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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.

 


How to Beat Social Anxiety

Don’t think this post is for you?  Well, you may have to take the quiz below to be sure 😉  One thing’s for sure, though – it IS DEFINITELY for someone else you know and who would benefit from reading it.

“I was in the seventh grade, and it was my first school dance,” says Andrew, now 18. “It was really an awkward night for all the kids there, but I started to feel different when a slow song came on. Everyone paired off and I was left to the side. While I really desperately wanted to ask a girl to dance, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was willing myself and willing myself to just ask this one girl, but my heart was beating so hard it literally hurt and I could feel my hands shaking just thinking about it. I eventually left, just kind of disgusted with myself. It was around that time I started wondering what it was in me that made me different from everyone else. I don’t think I went to another dance.”

Social anxiety is portrayed in art and media as something that happens on the playground or as a factor in the alienation of adolescence. But shyness can long outlast grade school, and many find it has debilitating effects on their lives, especially in situations where they are required to be charming and outgoing. It is characterized by an intense apprehension about social situations, and being evaluated or scrutinized by others. This directly affects your ability to get what we consider to be the most important things a person can attain: close friends, a husband or wife and a good job. The fear of embarrassment and judgment can make some people avoid these challenging situations altogether. Depending on how you see it, social anxiety may be on the rise, or perhaps it’s simply that more people are admitting that they suffer from it. Either way, it is now the third most common mental disorder in the United States!

Do you have social anxiety? Take this quiz.

1. You arrive late to a dinner with a few friends and a romantic interest. You feel:

a) Elevated heartbeat, dizziness, sweating and blushing.
b) Slightly embarrassed but eager to smooth over your late arrival.
c) Excitement.

2. Are you ever nervous to eat or drink in front of others?

a) Often.
b) Rarely.
c) Never.

3. You’re about to give a brief presentation in front of a group of six co-workers.

a) You say several things you hadn’t planned (and aren’t quite accurate) and have forgotten some of your points.
b) Your hands are shaking, but you are able to focus on the presentation and convey your message.
c) You would never even think to be nervous about performing in front of such a small audience.

4. You decide to skip an after-work event. Later that night, you…

a) Regret missing an opportunity to get closer to your colleagues, and realize that you were intimidated by the event.
b) Are relieved that you didn’t have to do more socializing, and are now free to cozy up to a movie.
c) Are at the party you skipped the after-work event to attend.

5. You have an important job interview, and you have carefully prepared for it. You are to meet in a restaurant, but when you get there you see that the interviewer is someone that you think dislikes you.

a) Your feel your heart racing, and you begin to sweat. Your thoughts become scattered, and you forget all your careful preparations.
b) You feel a wave of disappointment, and weigh the pros and cons of going through with the interview.
c) You put a smile on your face and prepare yourself to charm and be your best self.

6. Do your feelings of discomfort and anxiety ever prevent you from forming close relationships with people?

a) Yes.
b) Maybe.
c) No.

7. Your boss is behaving inappropriately. What do you do?

a) Wait for the behaviour to stop, wishing you could find it in yourself to say something.
b) Email a complaint to the appropriate authority.
c) Confront him or her about it and respectfully explain that he or she is making you uncomfortable.

8. You’re hopelessly lost, and wandering around a neighbourhood.

a) You want to approach people on the sidewalk to ask for directions but feel paralysed with shyness.
b) Sit down and puzzle out the map for half an hour on your own. You like to solve problems independently.
c) Approach a stranger, feeling only slightly embarrassed to find yourself in this situation.

9. Do you ever feel like a hostage to your emotions?

a) Yes.
c) No.

If you have mostly a), there is a good chance that you have social anxiety. If you have mostly b), you’re probably an introvert. If you got mostly c), you’re likely an extrovert. This is not a professional diagnostic test, but it may give you an idea of whether you could be a sufferer.

Of course, there’s nothing terribly wrong with being an introvert, extrovert or even having social anxiety. The problem is that while introversion is an attitude that’s adopted based on a person’s needs, social anxiety actually prevents you from doing what you want to do and becoming the resilient person you were meant to be.

If you suffer from social anxiety, or even just those sudden moments of unexpected shyness, we have some tips below to help you cope.  But first, here’s a short video about a free online resource that might help:

 Take on a role: We’ve all heard by now that old adage, “if you act more confident, you’ll feel it!” To some extent, this is true, but not for those times when you feel absolutely crippled by nervousness or shyness. Sometimes we can work ourselves into these states of paranoia in which we think the people around us are judging or thinking negative thoughts about us – far though it may be from the truth! So stop worrying so much about what people may think of you – take on the persona of someone who always knows what to do and say. A man I knew that had to appear on television often used this technique as a rookie reporter – he acted out his idol! And he sure fooled me!

Reframing:  This is one of the most important skills you can learn to deal with anxiety. Dr. Peter Strong, Ph.D. recommends this approach: “Reframing simply means that you teach yourself to see the anxiety emotion as an object that arises within the mind. This is the opposite to identifying with the anxiety or fear and then becoming swept up with catastrophic thinking, worrying and other forms of reactive thinking that simply make things worse. Instead of, ‘I am afraid!’ we reframe that as ‘I notice the emotion of fear rising in me.’”

