Global Resilience Solutions > Category:mind-body integration

HOW DOES TAI CHI REALLY WORK?

To learn Tai Chi is to learn to move with the attention in the body.

To practice Tai Chi is to learn to connect the body’s internal structure so that it moves together, to coordinate breathing and movement, to move without muscular tension, to align posture, and many other elements of movement which constitute one of the most sophisticated kinesiological systems in the world.

This system facilitates meditation, mental and emotional health, as well as unique health benefits and martial applications very far removed from those of styles that rely on muscular force.

The forms of Tai Chi are designed to embody inner work. By doing the forms while focusing on one internal principle at a time, you can advance your practice of the form to the benefit of both internal and external health.

Each time you do this, the form will feel different depending on the principle you have chosen to focus on. Assimilating these principles is a matter of attention. Your mind can only focus on one at a time. As you perform the movements, you can do so with emphasis on integrated whole-body movement, then on rooting, then on moving from the dantien, then on projecting power, then on spinal alignment and so on.

All of these different elements will combine in your subconscious as your body learns them, and collectively they will improve your movement in daily life, your health, your inner state and, if you wish, your martial arts practice as well.

HAVE A LOOK AT HOW THESE PRINCIPLES REALLY WORK

In order to show you what this kind of movement looks like when it really sinks in, here are some videos that show the Tai Chi exercise known as push hands practiced at a very high level. What you will see is the direct application of movement or posture, translating immediately into a person’s ability to stand their ground, or conversely get uprooted.

The first video demonstrates two Tai Chi principles: maintaining a rounded, sphere-like structure without muscular tension, and the principle that when someone applies physical force against you, they are internally connecting their limbs to their all-important “center line” – a fact you can easily use against them!

 

The second video shows short clips of Master Chen Zhonghua demonstrating applications of numerous Tai Chi internal principles, including sinking weight, rooting, projecting intention through various parts of the body, and the difference between a connected and disconnected body.

I should add that Master Chen is totally extraordinary and the finest Tai Chi master I’ve personally trained with.

 

Finally, after all that competitive push hands, here’s a slightly more sedate version that nevertheless gives a good view of the internal structure behind the movements.

 

IN CONCLUSION…

Our hope is that, even if you are not interested in the martial applications of Tai Chi, these videos have given you some insight into the principles of movement and posture that play such a key role in the meditative, health and emotional benefits of the system.

Incorporating these dynamics into everyday life is one of the greatest and most neglected “game changers” of all time.

If you are interested in the martial applications, please do not attempt to throw anyone around unless both of you have proper training!

Now, how do YOU move during YOUR day?

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


What Can Tai Chi Do for You?

 

It is with the greatest pleasure that we present this guest post by Dr. Paul Lam, one of the foremost Tai Chi experts in Australia.  I’ve followed Dr. Lam’s work for nearly 20 years and the first video I ever saw on Chen style Tai Chi was one he produced.  I was immediately struck by the form’s beauty and sophistication, so it’s no wonder that I still practice this style today, nearly two decades later.  In fact, I just came in from a practice in my backyard!
Even if you do not practice Tai Chi Chuan, you should read his post carefully – understanding HOW Tai Chi achieves its legendary health outcomes is a key that you can apply to every moment of your life… but only if you really understand what Tai Chi is doing and why.  So read on and enjoy!

 

Just what is Tai Chi?

Originating in ancient China, tai chi is an effective exercise for health of mind and body. Although an art with great depth of knowledge and skill, it can be easy to learn and soon delivers its health benefits. For many, it continues as a lifetime journey. There are many styles and forms of tai chi, the major ones being Chen, Yang, Wu, another Wu (actually two different words in Chinese) and Sun. Each style has its own unique features, although most styles share similar essential principles.

These essential principles include the mind being integrated with the body; fluidity of movement; control of breathing; and mental concentration. The central focus is to enable the qi or life force to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. Total harmony of the inner and outer self comes from the integration of mind and body, achieved through the ongoing practice of tai chi.

 

Here’s to your health

Medical and fitness authorities stress that effective exercise for health should include three components: cardio-vascular fitness or stamina, muscular strength, and flexibility.

 

Cardio-vascular fitness

Cardio-vascular fitness means better heart-lung capacity. A good supply of blood and oxygen is essential for maintaining your health and for healing any disease.

