Friday, October 7, 2016
Benefits of Tai Chi Energy: Healing and Staying Healthy
Staying fit and healthy are things we seniors or baby boomers think about all the time. As soon as we wake up and roll out of bed, the aches and pains remind us of our ages.
My wife and I were at a friend's house, sharing wine and conversation. Aside from talking about grandchildren, retirement, and fixed incomes, we talked about our health, how once vibrant and athletic we were, now reduced to taking handfuls of pills -- our bane: arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure; in essence, taking synthetic prescription medication to stretch the inevitable.
Gotta stay alive, right? But is pill taking our only option?
One plan that consists of a bland diet, exercise and getting enough rest is a natural prescription. As easy as it sounds, poor habits and the unwillingness to change (and a host of other reasons) prevent us from taking this simple pill. I'm going to be honest with you. It's not easy to change. It took me time and a period of discovery to embark in a tai chi journey and I'm going to share some of my thoughts with you.
Easy to say. Hard to do.
A long time ago when I was in high school, I decided that I was going to be a martial arts expert. I was enamored the very second when I first saw Bruce Lee as the Green Hornet. I was young, flexible and strong. It wasn't hard for me to meet the demands of physically intense workout, I would say, was as difficult as any high school workout.
As a Baby Boomer, weakened muscles, bones and joints, the result of sarcopenia, stupid abuses and the normal wear and tear of growing old. I know. for a fact, I would be challenged to attempt those same classes. I would have to test my limits and execute techniques without dislocating joints. Funny how that works.
I understand that martial arts masters living in the mountains still exists, deep in the heart of China, still jumping off roofs and fighting 20 or so ninja assassins after meditating for 10 hours. This is not me.
I was introduced to taijiquan in 1974 when a fellow Cal Poly student and blackbelt, Ron Lok, showed me the moves after karate practice. I was intrigued by how soft but powerful the movements were. Taijiquan (sometimes known as tai chi) and qigong (pronounced: chee GONG) use ancient training methods designed to energize a person’s qi (chee). Since 1976 when Sensei Yuen first taught it to me, I knew that it was safe and effective. Anyone between ages five and a-hundred-and-twenty-five can do it: Doesn’t require special clothing, equipment or training facility; can be done any time of the day, with or without a training partner,perhaps one of the most effective workout programs available.After graduating from college, I moved to the Bay Area where I resumed karate training with sensei Frank Yuen. It was then when I learned Yang Cheng Fu Long Form. After each and every workout, it was part of our training and I did this for about three years.
I was in my 20’s then and at the time felt taijiquan was too slow for my taste as I was into more aggressive and combative forms of martial arts like Japanese karate and Muay Thai kickboxing. By the end of 1978, Sensei Yuen moved to Nevada to retire and before he left, told me to “never, ever forget taiji.”
Years passed and all of a sudden, I turned 50-years-old; my body turned against me. Hard external martial arts like karate and kick boxing, though beneficial, took its toll. Joints suffered and though I tried to keep a stretch, I succumbed to arthritis. I attempted to counteract the effects by lifting weights, running on a treadmill, pushing my limits, and slamming fists and shins onto a heavy bag. With blood pressure still high and uncontrolled by exercise and diet, I had to look elsewhere. While browsing the shelves of a large books store, I discovered a book on healing. It was a bit over my head so I continued to browse. One book led to another until I found a book on taijiquan. Thumbing through the pages, something clicked: Memories of Sensei Yuen leading tai chi filled my head. Immediately, I was motivated. I searched Google and You Tube for references and found a compendium of information. As you can imagine, I learned something new and exciting. (When I practiced tai chi those many years ago, I practiced movements, not realizing the history or culture behind it).
What I learned was that qigong, taijiquan’s precursor, was about 2,000 years old. Taijiquan, on the other hand, was newer - about 300 to 400 years old. I discovered that five taiji systems existed: Chen, Wudang, Wu, Sun and Yang with Chen style being the father of them all with Yang, a simpler version of the difficult Chen style. I later found that Yang teaches shorter versions, more specifically, 8 step, Bejing 24 step, 37 step form, 42 step competition, 48 step competition and finally 108 step long form. I learned that like in Japanese karate, Yang style has its versions based upon their teachers, such as Chen Man Cheng style, Tung Jin Jei style and finally Yang Chen Fu. After reviewing the different styles, I realized that I learned the Yang Chen Fu version that was as close to the original version taught in the early part of the 20th Century.
TMC or Traditional Chinese Medicine explains the benefits of qigong and taijiquan by introducing chi. Qigong, literally, means “energy cultivation.” Special techniques handed down from generation to generation include the 13 Hands of Lohan, Eight Piece Brocade, Nine Joint Exercise, Five Animal Frolics and the Yi Jin Jing, about 2,000 different moves or techniques existed. Unlike taijiquan, qigong repeats movements over a given period of time like calisthenics. The difference between qigong and calisthenics is that qigong is slower and it promotes circulation rather than muscle development or aerobics. Taijiquan, translated means “grand ultimate fist” and is a martial art where the movements are performed slowly, with self-defense applications. The movements are deliberate and once completed correctly chi flows throughout the body unencumbered and free from harmful blockages.
After strenuous work outs, the body releases chemicals healing tears in muscle tissue that normally occurs from exercises such as weight lifting, running long distances, or any hard workout. Because of tai chi's slow and gentle movements, tissue remains healthy but the body reacts biochemically sending the "fixing crew" or “repair” agents to look for something to fix. In addition to this, based upon a recent study by the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, tai chi has been determined an ideal exercise to maintain healthy “arterial compliance” which is a fancy term to mean vein and artery strength and elasticity. Veins and arteries become hard and lose elasticity as a person ages. Those who exercise daily are able to keep this part of their body healthy, thereby fighting the debilitating effects of high blood pressure and cardiovascular related diseases. With both an unencumbered chi flow and the body's own healing system activated, it stands to reason why tai chi with its aerobic, muscle stretching, body and balance mechanics, mental focus, controlled breathing and meditative characteristics, practitioners live long and healthy lives.
With that said, on the left panel of this blog, you will see me performing examples of qigong and tai chi.
Some of you may be motivated to stand behind your computer and follow along. I can’t stop you from learning on your own without a qualified instructor. I do recommend, however, as with any exercise and especially you with medical conditions, to talk your doctor first about attempting any exercise. Aside from that, compared to a lot of exercises, tai chi and qigong are relatively safe and extremely beneficial as I explained above.
So with that said. Good health. Let the chi flow!