Go from passive to active: It’s important to recognize that the world is not looking at you. Most people are too busy looking at themselves! Instead of passively sitting back and feeling as if you’re an amoeba under a petri dish, engage! Become observant of the action going on around you and the dialogue. Making a concerted effort to focus on the other person you’re speaking with, instead of on your own internal feelings of stress or inferiority. Not only will this make you feel a lot better, it’ll also make you a much better conversationalist. Trust me.

Pick yourself up off the ground: Everybody makes social gaffes. One second you’re soaring on wings of confidence, the next you realize you’ve accidentally said something horribly offensive. Apologize sincerely and move on. If you’ve made a joke and nobody laughs, again, try to change the subject! The funniest person I know has this happen to him shockingly often – it was only after knowing him for a long time that I realized the reason he gets so many laughs is that he makes so many jokes. Sure, he’s a funny guy, but not very high above average. The thing is, lukewarm reactions to some of his jokes simply roll off him! I know this one takes practice, but sometimes failure can help you realize that your fears weren’t as dreadful as you thought. It can even help you grow.

Seek support: If you find that your social anxiety has gotten to a point where it is interfering with your daily life, don’t be afraid to reach out. Therapy can be wonderfully helpful for those dealing with social anxiety, as can support groups – you can find more information about connecting with a support network here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is-nice/201202/joining-support-group-when-youre-afraid-speak.

Use Energy Psychology Techniques: The great thing about energy psychology techniques is that they can take that 10/10 panic sensation from social anxiety right down to a very manageable 2 or 3, or even right down to a zero (“hey, where the heck did that awful feeling go??”) in just a few minutes at most.  From meridian tapping techniques like EFT and TFT, to “Be Set Free Fast” or Dr. Ted Morter’s BEST method, many of these approaches have been clinically validated and those who have experienced their power personally don’t need the data to be convinced.

REMEMBER, you do NOT have to live with the fear.  There are some highly effective treatments out there to help you overcome this debilitating condition.  I know this personally because, believe it or not, I myself suffered from this in my youth!  I vividly remember trying to give a speech in high school and thinking my heart would explode, my knees would buckle and everyone would think I was an idiot.  Now I’m a very successful public speaker and I do it entirely without any nervousness at all!  So yes, it really is possible to overcome this!

Have a great week everybody!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Breathing Your Way to Superb Health

You can learn a lot about a person just by observing how they breathe…

  • When they’re relaxed, whether standing or sitting, can you hear their breathing?
  • Do their shoulders and chest rise when they inhale?
  • Does their lower abdomen move at all?
  • Are they inhaling or exhaling through their mouth or their nose?

All these are key questions that can tell you volumes about their physical health and, for that matter, their emotional health and how they relate to their body.

Compelling Reasons for Breathing Right:

Simply put, your body-mind organism has been designed to breathe in a particular way, and if you knock that natural breathing out of whack, you’ll eventually reap the consequences.  The breathing that’s natural to the human person is what’s sometimes called “Normal Abdominal Breathing”.  Why should you bother with it?  As Bill Nye the Science Guy loves to say, “consider the following”;

  • It enhances the circulation of blood, lymph fluid and energy (chest breathing restricts all of them)
  • It takes the burden off the heart (chest breathing makes your heart work harder)
  • It massages your lower digestive tract, leading to more efficient elimination of toxins (chest breathing leaves your lower digestive tract stagnant and sluggish, leading to auto-intoxication)
  • It calms the emotions and reduces the energy-sapping “inner dialogue” (chest breathing tends to increase negative emotional content)

Practicing Basic Normal Abdominal Breathing:

Getting started is super-simple.  You can start with the following exercise while sitting or standing, and later graduate to doing it while walking:

  1. Keeping your chest and shoulders relatively stationary, expand your lower abdomen outward as you inhale through your nose
  2. Contract your lower abdomen as you exhale through your nose
  3. With each breath, use your mental attention to feel the breath sink down to your lower abdomen
  4. Breath at whatever pace is comfortable for you – this should feel completely gentle, natural and unforced, even if it seems a bit awkward at first 😉

Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can experiment with these auxilliary practices (NOTE: If you have high blood pressure, please consult your physician first):

  1. As you inhale, instead of just expanding your abdomen to the front, allow your waist to expand all the way around, as if it were a big inner tube
  2. As you inhale, relax your perineum completely and feel the breath move all the way down to it and push against it.  Then, when you exhale, pull up on the perineum, more or less as you would doing a Kegel exercise (the Kegel or PC muscle exercises have lots of other health benefits I don’t have time to get into here). 

Breathing and Your Personal Resilience:

Proper breathing can dramatically increase your physical health on all levels, balance your emotions, reduce your stress and, over time, utterly transform your relationship with your body.  It’s pretty hard to overstate the benefits of paying attention to your breathing.

Of course, its real value comes when you transition from doing Normal Abdominal Breathing as an exercise for a few minutes a day to making it the “default setting” for how you breathe all day long. 

