Tai Chi Articles
“The Cockermouth Post”
Ideal for Relieving Modern Day Stress 3
Life in the Slow Lane 4
Moving Around in Circles 4
Learning to breathe Naturally 5
No Frills Exercise 5
Ideal for Improving Posture 6
Exercise for Mind and Body 6
Finding Your Centre 7
Move from Your Centre 7
Letting Go! 8
Mindfulness in Movement 8
A New Approach to Learning 9
Keeping Active 9
The Crane and The Snake 10
Slow Motion Exercise 10
Finding Your Feet 11
No time for Exercise 11
Walking Mindfully 12
Learning to Reel Silk 12
Swimming onLand 13
Move Like A Great river 13
Tai Chi – January 2013
An ancient Chinese art– Ideal for relief of modern day stress
TaiChi is an ancient Chinese exercise that has been practised for many centuries and is now popular in the West. It is an exercise which combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and graceful movements. It involves learning a sequence of movements called a ‘form’ which looks like an effortless, slow-motion dance.
Oneof the most important principles in Tai Chi is learning how to be ‘song'(pronounced sung) which literally means ‘relax’. However, in the West the word ‘relax’ is often interpreted as ‘eliminating all muscular tension’ as in a person sitting or lying down totally supported with limp muscles. Everyone thinks they know how to relax and it is not generally thought of as an activity that needs to be taught! Unfortunately, it is often not possible to be relaxed when it is most needed as in stressful situations at work when deadlines have to be met etc. Relaxation tends to be an activity that is done periodically like in the evening when watching TV or when on holiday. Thus stress builds up and time is needed to relax and reduce this stress – a vicious circle!
Amore accurate translation of the word ‘song’ is ‘active relaxation’ or ‘to release and let go’ of unnecessary muscular tension. The body is maintained in a correct upright posture and alignment and the muscles are physically relaxed around the bones and joints at all times while sitting, standing and moving. The idea is to be ‘actively relaxed’ at all times, no more vicious circles of increased stress followed by a desperate need for relaxation. When in stressful situations at work we have a tool to use that makes it possible to stay calmer and more relaxed. This in turn avoids the negative effects of stress and leaves more energy for both work and play!
Active relaxation is not a magic pill, it is a skill that does require effort and practice to learn but once mastered it can be carried over into daily life and help reduce stress.
An exercise to teach ‘Active Relaxation’– It takes less than a minute and can be practiced in sitting, whilst at the computer, or in standing. Breathe normally for this exercise.
Breathe in and imagine you are suspended by a string attached to the top of your head and stretch your body up into an upright military posture – shoulders back,chest out etc. Feel the excess tension in your muscles. Then without losing the upright position gently sigh out and and starting at the top of your head release the excess tension, relax and soften the muscles in your neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips, knees and ankles. Imagine warm sunshine flowing down the front, back and sides of your body melting the excess muscle tension away. Feel the difference in your muscles when they are actively relaxed. Repeat as necessary throughout the day.
Tai Chi – February 2013
An ancient Chinese art– Life in the slow lane
Itcomes as quite a surprise to most people when they attend their first Tai Chilesson to discover that in order to do this ancient Chinese art correctly thereis a need to slow down. In fact the sequence of movements or ‘form’ taught isperformed very slowly and looks like an effortless slow-motion dance.
Moving this slowly is quite an unusual experience for a westerner. Firstly, everyone knows that exercise is generally performed at a relatively fast pace because it is important to work the heart and lungs in order to keep fit and healthy. Secondly, at home and work there is pressure not to waste time in order to get through daily chores, meet targets and deadlines. So what would be the point of exercising slowly? How could this possibly be beneficial?
InTai Chi the slow, precise controlled movements which are practised strengthensthe deep postural muscles. Research studies have shown that Tai Chi strengthensthe leg muscles, improves balance and reduces chronic low back pain. Inaddition the slow meditative movement may help reduce high blood pressure,increase the body’s immunity and improve quality of sleep.
