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Book excerpts from Chapter 20, of The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & Qigong.
Click on the various topics below for details on each subject:
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Tai Chi and Qigong for Children:
Kids are the embodiment of change, and change can be very stressful. Their minds and bodies grow at phenomenal rates, so they are constantly having to work with new and different bodies, making coordination and balance a big issue. Tai Chi, with its emphasis on balance, is well suited to address all these challenges.
Preparing for Athletics and Life
Tai Chi works to integrate the mind and body, skeletal and muscular systems, and left brain and right brain. In physical terms, this centering is built around an awareness of moving with good posture and from a low center of gravity, or the vertical axis and the dan tien.
Gifted athletes are people who are naturals at this kind of self-awareness and movement. Since most of our kids are not naturals, Tai Chi can be a most effective way to help your child prepare for athletics and to simply be comfortable in their rapidly changing bodies.
Treating Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
ADD is a growing problem not only with children, but adults as well. Tai Chi may be a wonderful adjunct therapy for treating ADD because it augments many of the mood management techniques recommended for ADD sufferers. A University of Miami School of Medicine study shows Tai Chi is a powerful therapy for ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder).
Check with your child's therapist or physician before beginning Tai Chi. Also, find an effective, understanding
Tai Chi instructor who has experience teaching children.
Drs. Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D., experts on the management of ADD wrote, Exercise is positively one of the best treatments for ADD. It helps work off excess energy and aggression in a positive way, it allows for noise-reduction within the mind, it stimulates the hormonal and neurochemical systems in a most therapeutic way, and it soothes and calms the body.
The slow mindful movements of Tai Chi have much to offer people who suffer from ADD. The following table explains why Tai Chi may be a perfect ADD therapy.
Tai Chi and ADD
What Experts Suggest What T'ai Chi Offers
Set aside time for recharging batteries,
something calm and restful, like meditation.
Tai Chi is a mini-vacation.
Daily exercise that is readily available and
needs little preparation can help with the
blahs that occur and with overall outlook.
Tai Chi is easy, requires no preparation,
and is a daily mood elevator.
Observe mood swings; learn to accept
them by realizing they will pass. Learn
strategies that might help bad moods
Tai Chi is a tool for self-observation of
feelings and for letting those feelings go.
Use time-outs when you are upset or overstimulated; take a time-out; go away,
calm down. Tai Chi can be performed in the bathroom
at school or work, giving you a break from
Let go of the urgency to always finish things quickly by learning to enjoy the process. Tai Chi's slow flowing routine is about
letting go of outcome and learning to love
ADD usually includes a tendency to overfocusor hyperfocus at times, to obsess or ruminate over
some imagined problem without being able
to let it go.
T'ai Chi teaches the practice of letting
go on a mental, emotional, and physical
level with each exhale.
Sage Sifu Says
T'ai Chi teachers should realize
that Tai Chi for kids with ADD
will not look like Tai Chi for
adults. It will be faster
Teaching Tai Chi to Kids
Not just kids with ADD, but all kids usually have difficulty with the slowness of Tai Chi. Therefore, you simply speed it up. Teach each child at their own pace; some can go slower than others.
Give kids constant recognition for their Tai Chi accomplishments. Ask each kid to demonstrate his or her new movements for the class at the end and have everyone applaud. If a kid forgets a move, jump in and do it with them. Over the weeks, they will look forward to the recognition and practice more.
Tai Chi is a loose thing, not a rigid thing. It can work for everybody and can be taught in many fun ways. Keep a kid's Tai Chi class moving and include stretching exercises from yoga or aggressive calisthenics to use up excess energy. Then, as the kids get more tired, ease them into slower movement.
Kids can do QiGong meditations, too. It isn't anything like adult meditations; there are more and different images that work. Try the children's meditation tape offered in the back of this book for examples.
Each condition is different, so check with your physician to discuss T'ai Chi's potential benefits to your case. T'ai Chi is extremely gentle and should not be confused with the harder martial arts, but consult your doctor before beginning the class.