To get the whole story on how to do that, go to this website:

http://www.harapower.com/

Now, go enjoy a few good lung-fulls of fresh air!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Putting "Strength in Your Belly"

“If there is no strength in your dantien, vices such as jealously, envy, anger, greed and distrust appear.”
~ Okado Torajiro

We could also add “stress”, “anxiety” and “fear” to the list.

Everything I’ve shared with you over the past week has been to prepare you for today.

If you’ve been practicing this stuff daily you can’t help but feel a whole lot better. That would be impossible. Our problem these days is that nobody will practice anything consistently and diligently. Instead, they just dabble, and dabblers don’t get results in any area of life.

Okay, so we’ve already talked about your breathing and how you need to learn Normal Abdominal Breathing in order to stop creating stress accidentally.

When you’re practicing this kind of breathing during meditation, you want to bring your breath down into your “lower dantien”. Dantien means “elixir field” and it’s your body’s main energy storage area just below your navel. This will help you to put strength into your dantien, as Torajiro says above.

It’s easy to feel the breath filling the dantien because your abdomen is actually expanding as you inhale.

We’ve also talked about how you can learn to integrate your mind, breath and physical movements into one. The next part of that equation is to learn to move from the dantien. In other words, you should feel every movement you make coming from the dantien, as if it moves a nano second before the rest of your body.

That kind of movement may seems strange to you, but keep in mind that all of Tai Chi (and other internal martial arts) and most of Qi Gong are performed just this way.

Go “play” with these approaches and you’ll soon experience a world of difference!

~Dr. Symeon Rodger
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Disclaimer: This material is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition, nor toreplace the advice of qualified medical practitioners. You should not engage in any of the exercises suggested here without consulting your physician, particularly if you have anychronic medical issues or have reason to suspect these exercises could cause injury to you. If you are pregnant or think you might be, do not attempt any of these breathing or movement exercises without the express permission of your medical doctor and a licensed practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
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The Second Key to Inner Harmony, Health and Energy

Last time we talked I introduced you to one of the most fundamental methods for cultivating deep levels of inner peace and harmony. And I promised to show you how to take that to the next level.

Okay… by now you’ve had time to practice a bit of “Normal Abdominal Breathing”. And, let me guess, you found it “awkward”??

If so, don’t worry. Anything you’re not used to will seem that way at first and the right way to breathe is no different. Of course, if you’ve had any experience before with such things as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga and even if you’ve been properly taught how to sing, this kind of breathing won’t be anything new to you.

You may have noticed how easy it was to feel peaceful and relaxed while you were sitting and doing your meditative breathing practice, and how quickly that state disappeared the moment you got up. That’s the catch…

How do you keep your mind centered and your breath relaxed while you go about your daily tasks?? Is it really possible?

Yes, and it’s simpler than you think. It still takes practice and persistence, but it really can be done. And here’s the method that so many ancient traditions have used so successfully for millennia in one form or another:

1. When you get up from your sitting practice, do your best to continue your Normal Abdominal Breathing.

2. The important thing here is to “watch” your breath. In other words, do what you can to keep your mental attention on your breathing, just quietly following it and turning away all other thoughts.

If you’re new to abdominal breathing and this new-to-you breathing pattern presents an obstacle for you, just forget about it entirely for now and watch your breath. Forget about whether it’s abdominal or not, whether you’re doing it right or not. Just pay attention to the ebb and flow of your breathing.

Your mental focus on your breathing should be “light” and natural. Don’t focus so hard you tense up. As you can probably guess, that kind of defeats the purpose 😉

3. While you’re focusing on your breath, you’ll eventually notice physical feelings of harmony all over your body. You may notice various parts of your body and skin seem to “breathe” in conjuction with your inhaling and exhaling. Feel free to pay attention to those feelings as they arise.


Combining Energy and Spirit

Although many traditions used this procedure, only the Taoists gave it a name. They called it “combining energy and spirit”. What’s that mean?

Simple. “Energy” is your breathing, since breath relates to and controls energy (Qi). And “spirit” is your mental attention.

This simple procedure – paying continuous attention to your breathing – is so profound that it was often referred to as “the true path”. Why? Because by doing it for a few months you could easily:

  1. Banish negative emotions – all your doubts, fears, confusions
  2. Gain complete control over your inner world (and therefore a lot more control of your outer world, since the former dictates the latter)
  3. Increase your love for all people and all creation naturally, without much effort
  4. Eliminate stress and discover levels of inner peace you didn’t know existed
  5. Regain your health and banish diseases arising from emotional factors

Let Me SIMPLIFY This For You…

All you need to do is get used to watching your breathing with your mental attention. It’s that simple.

Of course, at the beginning you’ll lose track of your breathing every time something distracts you – a chance conversation, spilling your coffee, memories of a negative emotional state, or just about anything else.

As long as you persevere, though, it won’t be long before you can even do intellectual work like writing this article without losing track of your inner world!

Next time, I’ll show you how to reduce some of the unseen stresses you’re putting on your physical body. Until then, enjoy the wonderful practice of “combining energy and spirit”.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


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