Inreality, there is a need for both slow and fast exercise for a balanced andhealthy life. So why not move out of the fast lane and into the slow lane andtry some Tai Chi?
Tai Chi – March 2013
An ancient Chinese art– Moving around in circles!
Mostpeople are familiar with the Tai Chi or Yin and Yang symbol which looks liketwo entwined fish, one black (yin) and one white (yang) enclosed in a circlewhich represents the ancient Chinese view of the universe.
What people aren’t so familiar with is that the Tai Chi symbol also represents the circular movement performed in Tai Chi. The whole body including all the joint are continually moved in circles. The muscles are relaxed and the joints are soft to allow for this beautiful, fluid, circular, movement. Hold a scarf and slowly wave it in a circular motion, feeling the circles you make and experience the normal efficient movement that we use in our daily life.
Westernexercises are generally linear, often designed to work individual body parts toincrease and maintain joint movement and strengthen particular musclegroups. Muscles work harder and thejoints are held locked creating a stiff, linear movement more like that of arobot. Holding the scarf and keeping your elbow and wrist straight lift yourarm up and down feeling how much more effort is required to move in this linearfashion.
Trainingthe body to move in a relaxed, efficient circular fashion can help in all areasof life including sports such as tennis and golf which involve a swing. Sodon’t just move your body in lines add some circles for variety and try Tai Chi!
Tai Chi – April 2013
An ancient Chinese art– Learning to Breathe Naturally?
‘Howshould I breathe when I do Tai Chi?’ is one of the first questions asked by thebeginner when they learn the Tai Chi form, an exercise sequence that looks likean effortless slow motion dance. The instructor’s answer ‘breathenaturally’ often comes as a surprise to the student who may feel that breathingshould be taught as in most modern western exercise systems.
However,most of the time breathing is an unconscious activity, although it can be brought under conscious control, such as when lifting heavy weights. In Tai Chi the body is moved through space and there is no need to consciously control the breath. Instead, the concentration is on the movement of the Tai Chi form to which breathing is intricately linked.For example, when we lift our arms up and away from the centre of the body the diaphragm contracts and the rib cage expands drawing air into our lungs. Conversely, when we lower our arms and bring them in towards the centre of our body the diaphragm relaxes and the rib cage is compressed expelling air out of our lungs. In each posture of the Tai Chi form the arms are alternately lifted and lowered for one complete breathing cycle. The relaxed, slow,meditative movement practised in Tai Chi reduces the breathing rate,deepens the breath and encourages a more efficient breathing pattern. Just another reason to try Tai Chi!
Tai Chi – May 2013
An ancient Chinese art– No frills exercise!
The great thing about Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese martial art which looks like a slow-motion dance, is that it can be performed almost anywhere, at home, in the gym, outside in the garden or even in a park. It is not necessary to purchase any special clothes, such as expensive track suits and trainers, just loose comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for exercise, it can even be performed barefoot. No need to use or buy any expensive equipment – no mats, gym balls, weights,exercise bands or kettlebells etc. It is usually practised in standing making it ideal for those who would struggle getting on and off the floor, although it can be adapted and performed in sitting or lying for those with specific health needs.
A towel and bottle of water aren’t essential as Tai Chi is a moderately aerobic form of exercise and doesn’t cause breathlessness, excessive sweating and dehydration of the body. Accessories such as iPODs and music downloads aren’t required as Tai Chi is traditionally done quietly.
No need for massages, linaments and hot baths to relieve aching muscles after exercising because Tai Chi is performed very slowly making it gentle and safe for everyone. Injuries such as strains and sprains which may occur with modern western exercise such as running, gym work, and aerobic dance routines etc are very rare.
TaiChi does require good instruction but once learnt it is a safe and enjoyable form of exercise with many health benefits which can be practised for life.
Tai Chi – June 2013
An ancient Chinese art– Ideal for improving posture!
Cheng Man-Ch’ing the famous Tai Chi grandmaster who is among those credited with bringing this ancient martial art to the West said ‘the only reason for the back of the chair is to hang your coat on’.