In 1996, a study was carried out involving 126 post-heart attack patients. They were randomly assigned to participate in a tai chi class, an aerobic exercise class or a non-exercise support group. The patients from the tai chi group came out with better cardiovascular fitness and lower blood pressure than patients from the non-exercise group. To top it off, 80 percent of the people in the tai chi group kept up the practice of tai chi while the non-exercise support group retained only 10 percent of its original membership. The aerobic group retained less of its members than the tai chi group and their diastolic blood pressure did not improve.

 

Strengthening

By strengthening our muscles, we keep our joints stable and protected. Of course, we need our muscles to move and when we move, the muscles pump fluid and blood throughout the body, improving the functions not only of the organs and joints but also the entire body.

Many well-known sports heroes suffer from osteoarthritis resulting from injuries. Yet, they are able to perform at their peak level because their strong muscles protect their joints and reduce the pain of osteoarthritis. After they retire from active sports, however, and their training lapses, their muscles weaken. Arthritis flares up. Perhaps we can conclude that had they taken up tai chi upon retirement they would have stayed in shape and enjoyed a healthier, happier retirement.

 

Flexibility

Flexibility improves our range of motion, making us more functional. Being flexible keeps our joints, muscles – our entire body – healthy and allows us to be more active. Jim, a 56-year-old retired fireman, is a good example of how tai chi can improve flexibility. Because of an on-the-job injury, Jim couldn’t lift his arms any higher than his shoulders. Otherwise healthy, he experienced ongoing frustration. He couldn’t reach up to cupboards; he couldn’t paint his house; he couldn’t even reach a book on a shelf above his head. Jim had given up hope of ever returning to normal. Then, simply to get exercise, he took up tai chi. Within six months, normal flexibility had returned to his shoulder joints. His life changed. He could reach.

  

Let’s get it straight

In addition to these three main components of healthy exercise, tai chi also improves posture, an important component of health. Developing correct posture will result in less wear and tear of the joint muscles. When your posture is upright, the lung space is larger. Try taking a deep breath and expanding your chest. You’ll notice that there’s more space in the chest. Now try to hunch. The space in your chest diminishes, doesn’t it? As you can see, the body works better in an upright posture.

Shirley suffered from lower back pain and sciatica problems for some time before she started doing tai chi. Tai chi really helped her. “I think part of the reason I got better was that tai chi strengthened my back muscles and made me conscious of keeping good posture throughout the day,” she says. “I don’t slouch any more. It has really made a difference.”

Good posture in turn promotes better balance, thus preventing falls and the resulting injuries. Shirley goes on to say, “Tai chi has also strengthened my ankles. I was twisting and spraining them once or twice a year. Now, between my stronger ankles and better posture, I enjoy better balance, and as I get older, I’ll be less likely to fall.”

 

It’s all in your head

The mind is the most important aspect of health. It’s a universally accepted fact that the mind controls the body. Surely you’ve heard of people overcoming disabilities because of their positive attitudes and strong minds? And tai chi, as one of the most powerful mind-body exercises, teaches the student to be aware of the intrinsic energy from which he or she can perceive greater self-control and empowerment.

Almost everyone who practises tai chi recognizes its powerful effect on relaxation and concentration. Take Joanne, for example. About 10 years ago while driving, she was clipped by a van running a red light. She suffered seven pinched nerves between her skull and her coccyx. Her frequent business travel didn’t help. For years she lived in pain.

Finally, a chiropractor suggested she try tai chi. “A six-week introductory course was enough to get me hooked,” says Joanne. “I found that, even in that short time, what we were doing was enough to help me start to relax, and that meant my back was finally getting a chance to heal.”

 

Stress

You don’t have to have sustained an injury to benefit from tai chi-produced relaxation. Tai chi simply offers a tool to help you cope with busy, modern-day life by appreciating the tranquillity and the nature around you.

Going hand-in-hand with relaxation is the alleviation of stress. As a high-energy businessperson, Joanne has truly benefited from her eight years of tai chi. “Physically, I can handle stress a lot better than I used to. I’m now aware much earlier when I’m responding to stress and can react appropriately. That means I don’t end up with tight shoulders and headaches.

“Mentally, I find that overall I handle people and stressful situations differently. I’m more inclined to sit back, listen, and evaluate a situation than I used to be,” she continues. “I make much more use of energy and try to be sensitive to other people’s energy to assess their state of mind and body. That’s tremendously helpful in dealing with difficult people and situations.”

