Newsletter #20 - December 2002
- True Confessions of a Tai Chi Instructor
- My Journey To "Downtown" Tasmania July 2002
- TCA - Super Seniors - by Elva Arthy
"I know I should, but today I just don't have time," or "I don't feel so great. Skipping one day won't hurt." That's me talking to myself about my tai chi practice-or the lack thereof.
As a tai chi instructor, I know the importance of practice. But back in my procrastinating days, I must have been either in denial, been lazy or both. Recently, however, I've found a plan that motivates me to practice. In fact, I find myself looking forward to it.
First of all, I carve out a specific time each day to practice. It's usually mid-morning, a while after breakfast. While morning is preferable, it doesn't matter all that much what time you choose as long as you choose a time and do it.
Each practice session, usually during the warm-ups but sometimes even the day before, I decide on a specific short-term goal for the day. (These, of course, are tied into my long-term goals.) Will it be to improve my balance? To concentrate on my flow of qi? Delivering internal force? I usually choose only one, but occasionally I combine them if it seems appropriate. For example, if my choice for a practice session is balance, I might decide to combine that with a lower stance or posture.
With this practice system, there's no limit to the choices and variations you have. Let's say you feel unsure about one particular section of your form. Practicing that one section or even one move over and over again during your session might prove worthwhile.
Here are a few suggestions for practice themes:
- Higher stance
- Lower stance
- Qi awareness
- Developing internal force
- Do your form facing a different direction
Customize this list to fit your needs. But do make a list. It helps. And one last suggestion: Set aside one day a week for practice with one plan only-to enjoy yourself and the good feelings you get from doing tai chi.
Dr Lam adds… (Nancy's writing has inspired me to add some of my thoughts on this difficult topic)
I've found that morning practice sessions work best for me. I usually do my practise before breakfast. It's like having to work for my breakfast.
After my morning practice I feel good for the whole day. If I don't do my practice first thing, I don't feel right for the rest of the day. The good feeling is addictive; it motivates me to adhere to my practice.
Another thing that helps me: I have a maintenance schedule. I will revise the forms I specialize in, and then every week, like Nancy, I work on a couple of theme sets, working on one or two main points.
And every now and then, I refresh my long term tai chi goals. That helps. I also find that teaching is a powerful motivator; you will want to polish your technique and forms before teaching it to others. You will be more effective and convincing if you ask your students to practice regularly and you do likewise.
Don't get too discourage if your practice has slipped. It happens to all of us; sometimes the best way is to simply drop everything and starting practice when you think you should.
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Having talked about exotic places like Caracas and Monterey, I thought I should come back home to tell you about how beautiful Australia is, starting from Hobart, the capitol of Tasmania, an island state at the bottom of the Australian continent. (It depends on how you view the map since Australia is down under!)
Prior to my TCA workshop, the Arthritis Foundation of Tasmania held an Annual Symposium. I was invited to speak on the topic of how tai chi benefits people with arthritis. This year, the Governor of Tasmania and his wife, Sir Guy and Lady Green, held a reception at the Government House the evening before the Symposium as a form of support for the foundation. It's the second oldest State Government House in Australia and is today regarded as one of the best Vice-Regal residences in the Commonwealth. It's very beautiful and has a grand view on the harbour. You must see pictures of it on this site: http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/governor/
The ballroom has the world's biggest Huon pine floor. This is a special wood, grow in Tasmania. Huon Pine is supposed to be indestructible. It is light in colour with beautiful texture. The Government House is simply grand but still has that nice, homey feeling about it which was amazing. You can see all these and more on its website.
There I met and talked to a number of interesting people, all very supportive of Tai Chi for Arthritis. Also, I had the opportunity to learn about my co- speaker, Ben Hogan. Ben is a young man, just over 30, who has suffered from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis since infancy. In his lecture, he spoke about his inspirational life. In the early days when he was diagnosed with RA, there were few medical treatments available. He was given massive dosages of Prednisone and aspirin. He remembers severe and continual pain since babyhood, hospitalizations and a totally abnormal lifestyle. His parents were told that he wouldn't live past 10 years of age. Fortunately, and with incredible will power and determined parents, Ben has grown into an adult. He's married, has children and is doing well in his profession as a radio announcer. The medication has deformed Ben's body. He's shorter than average. His arms are also short and he has had several joint replacements. Physically he's probably not as capable as an average person, but his intelligence, personality and wonderful ability more than compensate for his disability. Ben has certainly contributed to our society greatly in his profession and also as a national coordinator of juvenile arthritis in Australia.
Talking to Ben was an inspiring experience. One of the most interesting things is that because he spent so much of the time as a child in the hospital, talking to adults, doctors and nurses, he feels that he missed out on his childhood. At a young age, he became skilled in talking to adults and think maturely. But he feels that since he missed out his childhood, there is something missing in him. I am always interested in how a person develops into what he or she is, studies have shown all stages of mental and physical developments are important, and if a stage were missed then it can affect one's life later on.
The following two days were the Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor's workshop. The participants were mostly health professionals. The Arthritis Foundation organized the workshop well. It was held in the hotel where we stayed, which made things much simpler and the service in the hotel was excellent. The room where the workshop was held was just right. The acoustics were excellent; the participants were interactive yet very good at focusing on the relevant information, listening to instructions carefully and participating eagerly. The workshop flowed seamlessly.
In conclusion, Tasmania, especially Hobart, is beautiful, has wonderful people and no traffic jams. Great weather, seafood, and excellent restaurants. I'd love to come back again to tour around the whole island, which I've heard is simply spectacular. Just in case, I would like to declare that I received no commission what so ever from Tasmania Tourist Bureau.
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As my fifth year of teaching Tai Chi for Arthritis rolls around, I thought it might be interesting to tell you about my Super Seniors class at a retirement village in the Redlands. Some of you may relate to the sort of class I am referring to - the sort of class that is not viable but you absolutely love them and you havn't got the heart to close the class.
The TCA class at this village is such a class - five to six "girls" whose average age is 80.5 years - all possessing a desire to learn something new and pleased to have the opportunity to learn Tai Chi in the convenience of their familiar surroundings. For all of the teaching year they have arrived on time for every lesson and meet later in the week for a 45 minute practice. One of the husbands supervises and fetches them classes of water. It is a lovely social happening which they enjoy tremendously.
Every lesson has included training exercises and special modifications for the aged. Two of these students have managed to complete the Basic Six forms on both sides and the others have completed the Advanced Six as well (one side only). Technically they have achieved excellent form not that different to younger and more physically able participants in the public classes. The only real difference is that they have taken a longer time span to achieve their goals.
They have progressed tremendously over the year mainly with their balance. I have also noticed a great improvement in the fluidity of their movements indicating more muscular strength to control their actions. Their improvement in coordinating skills which have developed over the months is quite remarkable as well. They of course notice the very real difference with their physical performance at the end of the fourth term compared to when they started and as they point out to me - they are twelve months older! It has been a great joy for me to see them getting stronger, standing taller, breathing better, joints opening, seeming calmer and gaining confidence.
I should mention that all of them tend to be over critical of their performance and it has required every inch of teaching skill I have to minimize their perception of having to "get it right" and the expectation that they should be able to perform what they see and want to do. To motivate and encourage them to continue with their practice with patience and perseverance has been constant and it has been enlightening uplifting for me to watch the progress and notice the changes that evolve from daily work and two weekly sessions. It is great to think that at an age when many of our wonderful seniors who have made changes to the world and contributed so much to society spend so many hours sitting, these students have not only gained real health benefits to help their day to day activities but they have developed their tai chi to a level which gives them relaxation and takes them to another place.
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