Maintaining an upright posture is extremely important when performing the Tai Chi form, an exercise sequence that looks like an effortless slow-motion dance. One of the first things a beginner learns is that the top of the head or ‘crown’ is always suspended by an imaginary cord. The head top or crown isn’t located in the middle of the head as one might suppose but is slightly to the rear. It can be found by drawing a line from the top of the ears straight up to the top of the head.
This originated in the martial arts as when the crown is suspended the upright head position allows the widest visual field with which to see an opponent. The neck is lengthened and the chin tucked in slightly to protect the windpipe, the rib cage is lifted so that the diaphragm can work effectively and the spine is aligned allowing the most efficient use of the body. The Chinese also believed that upright posture helped energy to circulate around the body keeping a person healthy.
In the West where people lead increasingly sedentary lives and back pain is common the ability to sit unsupported in an upright position is often lost. Practised regularly, Tai Chi can help regain this skill by re-educating posture, strengthening the deep postural muscles and relieving back pain.
Tai Chi – July 2013
An ancient Chinese art– Exercise for Mind and Body!
When the beginner has their first Tai Chi lesson, it is so different from Western exercise that they may wonder how it could possibly be beneficial. The exercise sequence looks like an effortless slow motion dance and is generally performed silently although some teachers play quiet, relaxing music.The instructor asks the beginner ‘to calm their mind down as if they are going to sleep and to concentrate on feeling the movement of the body’ while they perform the exercises.
The mind state in Tai Chi is unlike that in most Western exercise, such as at the gym while on the bike or treadmill,which is often accompanied by listening to loud music with a fast beat, and sometimes whilst watching a TV monitor. The exercise improves physical fitness but with the distraction of music and video there is less attention on the movement of specific areas of the body.
One of the aims of Tai Chi is to develop awareness of the body so that it can be moved most efficiently. This makes it excellent in improving sporting performance and may also be one of the reasons that sprains and strains are rare in Tai Chi making it a very safe form of exercise.
Research is showing that the meditative aspect of Tai Chi can help reduce high blood pressure, stress, depression and anxiety, improve the quality of sleep and aid relaxation. These benefits are equally important as developing physical fitness so why not jog down to your local class and try some Tai Chi?
Tai Chi – January 2015
An ancient Chinese art– Finding your centre!
Anyone who has watched a group of people performing the Tai Chi form (an ancient Chinese exercise) will see a very slow, graceful, type of movement.
To produce this movement you need to find the centre of your body or centre of gravity which is ~ 1 1/2” below the belly button and ~ 1 1/2” inside the body. This imaginary point varies with body proportions being slightly higher in men who are generally broader shouldered and slightly lower in women who have a wider pelvis for child birth.
Our centre moves according to our body position. When we go up on our toes in standing it is raised and we become more unstable. Even being anxious, tense and holding our breath can raise our centre and reduce the stability of our body.
In order to move in balance we need to maintain our centre over our base, this is easier with a wider base compared to a narrower stance e.g. standing on a bus, we automatically adopt a wider stance.
Finding your centre will improve your balance and helps in many sports e.g. golf,riding. ski-ing etc.
Tai Chi – February 2015
An ancient Chinese art– Move from your Centre!
All day long since our infancy when we first learned to roll over onto our tummy,then crawl and finally stand erect and walk we have been moving from our centre. Moving from our centre involves rotating our pelvis and torso around the central axis of the spine. It is the most efficient way to move and is one of the core principles of Tai Chi.
We don’t think about moving our centre in our daily life as this process occurs automatically, at a subconscious level. That is, until something goes wrong with our balance as can occur with ageing or illness or when we take up a new sport or want to improve our skills.
An older person who has fallen, for example, may loose confidence and have reducedpelvic movement which is vital in balance and walking. In sport, this pelvicrotation is an essential part of swinging to connect with the ball in golf,tennis or badminton and of throwing in ball games such as cricket and rugby.
Welearn how to rotate our pelvis and move from our centre in every move of theTai Chi form so why not join your local class and try Tai Chi?