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Tai Chi for Seniors
Seniors can find no better exercise in the world than Tai Chi. Prevention Magazine reported that Tai Chi may be the best exercise for people over the age of 60 providing cardio fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility all in one simple workout that is easy on the joints. Tai Chi may help build bone mass and connective tissue, with zero joint damage, according to some studies. Other studies show that Tai Chi is twice as good as any other balance exercise in the world. Since complications from falling injuries are the sixth largest cause of death among seniors, this is a very big deal. For seniors with chronic conditions, there are many maladies that Tai Chi can help treat. For details see the section The Therapeutic Powers of T'ai Chi and QiGong at the end of this chapter.
If your mobility is limited in some way, that is no problem, even if you're in a wheelchair. There is a class for you, and if you are persistent, you'll find a teacher and a class that are perfect.
Tai Chi for Women
There are many reasons why Tai Chi is the ultimate exercise for women. Its ability to cultivate both elegance and power are two of these. In today's working environment where women are competing in the workforce with men and trying to break through the glass ceiling, Tai Chi's ability to cultivate an inner sense of confident power can be very helpful. However, there are many biological reasons Tai Chi can be helpful to women as well.
Halting Bone Loss
Bone loss is a big problem with many women. Studies indicate that stress may be a major factor contributing to the loss of bone mass in even relatively young women. The daily stress relief T'ai Chi promotes provides a powerful preventative therapy to help ensure a long active life for women.
For women, including those over 45, studies have shown that QiGong practice raises estrogen levels. This is highly desirable because reduced estrogen levels after menopause cause a loss of calcium from the bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
As always, do not attempt to self-treat any disorder, including eating disorder. Suggest T'ai Chi and QiGong to your physician or therapist as an adjunct therapy. It may be a powerful addition to your ongoing treatment, but discuss it with your doctor.
Treating Eating Disorders
Women suffer from eating disorders ten times as often as men. Although often thought of as an adult problem, anorexia and bulimia most often start in the teenage years while the sufferer is still at home. Although I am unaware of any studies on the effectiveness of Tai Chi as therapy for anorexia or bulimia, the underlying issues and symptomology seem to suggest that much of the treatment criteria are embodied in Tai Chi practice.
For example, it is recommended that anorexia or bulimia sufferers strengthen their inner core of self and self-worth. The self-esteem that T'ai Chi practice builds and encourages can be a highly effective way to discover the power within one's self. The need for a restoration of biochemical and hormonal balance may be facilitated with Tai Chi's ability to create a homeostatic effect throughout the body, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Tai Chi addresses the need to balance internal rhythms and needs with life's demands by those who practice it so they can become quietly mindful of subtle feelings and needs before they become a crisis born out in acute stress or panic.
Mood swings and depression are a part of bulimic bingeing, and feelings of lack of personal control are a part of many teenagers' anorexia or bulimia. Food, or denying ourselves food, provides us with a feeling of self-control over a world out of control. T'ai Chi's regular practice is designed to help us realize that we have a great deal of control over how we are impacted by the world. This centering enables us to feel more accepting of the fact that much of the world is beyond our control.
Preparing for Childbirth
Tai Chi has much to offer a pregnant woman, if practiced very gently and with care. It is a slow and gentle exercise that can be performed by most pregnant women. Its gentleness and relaxed motion promote the circulation of energy and blood throughout the body, while its smooth abdominal breathing fully oxygenates the bodies of both mother and child. However, only practice when it feels good and never strain yourself. Rest whenever you need to and modify or forego any movement or exercise that doesn't feel right. (Find a DVD specifically for women durning maternity in our DVD section.)
Tai Chi breathing is a wonderful way to prepare for delivery. The famous Lamaze Technique is based on QiGong breathing techniques and pain-management tools. This aspect of Tai Chi makes it perhaps the most effective exercise to prepare you for a safe, natural childbirth. Remember to breathe.
Sage Sifu Says
Although T'ai Chi is very gentle, some postures may be too low or somewhat strenuous for pregnant women. Do not practice these or adjust them so they are less strenuous. As your pregnancy progresses, change your T'ai Chi to make it less strenuous with each passing month. Always go slow and listen to your body. Do not do anything that doesn't feel good. Be sure your physician approves of T'ai Chi before beginning classes.