 

Spirit

In this context, the term “spirit” refers to simply feeling good and positive rather than “spirit” in the sense of religious or occult. For instance, “Hey, today I’m in good spirits.” Or, “Today I’m happy.” It’s usually not easy to control your mood or your spirit with your conscious mind. If it were easy, depression wouldn’t be so common, nor would it be so hard for doctors to treat. The spirit and mood is largely controlled by the subconscious mind, which has an immense power to control us. For instance, you know you’re depressed, and although you dislike the condition, you can’t seem to get out of this mental state.

The daily stress, negativity and destructive emotion accumulate to dampen our spirit, whereas when we’re close to nature, for example, or involved in a cultural activity, our psychic energy gets in balance. All too often, fast-paced Western society tips the balance to the negative side. In fact, in Western society more than 50 percent of diseases presented to doctors are caused by mind-related problems, such as stress.

Tai chi can help. The ancient Chinese were aware of the immense power of the mind/spirit. Tai chi aims to achieve harmony with nature and the balance of mental serenity and physical strength. Having better balance calms the unconscious mind.

Enhancing the qi-vital life energy-during tai chi practice is the path to uplifting the spirit. The qi is simply a life energy within all living beings. For humans, our minds can learn to enhance qi, which in turn, connects with the unconscious mind to enhance our mental attitude. Qi grows when the person is well balanced and in harmony. Once your body is relaxed and calm, and your mind receptive, your qi will begin to circulate. And that will start your spirits soaring.

 

For more from Dr. Lam, visit his website.

 


Qigong the Personal Resilience Multitool: Lung Health

Many of you are familiar with our Rock Solid Health Qigong video series and the tremendous health and wellness benefits to be derived from practicing these foundational Qigong techniques.  In the spirit of our upcoming Resilient Life Code unit on Internal Exercise, we’d like to take a moment to consider Qigong in a different light, as a specialised toolkit that can help you to achieve particular goals, both health and fitness related and in other areas of your life. 

Qigong is a term that encompasses the Chinese arts of internal exercise and energy cultivation in all their diversity.  Qigong is a collective project, having been developed, practiced and refined by Taoists, Buddhists, martial artists, healers, monks, generals and all orders of Chinese society.  It stands between meditation on the one hand and the martial arts on the other and is not entirely separate from either.  The basis of Qigong is the absorption, circulation and refinement of natural energy through the coordinated use of mind, body and spirit for the cultivation of all aspects, faculties and powers of the human being.

Qigong is extremely specialised and diverse.  It treats the physical body almost like an onion, strengthening it one layer at a time.  Fascia, muscles and tendons and major organs all receive their due attention through specific techniques.  The human energy system is likewise cultivated step by step.  Qigong’s biggest flaw is that there is far too much for any one person to master.

Nevertheless, there is another level of specialisation in Qigong that can be very helpful for your health and personal development goals.  Qigong has branches designed not only to maintain good health, but to heal illnesses and chronic conditions in yourself and others, to improve physical performance, to absorb energy from the environment, and to apply qi energy to the development of the spirit (shen).  It is here that you can really match your qigong to your personal resilience goals.  Here’s a look at a specific set of techniques for dealing with one set of health challenges.

(Note: Please seek the advice of a qualified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine before using specific medical Qigong techniques.)

 

Medical Qigong: The Lungs

Much of the world’s population suffers from asthma and other chronic lung diseases.  Qigong approaches lung health from several directions.  First of all, the lungs are included in the Inner Smile meditation, a practice for bringing positive qi to the different major organs, a version of which is shown in the video.  There are also specific breathing exercises for strengthening the lungs, qi circulation exercises, and specific attention and massage exercises for asthma.  Here are some basic exercises:

  • First Breathing Exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hands folded over your dantien (lower abdomen).  Press gently as you exhale and draw your abdomen in, bending your upper body forward.  Straighten and breathe in naturally.  Repeat three times.
  • Second Breathing Exercise: From the same position, lean back as far as you comfortably can and extend your arms slightly back while inhaling, expanding your lungs and contracting your abdomen as much as possible.  Hold your breath as long as you safely can.  Then return to an upright position and exhale through the mouth.
  • Asthma Focus Exercise: Be still in a sitting, standing or prone position.  Focus your attention on your zhichuan (“benefit asthma”) acupuncture points, located on either side of your spine on the narrowest line between your shoulder blades.  Focus for 20-30 minutes.

