Tai Chi & Qi Gong

Every movement counts!


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The Importance of Being Grounded

By Sorcha Hegarty

 

One of the things tai chi class can help with is becoming more grounded. Being grounded means being connected. Connected to your body, to its rhythms and needs; connected to the earth, and to what’s happening in the world around you; and connected to the present moment.

 

I am not a person one could ever accuse of being grounded.

 

I stay up too late. Show me a good book or film, and I could easily stay up all night, putting aside my tiredness until the sky starts to brighten and I’m suddenly reminded of what a struggle it’s going to be to get through the day on an hour’s shut-eye.

Coffee

I can go all day without eating, skipping breakfast and working through lunch, sustaining myself on cups of tea, and then suddenly realizing that I’m famished, and reaching for the first thing I can find.

 

I can go days without proper exercise. Shut up in my home office, buried in projects, only emerging to run to the shops. Feeling the restless, twitchy energy building up in me, but convincing myself that I’m too tired to do anything today.

 

I can walk miles without seeing a step, because my mind is on work, or on worries. I can talk to a friend and never hear a word they say, because I’m waiting for my turn to speak.

 

And for years, I never really noticed this. Or if I did, I thought it was an indelible part of my personality, not something I could or wanted to change.

 

I was walking home from tai chi class last week, and the sun was bright and the breeze was fresh, and I wasn’t thinking about anything at all except how nice a day it was, and the feel of my feet on the ground. And I realized that I can’t remember the last time I stayed up too late. When my body gets tired, and my mind starts to fog, I turn off the computer and go to bed. When I’m hungry, I notice it and eat something. When I see friends, I listen to them with full attention, enjoying our time together.

Happiness

Tai chi class was a big part of this shift, and practicing what I’d learned at home helped even more. Somewhere over the last few years of tai chi, and later qi gong, the lessons about focusing on the body, on the movements, on the breath, started to sink in.

 

It didn’t happen over night. This change in my life happened like the movements of a tai chi set: slowly, gracefully, and with unexpected power.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014


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Qi – Small Word, Big Concept

By Sorcha Hegarty

This bi-weekly series will focus on the basic principles of tai chi and qi gong, for beginners and experienced students alike who want to know more about the fascinating philosophy behind their practice.

The literal translation of qi is “breath”, but it’s more commonly translated to mean “energy”. This doesn’t just mean the kind of electrical or kinetic energy we learned about in Physics class – qi is the energy of life, and the universe.

bowl-of-steaming-riceThe idea developed over time in Chinese philosophy, starting with steam rising off a bowl of rice. There must be something in the rice, philosophers reasoned, that nourishes the human body – energy that is transferred from the food into the muscles and organs to sustain us. And we need more than food to survive: we need air and water too, at a bare minimum, so there must be the same vital energy in those things. In fact, there must be the same energy in everything around us – an energy that pervades and binds together the whole cosmos.

The name they gave this universal energy was qi, and it informs the underlying principles of tai chi and qigong. We’re born with a certain store of qi that we inherit from our parents: this is called Yuan Qi, and we can conserve it, but not replenish it. So, unfortunately, no matter how much tai chi and qigong we do, none of us will live forever – our Yuan Qi will eventually run out! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this explains why some diseases are inherited, or why some people have a stronger constitution than others.

But there’s another kind of qi that we do have control over: Acquired Qi. We get Gu Qi from the food we eat – we all know that a diet based on fresh, unprocessed food will give us much more energy than one based on junk food. Kong Qi comes from the air we breathe, and the way we breathe it: spend a few minutes on deep breathing, and see if you notice an effect on your energy. The Gu and Kong Qi mix in the chest, and then combine with the Yuan Qi to form True Qi. This has a yin and a yang aspect: the yin aspect is called Nutritive Qi, and it flows through the meridians and nourishes the organs, and the yang aspect is called Defensive Qi. It goes to the surface of the body to warm it and forms a protective barrier against illnesses like colds.star-wars-yoda

If any of this sounds familiar to science fiction fans – it should. George Lucas based the Force in his Star Wars movies on qi!

Tai chi is what’s known as an internal martial art, which means that it focuses on building up qi rather than building up physiological strength. The idea is to strengthen the qi first, and then focus on the martial applications second. This is why tai chi incorporates qigong exercises. Quigong literally means “cultivation of qi”. The rhythmic breathing takes in extra Kong Qi, and the mental focus and physical movements get sluggish or blocked qi flowing again.

This is the reason that tai chi and qigong are considered to be such good practices for health and energy, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, they nourish our bodies with the energy of the cosmos.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013


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Body awareness

by Sorcha Hegarty

It’s surprising, how easy it is to ignore our bodies. You’d think that would be hard to do: there they are, after all, with us all through our lives. But did you know you can always see your nose? It’s true! No matter where you look, your nose is in your field of vision, and I bet you’re noticing it now. It just goes to show how efficient our minds are at “editing out” information.

