simple, uncomplicated moving meditation. I'm sure we've all heard about the benefits, hopefully you'll taste the simple pleasure to be had from doing tai chi, whether it's an exercise or a martial art or whatever else you want to make it. But you have to remember none of that will come to you if you don't actually get out there and do it!
So - practice, practice, practice!
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Studies from around the world are substantiating what has been suspected for a long time - that the study of music actually improves a student's performance across all their subjects as well as improving their social outcomes. The following information is taken from a speech delivered in Federal Parliament by Chris Pearce (Acton) on 10 February this year in which he urged music education to be considered essential in the upbringing of the next generation.
Pearce cited the following research supporting the critical role music education plays in improving academic results:
· Hungary (1950s) - music study increased a child's memory, reasoning, time management and eloquence;
· Switzerland (1993) - it improved students' reading, concentration, memory and self expression
· Wisconsin, USA (ongoing) - music education builds neural pathways related to spatial reasoning tasks, important in maths, chess and science - children doing music scored up to 35% higher than those who had extra classes in computers or had no extra classes beyond their studies
· Brown Uni, USA (1990s) - it improved educational outcomes for poorly performing students within months
· Champions of Change, USA (2000) - largest study ever (25,000 students in a longitudinal study) showed that students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, who studied music showed significantly higher levels of maths proficiency by Year 12 as well as overall academic superiority over non-music students
He also cited the large body of evidence supporting music education's role in improving social outcomes for students:
· Texas, USA (1998) - secondary students participating in band or orchestra programs recorded the lowest levels of lifetime and current substance abuse
· USA (1990's) - studies at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia plus Champions of Change all showed that students involved in music are far less likely to be involved in drugs or crime, or to have behavioural problems
· Nature (scientific journal) - reported various studies showing that students studying music were not only more successful in school overall - MusEd proved to encourage self-discipline, problem solving, co-operative and social skills
Clearly, the message drawn from all these studies is that if you want your children to succeed both inside and outside school, involvement in music is a proven means of ensuring their success.
Musica Viva Australia brings music education to over 400,000 students every year in every corner of Australia. Musica Viva In Schools take a wide range of musical groups into classrooms from Launceston to Fitzroy Crossing, training students and teachers in the art of listening to and appreciating many musical styles in order to enhance their overall learning outcomes.
For more information on this topic, visit musicaviva.com.au
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Good news! I had 46 people at my Tai Chi for Arthritis class in Lodi at the Loel Senior Citizen Center on Wednesday. The week before there were 33, so the class is rapidly growing. The article that I wrote about Tai Chi For Arthritis seemed to really reach them and that is because I listened carefully to how you told us to talk about this program.
I didn't talk about the wonders of qi or other esoteric items. I talked about the simple things such as tai chi being proven to improve "muscle strength," "joint flexibility," and "pain reduction". You were right! It really worked. Thanks for teaching me how to share this in a way that people can really hear it. We have to expand the room we are using (take down the partitions) to accommodate this wonderful crowd of people.
Glenda Hesseltine, CA, USA
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to Dr Lam and his team
We would like to say a big thank you to you all.
We appreciate Joan's efforts as our tutor. The spirit of all the participants and all the tutors were very conducive to learning and enjoying,
The evenings in the hall were entertaining and informative and great for participation. We were very impressed with Master Zhang Hao last year when we participated in his Yi Jen Jing but this year he conducted a more formal tai chi which was harder to do so we preferred last year's easy floating one. Pro Vince Mc Cullough was terrific with his talk and yoga postures and the lovely relaxation.
We find Tai Chi both challenging and rewarding.
We find with Tai Chi our body and mind become one- the mind cannot wander, the gentle rhythm creates a soft harmony giving us a Tai Chi glow, both on the inside and outside.
We are practising the 24 forms from the video to prepare us for next year.
Everyone was so kind to us and made us feel special. Everywhere was laughter and goodwill- Dr Lam you bring out the best in everyone.
and the venue was ideal and the free mineral water was very much needed,
With much appreciation from Irene and Dicky Moore
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Enjoyed reading your article in T'ai Chi Magazine about Traditional Chinese Teachers. I smiled when I read, "The teacher is always right." One time, after I left Illinois, where I learned Tai Chi, and came to Michigan, friend told me about this. A leader was doing cool down in Dr. Gu's class. One of the students criticized the leader as not doing the 'right order.' Dr. Gu reprimanded the student, and pointed out that "The teacher is always right!"
However, my experience with Chinese teachers has been positive caring. When you teach us, you radiate strong yet gentle qi and we feel comfortable to open up and share. You always take time to answer questions thoroughly. Dr. Gu also treats students with non-critical instruction, positive kindness, respect, and shares knowledge freely.
We speak about humility this month. I think all the Chinese teachers I have met in seminars or in classes radiate humility and enthusiasm to the students. Their faces light up with joy as they share the Tai Chi experience and journey along with others. You are all role models for us to follow! I remember you said in your seminar in Michigan, "Don't say, 'I am great.' Say, 'What can I do to help the student?'" This exemplifies the attitude of the Chinese teachers I have met.
In 1998 and 1999, my husband and I attended A Taste of China Seminars in Virginia where we were able to attend excellent programs. We had seminars with Jou, Tsung-Hwa; Dr. Yang, Jwing-ming; He, Wei Qi; Yang, Zhen-duo and Yang, Jun. What an opportunity to witness so much knowledge and such sincere humility! I am still amazed by the fact that many of these humble instructors answered my personal questions after class, even for me, still a beginner in Tai Chi.
Dr. Gu teachers 18 Style Qigong he learned in Beijing. I met Master Wei Qi, co-developer of 18 Style. We share by phone often. Imagine that? Tai Chi opened my life like a flower blooming in my heart. How can I express gratitude for connecting to these teachers communicating this great art, exercise and spiritual awakening? By sharing Tai Chi and Qiging, Chinese teachers help so many people world-wide.
Thank you again, Paul, for sharing your Tai Chi vision with the world! With many others, you are an example of the true spirit of Tai Chi for us to follow and share unselfishly.
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Most people with hypertension (high blood pressure) are not reaching the new blood pressure targets, recent research has shown. Good control is vital to reduce heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and kidney damage.
The latest blood pressure (BP) target is below 130/85 for young and middle aged people (<65 years), diabetics and those with kidney disease. For people over 65, levels below 140/90 are recommended.
Lifestyle changes to reduce BP
The Heart Foundation recommends you:
o Lose weight, if necessary. Blood pressure reduces by an average of 2 points for each kilogram lost.
o Get regular exercise, at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days.
o Reduce alcohol. Set a limit of 2 standard drinks per day or less.
o Reduce salt. Use salt-reduced processed foods and cut down on added salt.
o Stop smoking. Smokers with raised BP have 3-4 times the risk of heart attack and stroke compared to non-smokers.
o Eat a healthy, low fat, well balanced diet.
Blood pressure medication
If you cannot reach your target with these changes, your doctor may advise medication. Although you will start with a small dose of one medicine, most patients require a comb-ination of 2 or 3 different drugs later on.
Most people on treatment experience no side effects and lead normal lives. Side effects are often temporary. However, if they do persist, inform your doctor so that an alternative drug can be tried.
Tablets for hypertension will usually need to be taken for life, as medication only controls the pressure and does not cure it. Try to keep up with the lifestyle changes to minimise the amount of medication needed.
Never stop your tablets without checking with your doctor and have regular BP checks.
Speak to your doctor for more information, or ring Heartline on 1300 362 787, or visit www.heartfoundation.com.au.
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