Tai Chi – April 2015
An ancient Chinese art– Letting Go!
TaiChi is an ancient Chinese exercise based on the martial arts which was createdto improve health and longevity. The Chinese observed that when we are youngour joints are mobile, muscles and tendons supple and we can move freely. As wegrow older and in some illnesses our joints tend to stiffen, muscles andtendons tighten and we loose some of our mobility. For example, it can becomedifficult to get in and out of a chair, squat down or get on and off the floor.
Ouremotional state when we are angry, frightened or over-excited can also causetension which may limit our movement and have other detrimental effects such asheadaches or raising our blood pressure. This tension can adversely affect our performance in sports as well as in thearts.
TheChinese believed that if we could prevent and reverse these changes from happeningwe might be able to slow down the ageing process. They found that the best wayto loosen joints, stretch muscles and tendons was to let go of unnecessarytension by practising a deep relaxation of both the mind and body in the TaiChi form.
Tai Chi – May 2015
(by Ros Smith, Jean andDave Haines)
An ancient Chinese art- Mindfulness in Movement
Whenthe beginner comes for their first Tai Chi lesson they learn how to movemindfully. The Tai Chi sequence of movements or ‘form’ is easy to do and likeacquiring any new skill it takes time to learn and is interesting to practice.
TheYang style ‘short form’ is performed in standing and consists of 37 posturesand the transitions in between; many are repeated and soon become familiar.Each posture has a name which describes the movement. The Chinese derived thenames from observing nature, such as, ‘Waving Hands like Clouds’, from themovements of animals, ‘White Stork spreads its Wings’ and from martial artmoves, ‘Step up, block, parry and punch’. The student has a real sense ofachievement when they have mastered each posture.
Inaddition the beginner is taught how to move mindfully by feeling the sensationsof the body as it moves through space. The pressure of the soles of the feet onthe ground, the joints bending and straightening, the muscles contracting andrelaxing all help improve body awareness. The benefits of Tai Chi includeincreased relaxation, stimulation of the mind, and increased concentrationwhich help diminish the stresses and strains in daily life.
Tai Chi – July 2015
An ancient Chinese art- A new approach to learning
‘Don’ttry harder, try softer’ is one of my Tai Chi teacher, Dave Haines, favouritesayings. ‘Let go and stop trying to make it happen’ says Jean, his wife andco-teacher of our Tai Chi class at Bolton Low Houses.
Learninghow to relax and let go is one of the key principles of Tai Chi. The beginnerwho has started lessons with the intention of working hard to master the art ofTai Chi as quickly as possible soon discovers that a new approach to learningis required.
Itis not surprising that we want to work hard to succeed as it is something thathas been encouraged all our lives whether learning a new skill or trying topass an exam etc.
Thisis one of the paradoxes of Tai Chi where trying harder creates more musclecontraction which is the exact opposite muscle state that we are trying toachieve. Even thinking about performing a movement correctly or worrying aboutnot being able to remember a posture and failing to succeed can create musculartension.
Sohow does one learn to relax in Tai Chi? The answer is to slow down, be kind andnon-judgemental to yourself, ‘let go of trying hard, try softer’!
Tai Chi – August 2015
An ancient Chinese art- Keeping Active!
Therehas been a lot of coverage in the newsrecently about the detrimental effects of the modern sedentary lifestyle. Weare now told that in addition to exercising for the recommended 150 minutes perweek (or 30 minutes 5 days a week) we need to keep physically active throughoutthe day and break up long periods of sitting with shorter bouts of activity(NHS Choices ‘Why sitting too much is bad for your health’).
Ifyou are looking for another way to be more active in your leisure time why nottake up Tai Chi? The Tai Chi form is performed in standing and is a slow,gentle, enjoyable exercise that works both the mind and body. Cheng Man Ch’ing(1898 – 1975) who is famous for bringing Tai Chi to the West, created the Yangstyle Short Form which takes about 20 minutes to perform and is ideal for thosewho have busy lives.