 

Some of us are better at ignoring our bodies than others, but we all do it to some extent. We stay up late even though we’re tired, forget to eat when we’re hungry and then eat far past the point of fullness, and drink things we know we’ll regret in the morning. And then we punish our bodies for not being the right size or shape, putting them through crash diets and strenuous exercise regimes that can often do more harm than good.

Cuerpo

As we lose the connection with our bodies, we lose the connection with our health. Ignoring small signals like appetite or tiredness makes it easier to ignore more significant symptoms. Prolonged fatigue and stress leave our immune systems ravaged and wide open to colds and flus, especially at this time of year. With the winter months closing in, taking care of our bodies isn’t an indulgence: it’s a necessity.

 

Body awareness is a habit, and like any other habit, it takes practice in the beginning. Tai chi can help with this enormously, as it grounds us in body awareness and mindfulness. Each tai chi class sometimes includes a few minutes of standing. The instructor offers guidance so that students connect to their bodies, including checking different parts of the body, releasing tension stored in the muscles and really sinking into connection. Tai chi class also incorporates qui gong warmup exercises, which connect the movement of the body strongly with the breath. Silk reeling is an integral part of tai chi class, and the repetitive, slow, focused movements bring the mind and body into even deeper communication.

 

The graceful movements and meditative pace of tai chi lets us appreciate the wonderful things our bodies are capable of, and see our physical selves in a new and beautiful light.  Your body is your only home for the whole of your life, and taking care of it through tai chi will ensure it’s a home you’re happy with for many years!

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013


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Tai Chi for Sceptics

When people talk about tai chi, they often use words like “qi” and “dantian”, or terms like “meridian lines” or “energy flow”. It can all be a bit confounding, really, and it can arouse your inner sceptic. But don’t let unfamiliar terminology put you off taking a closer look at tai chi.

Acupuncture_chart_300pxTai chi started out over 350 years ago, in a village called Chen in Henan Province, China. It began as a martial art practice, developed in line with the teachings of Chinese Medicine. Today in the West, the martial aspect has mostly been eclipsed by the health benefits of tai chi. Chen-style tai chi, the kind practiced in House of Movement, is the closest of the five main schools to tai chi’s martial roots, which you will learn about in tai chi classes.

In Chinese medicine, the explanation for why tai chi works to promote health has to do with the same principle that underlies acupuncture. Put simply, qi, or energy, flows around the body, through channels called meridian lines. When the flow of qi is disrupted or blocked, illness occurs. Tai chi works to unblock the qi and get it flowing again, thus treating and preventing many medical conditions.  Now, Western medicine does not yet have an explanation for tai chi’s health benefits. Some researchers believe that the fascia network (the connective tissue surrounding muscles, bone and blood vessels) provides an anatomical explanation for the Chinese meridian lines. Doctors and researchers are working on it because the fact that tai chi does have health benefits is beyond question. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of tai chi practice.

So what might it be? First and foremost, tai chi is wonderful exercise. It’s gentle enough that almost anyone can do it, movements can be modified for beginners or people with disabilities, and it can be adapted to any fitness level. The warm-up movements at the beginning of tai chi classes improve flexibility, and the slow, free-arm motions and lowered stance strengthen the muscles of the core, arms and legs.

Focus on the body and concentration on breath and movement brings the mind into a calm, meditative state, where there is little room for the mental chatter that takes up so much of our lives, and leaves us stressed and exhausted. Indeed, this may be why tai chi practice has been proven to be so effective in reducing stress. Stress has such a detrimental effect on both our physical and mental health, that this alone would be a good reason to give tai chi classes a go! But tai chi has also been proven to be an effective complimentary therapy for chronic pain, gout, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoarthritis and sleep disorders, to name but a few.

Regular tai chi practice can make a huge difference in your life, improving physical fitness, promoting mental health and laying the foundations for a calmer, more in-tune version of you. So whether you’re interested in improving your fitness, getting your stress levels under control, or just experiencing a different kind of exercise class, tai chi classes with House of Movement could be just what you’re looking for.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013


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Why do I do tai chi ?

Recently, I was reading the article “Why do you practice tai chi” in Patience tai chi. And it got me to start asking myself questions. I am prone to self-enquiry as it is, so a new door was opening for me: what was the reason for my tai chi practice? Believe me, the moment I started to ask myself that question, I had no idea. And I bet you I still have no idea. But my mind looks for certainty, so it’s telling me a few stories about the reasons for my tai chi practice, and they seem to be quite reasonable and convincing. Here is what my mind says:

It is good for your health. Your lower back pains are over.

It is cheaper than a GP visit every second month.

You take responsibility for your health, so you are the boss.

You meet beautiful & relaxed people.

You are becoming a beautiful and relaxed person.

Your skin feels softer than ever.

Your brain functions better and your concentration has improved.

You have more energy for the numberless things you are interested in.

Your mood has improved so you always feel like doing all of those things.

You don’t get as angry as you used to, and laugh more often.

The chi feels better that a surge of adrenaline.