Tai Chi for Men
Just as Tai Chi can help women to develop their powerful dynamic side, Tai Chi helps men develop their passive or receptive side as well, thereby helping men to become better homemakers and parents.
Tai Chi's goal is to strike a balance between our dynamic (male/yang) side and our receptive (female/yin) side. Men and women have both qualities, and T'ai Chi helps us balance them.
Tai Chi helps us let go of old self-concepts and prejudices, just as it teaches us to let go of tensions and fears. As our physical bodies relax and become more fluid, we become more flexible mentally and emotionally as well.
However, Tai Chi can help you be that big strapping stud of an athlete as well. In fact, maybe it can help you keep up with the women who are advancing in every sport today.
Tai Chi and Sports
Tai Chi is the ultimate sports training tool because its goal is to cultivate balance, calm, and power, the basis for excelling in any physical activity. Tai Chi can enhance any athletic performance. Tai Chi's cultivation of awareness of the dan tien, or center of gravity, can be especially helpful for surfing, skateboarding, snow boarding, and skiing. In fact, a Tai Chi instructor named Chris Luth conducts Tai Chi Skiing Workshops. However, the self-awareness, or biofeedback, element of Tai Chi and QiGong can bring out the giant in any athlete. There are several very accomplished blind golfers. Yes, you read right, blind golfers. They will explain that golf (as are most sports at their core) is more of a game of feeling than sight. They explain that the sighted golfer is handicapped in a way because of their obsession with outcome rather than process, or feeling. Tai Chi takes the awareness of the athlete internal to the nth degree, maximizing the power of any athlete in any sport, blind or sighted.
Gil Messenger, a student of Master Kuo Lien-ying, was a sports trainer as well as a T'ai Chi instructor. He often taught a form of QiGong meditation to weight trainers, who were surprised to discover that they could then lift more weight. We think when we are pumped and straining we are more powerful, but these weight lifters discovered that by allowing the body to let go, to fill with light, and to move from a calm center, they increased their physical power.
The concept of swinging from the dan tien may also help reduce "golfer's back" problems. By thinking of swinging from below the navel (or dan tien) rather than from the navel, there is less twisting of the lower back.
At an American QiGong Association conference in San Francisco, I had the pleasure to meet a golf coach who had worked with Tiger Woods, and in fact written a book about Tiger's incredible, almost super-human golf swing. His book theorized that the reason for Tiger's immense power was that as a young child he had practiced QiGong exercises with his dad. This introduced him to “feeling” his swing in a heightened way, and also taught him to swing from the dan tien at a very young age. You see the results, as Tiger has dominated professional golf for many years of his career. Another reason all children should be learning T’ai Chi and QiGong from kindergarten through university.
In golf, instructors encourage you to swing with the belly button. This is another way of saying to swing with the dan tien. Many golfers discover that they can drive the ball much farther after practicing Tai Chi for only a few months.
Also, T'ai Chi's relaxed motion allows the limbs to be swung by the dan tien's motion with no muscle resistance. This in turn allows the entire force of the dan tien's turning to be projected outward through the hands and club into the ball.
Tennis and Racquetball
The same force used in golf is brought to bear in tennis and racquetball. If you play tennis or racquetball, you will also find an increased sense of control. Sometimes tennis players will describe a sense of slowing down, as if Tai Chi practice made the game seem a bit slower than before.
Tennis players will also often discover less pressure in the knees after practicing Tai Chi. Consciously moving from the dan tien can bring less pressure to bear on the knees when coming to an abrupt halt because when the head or upper body leads the movement, the knees must work harder to stop your momentum. Tai Chi can also give you an off day exercise that is soothing to the joints, but still keeps the mind and body working together at a fine edge. You may be able to have fewer days on the court, while still improving your game, which may save your knees as well.
The concept of swinging with the dan tien is exemplified in baseball's batting motion. Many batting coaches speak of squashing the bug, which is another way of saying swing with the dan tien or body. An imaginary bug beneath the back foot is squashed as the body pulls the bat around and the back foot pivots. When performed correctly, the most powerful swings appear almost effortless. The mental calming and focus that T’ai Chi promotes can also improve the hit-to-strike ratio, as well as improving defensive reactions when fielding.
