Yin Yang SymbolI have recently returned from a week-long Tai Chi Spring Intensive training in Idyllwild. Master Tung Kai Ying taught a wonderful group of us to go deeper in understanding and moving through the various Tai Chi forms we have been learning. It was indeed inspiring! It was hard work, but also a great respite. The clean, mountainous setting of Idyllwild was ideal – fresh, cool air and water, lots of sunshine, and great camaraderie.

Tai Chi Chuan is a moving meditation originally practiced by the Chinese for the past few millennia. Also known as shadow boxing, Tai Chi is a widely practiced martial art that physically develops balance and coordination, as well as enhances emotional and physical health. Tai Chi combines deep diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements, both isometric and isotonic, while maintaining good posture. The movements flow almost imperceptibly from one into another with grace and beauty.

There are numerous styles of Tai Chi Chuan to choose from. The most widely practiced are Yang, Chen, Wu and Sun styles. The movements range from very slow and large to quick and compact. Each style also employs various exercises and has several forms within the one style. For example, Yang style has several standing meditations, slow forms, fast forms, and several other martial arts practices, sometimes using weapons such as knives or swords, and sometimes with an opponent. In fact, Tai Chi Chuan is considered a martial art much in the same way as Kung Fu, Aikido or Capoeira.

Tai Chi is part of a larger philosophy and way of living that strengthens the body, eases emotional stress, and facilitates an acceptance of one’s own peace. That larger philosophy is incorporated by traditional Chinese medicine, and more specifically, the concept of Qi (pronounced chi). Qi is the life force energy that flows through each of us. When this energy is in abundance and flows properly, an individual is generally in good health, not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If the Qi becomes depleted, blocked or stagnant, imbalance and illness will usually result.

Tai Chi builds energy in order to maintain an abundance of Qi, and also to keep the energy flowing properly in the body.

The benefits of Tai Chi Chuan are numerous. As a meditation, it calms the mind, allowing one to become more focused and in tune with the Higher Self. Many studies have been done, both in the East and the West, as to the positive health benefits of Tai Chi. Equivalent in aerobic activity to walking about 6 kilometers per hour (3.5-4.0 miles per hour), Tai Chi helps to lower blood pressure, ameliorate cardiovascular function and improve or facilitate breathing.

Tai Chi ChuanThe slow, deliberate movements lubricate and strengthen the muscles and joints, break up stagnation and allow for the smooth flow of Qi, thus making this a wonderful exercise for those with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Regular practice also helps in the prevention of osteoporosis and improves balance, thereby reducing frailty and falls. Its meditative and exercise components indeed make Tai Chi helpful for all types of chronic conditions, as well as to maintain good health.

While it is true that people who are approaching their elder years tend to be more attracted to Tai Chi Chuan, this moving meditation is for people of all ages. Tai Chi Chuan is a great way to achieve and maintain a strong, supple, flexible, youthful and peaceful body, mind and spirit.

Back at the Academy here in Los Angeles, I find myself loving Tai Chi Chuan more than ever. My body feels stronger, my mind clearer and calmer. I endeavor to maintain and grow in that strength and calmness. I know that there is really only one way to do this: Diligent Practice.

Resources:

  • www.tungkaiying.com
  • Tung Kai Ying, Learning Tai Chi Chuan. Kai Ying Tung Academy of Tai Chi Chuan, Los Angeles: 2012

Laughter is the best medicineThe holidays often bring a time of great family time, tasty treats, and heartfelt giving.  This can also be a time of high stress – more so than any other time of the year.  The suicide and crime rates tend to increase, and individuals and families may seem to experience more feelings of loss during this time of year.  With so many expectations placed on us, stressors can bring joy from being with family and friends, as well as difficulty in coping with life.

Stress may manifest in our lives and society in many ways.  Whether we live in an urban or rural environment, stressors are many:

  • Making ends meet
  • Raising children
  • Meeting deadlines, imposed by work, society, nature or self
  • Being social with family friends, colleagues, etc.
  • Sitting in traffic
  • Over-booking/over-committing
  • Over-working
  • Setting proper boundaries with others
  • Worrying about loved ones who are ill or who have chosen damaging paths for themselves
  • Trauma, past or present

How can too much stress impact your health?

It has a great influence in several ways.

Being stressed out tells your body to release more of the hormones adrenaline (aka epinephrine) and cortisol.  Adrenaline is the fight-flight hormone housed in the adrenal cortex.  Designed to protect you against life-threatening attackers like bears, tigers or oncoming vehicles, adrenaline is used in very minute amounts rather infrequently as a source of pure energy.  This energy is to be used in emergency situations to keep a person alive, as opposed to the day-to-day energy that is needed to thrive.

Today, high stress can engender a constant low-grade flow of adrenaline in the body, setting it up for adrenal fatigue and inflammatory illness.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is normally released every morning to wake us up, give us energy, and allow us to move through our day with ease and grace.  Toward the evening, cortisol levels in the body drop, allowing us to naturally move into a restful, sleep state.  It is during this sleep state that the body’s immune and endocrine systems repair and balance the body.

When there is high stress, cortisol works in concert with adrenaline, continuing to release high levels of the steroid.  The problems resulting from this combination are many:

  • Insomnia
  • Palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Achy joints
  • Hormone imbalances for both women and men
  • Weight gain
  • Chronic inflammation processes, like arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes
  • Auto-Immune diseases, like Crohn’s, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

So, how do you deal with the stressors of life?

There are six ways, from this writer’s vantage point:

  • Meditation
  • Good Nutrition
  • Supplementation
  • Exercise/Movement/Deep Breathing
  • Natural treatment modalities like acupuncture
  • Laughter

Meditation – or being still – helps us to re-connect with our Source, our Higher Self on a regular basis.  This not only gives us better focus, but is also a reminder that many of today’s stresses can be controlled simply by being patient and loving with ourselves and others.

Good Nutrition gives your body natural energy, allowing it to be fully functional.  Eating high-quality food at regular intervals keeps blood sugar even.  This makes it possible to more easily handle certain stressors that might normally seem daunting.

Supplementation is vital, as many of us are missing those very nutrients in our diet that will balance the hormone and immune systems and relieve inflammatory processes caused by chronic imbalance.

Exercise, movement and deep breathing do a few things.  They:

  • Tone the body
  • Help to burn calories
  • Assist with weight loss
  • Increase oxygen levels in the body
  • Increase blood circulation
  • Release dopamine and endorphins that help stop pain and elevate the mood

Treatment with acupuncture and several other modalities of traditional Chinese medicine can do the following to jumpstart your body to heal:

  • Balance all hormones, including adrenaline & cortisol
  • Aid with sleep and relaxation
  • Reduce/manage pain
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Reduce cravings for certain substances/foods that are detrimental to health
  • Reduce weight
  • Elevate mood
  • Regulate the immune system
  • Relieve and reduce inflammation
  • Balance blood circulation

Laughter is a must.  Whether you like to watch funny movies, your favorite comedy show, or engage in an activity that engenders healthy laughter, this contributes greatly in reducing stress by making life a little bit lighter.

We will often have stressors showing up in life.  But stress is manageable and doesn’t have to impact our health.  When taking proper precautions and utilizing treatment methods outlined above, we can unplug from the matrix and manage that stress – like water off a duck’s back!

HAVE A HAPPY, HEALTHY, FUN, SAFE, STRESS-FREE HOLIDAY SEASON!