Lessonsare a great way to learn and friendly, informal classes with expert tuition areavailable in West Cumbria. Alternatively, for those unable to attend a class,an excellent online tuition course called iCHI can be found atwww.taichination.com.
Tai Chi – September 2015
An ancient Chinese art- The Crane and the Snake!
TaiChi was developed in China in the 13th century by the mythicalDaoist sage Chang San-Feng. Legend has it that he retired to the WudangMountain to meditate. The inspiration for Tai Chi came when he apparently had adream where he saw a fight between a crane and a snake. He observed thegraceful movements of the crane as it flapped it’s wings, deflecting thesnake’s strike while the snake was so supple it slithered out of harms way asthe crane attacked with it’s beak. The result was that neither animal wasinjured in the encounter.
SoTai Chi was created as a system of exercises for health and self defense. It isa soft or ‘internal’ martial art, which relies on skill and wisdom rather thanthe hard or ‘external’ martial arts which focus on developing speed andstrength. It works the mind and the body and teaches us how to be relaxed inchallenging situations rather than be tense and confrontational. This makes ita very safe exercise suitable for all ages, especially for older adults whowant a gentle exercise which is both interesting and enjoyable.
Thursday, 1st October is Older People’s day and Tai Chi Exercises invite you tocome and observe a class.
Tai Chi – October 2015
An ancient Chinese art- Slow Motion Exercise!
TaiChi is an excellent exercise which has many unique features making it ideal inthe rehabilitation of many conditions, such as back pain. In order to do TaiChi the beginner only needs to be able to stand (although it can be adapted forsitting), walk and move in slow motion!
Theshort form, which takes about 20 minutes to do, is performed entirely instanding so that the muscles which support the spine get a good workout. Upright posture is encouraged whilst slowlystepping forwards, backwards and sideways further strengthening the deeppostural muscles.
Inorder to move the body through the form the student is taught how to contractto lift the body up and then relax downwards, an action which is similar todoing a very small jump except the feet remain on the floor. This movementgently compresses and stretches the spinal joints and muscles.
Movingmindfully in slow motion gives the student time to relax and develop anawareness of the movements of their joints so that over stretching of tendonsand ligaments are rare making Tai Chi a very safe form of exercise.
Tai Chi – November 2015
An ancient Chinese art- Finding Your Feet!
Havinga stable base is very important in our daily life and learning how to connectour feet (or foot) into the ground is one of the first principles taught in TaiChi. The feet are the root of the body posture and like the roots of a treethey create a stable base. If they are relaxed and flexible they can spread outgiving us a wide a base of support allowing us to adjust our balance and reducethe risk of falling.
Hereis an exercise to help you find your feet. Stand in an upright posture withyour feet apart, hold onto a firm support if you are unsteady. Can you feel thesoles of your feet resting gently on the floor? Very slowly move your weightover to the left. Can you feel how the pressure increases under the sole ofyour left foot and simultaneously has decreased under the right foot? Repeat tothe right side and then return to the centre. You can also feel the pressurechanges as you move your weight forward onto your toes and back onto yourheels. Repeat as necessary throughout the day.
Tai Chi – December 2015
(Repeat of the exercises in the 1starticle for The Cockermouth Post on Jan 2013)
An ancient Chinese art– No time for Exercise!
WithChristmas approaching everyone has less time to think about exercising so hereis a gentle exercise to help reduce stress that takes less than a minute to doand can be practised in sitting, whilst at the computer, or in standing.
Breathein normally and imagine that you are suspended by a string attached to the topof your head and stretch your body up into an upright military posture –shoulders back, chest out etc. Feel the excess tension in your muscles. Then without losing theupright position gently sigh out and and starting at the top of your headrelease the excess tension, relax and soften the muscles in your face, neck,shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips, knees and ankles. Imagine warm sunshineflowing down the front, back and sides of your body melting the excess muscletension away. Feel the difference in your muscles when they are activelyrelaxed. Repeat as necessary throughout the day.