Tai Chi's ability to improve balance is excellent for infielders, who must move on a dime and reach outward to make plays. However, pitchers are probably the greatest beneficiaries of Tai Chi training. Just before going into a pitch, pitchers must for a moment hold their balance on one leg. This moment of balance is the most crucial point in a pitcher's windup and can determine both force and accuracy. Therefore, the amazing balance improvement Tai Chi provides can be the most powerful weapon in a pitcher's arsenal.
The Hard Martial Arts
In the 1970s, the world was surprised to see a 19-year-old Canadian win the World Karate Championship. His secret was Tai Chi. The centering, balance, looseness, and focus Tai Chi promotes will greatly enhance the power and speed of any boxer or martial artist. More than any other exercise, Tai Chi promotes increased reaction speed because it is therapy for not just external muscular performance, but for the mental and neural processes as well.
T'ai Chi as Therapy
The following subsections provide an introduction to how and why Tai Chi and/or QiGong may be an effective therapy for your condition. If you or your doctor are interested in more in-depth explanations, refer to the end of this chapter for an alphabetical listing of maladies found to benefit from Tai Chi or QiGong therapy. Master Ken Cohen's book, The Way of QiGong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing, may be very helpful as well (see Appendix B, Suggested Readings). Also the QiGong Institute's QiGong Computerized Database is a great resource, and www.worldtaichiday.org's resource library is as well.
In Chinese hospitals, Tai Chi and QiGong are often used in conjunction with chemo- or radiation therapies. QiGong and Tai Chi therapies can lessen the side effects of radiation treatments, but Tai Chi has many other benefits to offer. For example, a sense of hopelessness or helplessness can diminish the effectiveness of standard treatments. T'ai Chi, however, engages the patients in the healing process, giving them a sense of empowerment.
In China, QiGong may be a primary therapy for advanced, inoperable, and medically untreatable cancer. It can slow the progression of the disease, while maintaining appetite and helping with pain management. Beyond that, the emotional and mental clarifying aspects of T'ai Chi and QiGong can also help a patient prepare for their life transition in a more meaningful and spiritual way. By helping them to become more at peace in their lives, they may find the transition to death a less fearful event, thereby enabling them to make the most of their remaining days.
Sage Sifu Says
When you release a deep breath, think of the muscles letting go of the bones. on the next exhale, think of the brain, the mind, and the cranial muscles letting go of thoughts and worries. On the next release of breath, think of letting the heart and the muscles around it relax. Each release of breath becomes a deep cleansing and letting go on many different levels: physical, emotional, mental, and other levels we're not conscious of
Cardiac Rehab and Prevention
Many cardiologists are prescribing Tai Chi as an adjunct therapy for treatment of heart problems or as preventative therapy. Tai Chi provides a gentle exercise that promotes circulation, but its meditative quality may offer even more benefits. Tai Chi's stress-reduction qualities foster a feeling of self-acceptance and safety in the world, allowing practitioners to let go of the control issues that can make life seem like an endless state of panic.
Again, Tai Chi gives us a daily dosage of homeostatic feelings of well-being. As we become familiar with this feeling of optimum health, we get more attuned with what foods, drinks, or activities promote or detract from that wonderful feeling. This biofeedback feature can be instrumental in helping people make lifestyle changes that may extend their lives by many years.
Doctors now often recommend Tai Chi for stroke recovery because Tai Chi's soothing demands of left brain/right brain interaction and mind/body interaction can epitomize a physical therapy for stroke victims. Tai Chi challenges patients to coordinate movement, but at the same time helps them feel at ease in the face of the frustration this challenge might cause. If balance is a severe problem, a spouse or friend can spot you to help maintain balance.
If you have a balance disorder and wish to use a climbing harness to prevent falls, discuss the exact purpose of the harness with a climbing expert. This will enable them to ensure the harness you use is appropriate to keep you from falling. This security will help you relax more, thereby allowing you to get more benefit from T’ai Chi. Ask the expert about the full-body harness, often used in caving as well as climbing.