It actually feels so good that you don’t want to stop practising.

You feel more grounded, as if you had roots, and that gives you a sense of belonging.

You feel spiritually connected to the world.

Obviously, if my heart was to speak, only one line would be enough to answer what reasons I have for my tai chi practice:

I practice tai chi because I love it!


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Who can do tai chi?

Some of you email or ring me concerned about being unfit, too old, or having a condition that may prevent you from doing tai chi. Here is an example of common questions:

- I am pregnant, can I do tai chi?

- I am over 60, can I go to your classes?

- I had an injury in my hip years ago, is it ok to do tai chi?

As a quick answer to above questions, here are some articles which may interest you: Tai chi during pregnancyTai chi & old ageMedical research on tai chi & health. Many pregnant women do tai chi, many over 60s or 70s do tai chi, many people with previous injuries or different conditions do tai chi, so I guess the general answer to the question ‘Who can do tai chi’ is: Practically everyone.

Now, having said that, each body is different, so you need to figure out if it is ok for you too. In fact, one of the first things you need to learn in a tai chi class is how to become more in tune with your body in order to feel the benefits of tai chi. Depending on your condition, you may need to avoid certain exercises (e.g. particular warm-ups). If this is the case, just don’t do the exercise. If in doubt, I would advise you to check with your doctor.

So who can do tai chi? You can. Check it out and see it for yourself!


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Aims and benefits of warm-ups

Every class in the House of movement begins with specific warm-ups designed to open the main joints in the body. Partly translating an article written in Spanish by Pedro Torrecillas, we are going to explain the aims and benefits of the chen style warm-ups, used by the teachers in the Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei lineage.

In general, warm-ups start from the head down with the aim to activate chi and blood circulation, as well as softly stimulate heart and blood vessels to bring more oxygen and avoid pain and cramps. The movements prevent movement restriction and rheumatoid arthritis. Each movement has benefits in particular areas.

Head: May prevent headaches, migraines, stiff neck as it improves cranial circulation.

Shoulders: May increase respiratory capacity, expression and communication.

Wrists: May prevent rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Waist: May optimize urogenital and intestinal functions.

Knees: Increase hip and feet performance, preventing problems in the posture.

These movements not only prepare the student for the practice of tai chi, but they are also beneficial in themselves, as they stretch and tone the body, improving the muscle condition and stimulating the meridians. It also helps the student to become more aware that when one part of the body moves, the rest of the body moves.

Finally, warms-ups work in the opening of the “nine pearls” or joints: wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles, knees, hips, the zhi yang point at the back, the waist and the dantian.

Every movement counts!

Full original article in Spanish: El calentamiento en el Taijiquan


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Traditional Chinese Medicine – Interview with Dr. Mao

I have come across an interview with an outstanding traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, Maoshing Ni, also called Dr. Mao. In this interesting interview at Sounds True: Insights at the Edge, Dr. Mao explains some Chinese medicine concepts and how they relate to health. He mentions herbal medicine, nutrition and qi gong as part of the healing process. He also talks about methods to delay the aging process, such as under-eating or meditating. Some thoughts about meaning and mortality are also given in a very clear and honest way.

Maoshing Ni: Secrets to Live to be 100

http://www.soundstrue.com/podcast/maoshing-ni-the-mind-as-an-ally-in-the-healing-process/#bottom

After listening to Dr. Mao, I can see myself eating a little less and breathing a little more to feel a little lighter. And with a little gesture, I wave you good-bye until my next post.

Enjoy the audio!


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Can tai chi become a stress management tool?

Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Standford University, has done numerous research on stress and stress-related diseases. He has been studying wild baboons in Africa for 23 years, linking personality and patterns of stress-related diseases in these animals. His work has made him one of the leading neurologists in the world. He is author of many books, including “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Disease and Coping” and “A primate’s memoir“. In this video, he responds to the following questions:

Is stress good for us?

How does chronic stress affect the brain?

Is there any good news?

He recommends regular exercise, meditation and stress management tools in order to avoid prolonged stress, which has been proven to cause many physical and mental conditions.

One of my ways to cope with stress is to regularly practise tai chi and chi gung. Tai chi and chi gung help me to be more present and grounded, to improve my body awareness and to avoid living through my thoughts, resulting in a reduction of my anxiety and stress levels.

Could tai chi and/or chi gung be your stress management tool too?


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Arthritis sufferers find relief in tai chi

A recent research carried out by the Arthritis Foundation’s Tai Chi program in North Carolina in the US found that tai chi is beneficial for arthritis sufferers. It relieves arthritis pain, fatigue, stiffness and sense of well-being.

To read about it, check UNC – School of Medicine’s article:

Study: Tai Chi relieves arthritis pain, improves reach, balance, well-being

Or a testimonial by my tai chi peer, Nicola Jones, Tai Chi for Arthritis.

If you are a silent arthritis sufferer, know that you can find some relief in tai chi and qi gong. You will be very welcome in class.

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