TaiChi Exercises wishes all readers of The Cockermouth Post a joyous festiveseason and our sympathy goes out to all those affected by the floods.
Tai Chi – January 2016
An ancient Chinese art– Walking Mindfully!
Doyou know where your feet are when you stand and walk? Can you stand and balanceon one leg without holding on? Being centred over your foot is essential forbalance when stepping and walking. One way to improve your balance is to learnTai Chi walking.
Hereis a simplified version which is just like walking and contains many of the TaiChi principles. Stand in an uprightposture, holding onto a firm support like the kitchen counter if you areunsteady. Very slowly step as you normally would with your right foot and placethe heel down gently, move your centre (the centre of the body is the area justbelow your belly button) slowly forward over your front foot. Feel how thepressure increases as the sole of your foot flattens onto the floor and yourweight gradually shifts into this foot. Meanwhile notice how the heel of yourleft foot has come off the floor and feel how the pressure has decreased inthis foot. Continue slowly transferring your weight forward until the toes ofthe left foot leave the floor and gently step your left foot forward. Continuewith your right foot and repeat the process for a few steps.
Tai Chi – February 2016
An ancient Chinese art– Learning to Reel Silk!
Learningthe art of Tai Chi involves discovering new ways of moving. One of the moreunusual ideas in Tai Chi is that of ‘silk reeling’ movement. Nearly 5,000 years ago the Chinesedeveloped ‘sericulture’, a method of producing silk from the rearing ofsilkworms. They discovered that in order to successfully extract the silkthread from the cocoon of the silkworm it was necessary to move smoothly andcontinuously. If you moved too fast, or with jerky movements and changeddirection the thread broke, move tooslowly and the thread stuck to itself and became tangled.
Thistype of ‘silk reeling movement’ is used when performing the Tai Chi Shortform. Students learn how to move in aslow, relaxed, continuous manner just like reeling silk from a cocoon. In orderto produce this movement it is necessary to become mentally calm and toconcentrate on the physical sensations in the joints and muscles which helpsdistract the student from the worries of daily life.
Tai Chi – March
An ancient Chinese art– Swimming on Land!
Mostpeople know that swimming is an excellent form of exercise, however noteveryone likes water and there are certain medical problems such as skinconditions and infections etc. that preclude this form of activity. Tai Chi isan alternative form of exercise with similar health benefits which is suitablefor those people who dislike or cannot tolerate immersion in water. ChengMan-Ch’ing, the famous Tai Chi grandmaster described this art as ‘swimming onland’.
TaiChi movement is performed very slowly and gently just like moving throughwater. The body and limbs are relaxed so that they feel as though they arefloating. Like swimming you can practise Tai Chi for a longer period thantraditional exercise without becoming short of breath or excessively tired andit helps to build up stamina.
Hereis an exercise to help appreciate how Tai Chi movement is like swimming. Sit orstand in an upright posture. Slowly perform a wave like movement with your arm.Think of the air that surrounds you as a thick, viscous liquid and imagine thatyour arm is moving slowly through this liquid. Feel how your arm floats throughthe air. Feel the air move through your fingers.
Tai Chi – Unpublished
An ancient Chinese art– Move Like a Great River!
TaiChi was developed in the 13th century to promote health andlongevity but it’s roots go back much earlier. Around 2,700BC Huang Ti, theYellow Emperor, wrote the first Chinese text on health and medicine. Hiscapital was on the banks of the Yellow river and he noticed that when the riverflowed normally everyone was well but when it flooded the water became stagnantand disease became more prevalent both in people and animals. He reasoned thatif like the river, people did not move it would be bad for their health andthey would be more likely to fall ill. He established a National HealthProgramme and developed ‘health dances’, a form of gentle callisthenics called’Dao Yin’ which his subjects were required to perform in order to keep healthy.
Laterin Tai Chi the idea of a river flowing along was incorporated in the form whichinvolves learning how to move slowly and continuously through a set sequence.
Todayin the West, the importance of being active is acknowledged for both theprevention and treatment of disease and Tai Chi is one way to achieve thisgoal.