In Kansas City, we are pioneering a new approach to Tai Chi for stroke victims with balance problems. By securing a mountain climbing harness to the ceiling by a hook, a patient may perform Tai Chi without fear of falling. One of the main balance benefits all Tai Chi practitioners get comes from constantly testing the limits of their balance. As one drifts in and out of balance, the mind and body exchange data that effortlessly improves the balance, which often continues to improve for life. The figure below shows the harness approach. Note that the harness below is only illustrative and not sufficient to prevent falls; a full-body harness, including a shoulder harness that secures in front of the upper chest, is required to prevent falling.
Hospitals all over the world eventually will provide rooms filled with hooks for climbing harnesses so that stroke rehab or other balance-challenged patients can come and practice Tai Chi without fear of falling. These same patients may wish to have harnesses installed in their homes by a qualified contractor. Contact your hospital and show them this section. Physical therapists can consult with mountain climbing supply stores to find the optimum full-body harnesses.
Tai Chi, as well as acupuncture, is being successfully used to help people break addictive patterns. A research program working with heroin addicts revealed that withdrawal symptoms decreased much more rapidly than non-QiGong control groups did. Furthermore, breaking an addiction, whether it's to cigarettes or heroin, is a very stressful endeavor. The body and mind crave and yearn constantly. This study also showed that the QiGong group had much lower anxiety and were able to find restful sleep five times faster than non-QiGong practicing addicts in recovery. The reason QiGong is so powerful lies in the essence of what an addict, or any of us stuck in unhealthy behaviors, craves.
What is it that they crave? Ultimately it is life energy. When a smoker gets a cigarette or an addict gets their fix, the first thing they do is sit back, enjoy the moment, and relax into the pleasure of their cigarette or fix. This moment of relaxed focused awareness opens their mind and body to an increased flow of Qi or energy. This is why a raging drunk can have so much energy, even when filled with alcohol. The problem is the cigarettes or drugs are destroying your body to open up to Qi, and when the drug wears off, the body clamps down, squeezing off the flow even more. So learning to open to Qi in a healthy, expansive way is one means for healing an addiction.
Note the pattern of addiction:
1. A prospective user is looking for access to Qi, or life energy, whether they realize it or not. When Qi is flowing through us we feel good, at peace, and capable.
2. When cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol are first used, the ritual of using them and/or the chemical they put in the body causes the user to relax and open to Qi flow. But this is a false and unhealthy way to open to it.
3. Since this is an artificial way to open up to the flow of Qi, the mind and body do not learn how to keep the flow open.
4. In fact, when the drug, whether it's nicotine or heroin, is gone, the body and mind tighten up even more than before. The chemicals and their reactions in the body are unhealthy and cause the mind and body to get tighter, squeezing off more Qi than ever before.
5. The user is then required to use more of the drug or to use it more and more often because now it takes a more forceful dose to open the mind's and body's gates to allow the Qi to flow through.
6. Eventually, the user's dosages, no matter how large, do not open the user to increased Qi flow or a feeling of highness. Eventually even the largest dosages give the user only a lower-than-normal flow of Qi.
7. People who are heavily hooked on cigarettes or alcohol, and even more so with harder drugs, have a look of lacking life. They are becoming void of Qi. Their mind and body have become tight.
Sage Sifu Says
The more we can tap into ways to fill our bodies with life energy using tools like Tai Chi, the less we will have to look outside ourselves for satisfaction. Our consumption level drops as our needs diminish. Therefore, Tai Chi can also help the environment because less consumption means less trash.
Tai Chi and QiGong provide us with a healthy pattern of access to life energy, or Qi. This is what we all want. When we hug a loved one, we feel their Qi mingling with ours. When we pet our dog or cat, they revel in feeling our loving intention in our Qi flowing from our hand to their body. Tai Chi and QiGong are tools to fill us with life, and they can be very effective tools for helping addicts find their way out of the maze they have stumbled into, finding a way back to being truly alive.
The best drug program is preventative. Tai Chi and QiGong will eventually be taught in schools worldwide. By teaching the mind/body awareness and powerful stress management tools these health sciences offer, many future drug, alcohol, or other addicts will avoid the desire for mood altering drugs or addictive behaviors or substances. Educating every student from kindergarten through university in mind/body internal awareness and health development techniques like T’ai Chi and QiGong, as a matter of standard education, makes perfect sense.