 

There are many other related exercises and approaches to lung health in the Chinese tradition.

Qigong is a diverse and multifaceted tool for your personal resilience and personal development, waiting to be explored.

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.


Putting it All Together!

In the coming weeks, we’ll be reintroducing the Resilient Life Code, a course that will bring together all the aspects of personal resilience we’ve talked about.  It’s easy to spend your life reading up on health, mindset, spirituality, energy work and so forth without finding any coherent body of information that will show you how they all fit together.  Finally you’ll have access to that indispensable information.

 

Dualism- How We Forgot

One thing that all ancient traditions have in common is the unity of all of these elements within their spiritual disciplines, elements which we far too often treat as isolated areas of concern.  In my opinion, this traces back to Western culture’s fundamental dualism- the mind and the body are placed in fundamental opposition.

One symptom of this trend historically has been the complete misunderstanding within Western Christianity of its own “external” practices- fasting, use of images, genuflection, holy water, holy oil, incense, all of the elements that Protestantism discarded as meaningless ritual- which it had, in fact, largely become.  If you grew up in a Protestant country, chances are you’ve absorbed some of Protestantism’s disgust for these “primitive,” “superstitious” practices in one form or another.

People like to make rules to replace authentic traditions- following rules, after all, is easier than struggling to transform the human person- and the “externals” are easy fodder for this sort of thing, as I am painfully aware from my own church background.  But the fundamental superstition here is not that the externals affect us internally, but that they don’t.  The body and the mind are one organism, and you simply can’t make progress in personal resilience without using each to change the state of the other.

 

The Full Picture

I cannot think of a single authentic tradition that does not control diet, for example, in one form or another.  From Buddhist vegetarianism to the extensive corpus of Taoist dietary advice to the fasting practiced by many faiths globally, the question is not how to alter the diet, but in what way.  This was certainly the approach of early Christianity.  They had no question that fasting could help them to put their body-mind organism in a state more receptive to the presence of God.  The only question was what it would look like.  We have the evidence to show the vastly different dietary practices they experimented with, some of which still coexist today.  The distortion occurs when this becomes an external rule or a mortification of the flesh rather than an activity with an internal purpose.

The struggle to develop our full potential as human beings is aided or hindered by the full picture of our daily life.  What is the first thing you do in the morning?  What do you think about during the day?  How do you feel?  What is your body’s physical condition?  What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch in the course of your day?  What energetic input are you getting from the people around you?  What material are you feeding your mind with, and how does it affect you on a deeper level?  How do you respond to conflict, to stress?  All of these questions become critically important to create the conditions in which you will find it easier to flourish in the long term.

 

Full Immersion

Ancient traditions understood this, and that’s why so many of them embraced the most radical of solutions.  The seeker leaves his old life behind, all the possessions, friends and family, career prospects, expectations that he has ever known.  In short, he breaks every old habit, every old input except what is in his head.  Perhaps more importantly, he gives himself no alternative but total belief.  He finds a master to teach him, and slowly, he begins to rebuild himself in a new setting.  His diet, exercise, work, reading, acquaintances, surroundings are all deliberate.  His inner life begins to change as he is taught to face his own inner obstacles and transmute them.  His physical body begins to change, and his consciousness with it.

This is hardly possible for everyone, and such an approach can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what to look for.  But it is important for us, living in a disjointed and materialistic society, to understand why things were done in this holistic way.

Imagine, for a moment, a nation somewhere in the world that had dedicated itself to finding the best possible way for every human being to reach their own unique potential in everything they do, everything they are, and to realize the divine imprint within their being.  Imagine that for centuries, this nation had absorbed seekers from all nations with all of their many gifts and perspectives, considered many ways of life, and from these tried to create, not a consensus, but a way of life that reflected and facilitated that common endeavor in every facet of this society, that gave everyone scope and encouragement to find and develop their own unique talent and potential.

What might such a society look like?  We can’t know, but that’s the point- it doesn’t exist.  The next best thing for us is to become more conscious in how we live our own lives, to reclaim control of our inner state one piece at a time by understanding what affects that state.  Our purpose going forward with the Resilient Life Code is to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle in a synergistic way, to show how they intersect and how to put it all together.

More on this is coming your way very soon…

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




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