Health Tai Chi in Devon


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Progressive Relaxation for Insomnia

Last week, I asked in one of my classes who had problems sleeping. I was surprised to hear that out of six students, four could not have a good night sleep. My knowledge of the nervous system tells me that lack of sleep might be due to an overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system (stress response), and tools to calm down and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response) are needed to get a good night sleep.

Your body’s stress response can be triggered in an instant, while your body’s relaxation response needs at least 20 minutes to be active. With practice, you may need less time. But to begin with, you will need to spend about 20 minutes relaxing at least 3 times per week to get any results.

Progressive muscular relaxation is often offered as a stress management tool to help activate the relaxation response in your body. I am certain that the same tool can help you get a better night sleep. Progressive muscular relaxation consists of contracting and relaxing different muscles in your body to find a deep calm inside.

Here is a guided progressive muscular relaxation video that I found in youtube. It is exactly 20 minutes, which is what you need to relax. Please be aware that insomnia will not be sorted in one attempt. Be patient. You will  need to be constant and practice. This is one of the tools that you can use. If it is not for you, there are other tools available. Do not despair. I hope that this may be of help.


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5 a day or 10 a day?

This post was born as a reaction to an article published in The Telegraph: Eat 10 fruit and veg a day for a longer life, not five, summarized in the same news bulletin as such: “The “five a day” rule should be doubled to 10 pieces of fruit and vegetables, a major study has said as it found that increasing consumption dramatically decreases the chance of disease.”

I have recently adjusted my diet to include more fruit and vegetables, but I am not counting them. I am sure that I eat more than 5 servings a day, and probably around 10 if not more, so I thought I could share my calculation method, in case it could be useful. Please bear in mind that I am not a nutritionist and I am not offering expert advice, only personal opinions. I am feeling more energized with my new diet, but it might not be the case for you, so please keep that in mind when reading this.

My approach to diet is based on the alkaline-acidic balance in my body (my pH). I know that meat, cheese, milk, pasta, rice, bread, cakes. etc.) have a high level of acid. I know my body needs a alkaline-acidic balance, so I add fruit and vegetables accordingly to achieve a higher balance. Fruit and vegetables are generally alkaline, especially green-leafy vegetables and lemons.

This means that I can still eat a home-made burger with chips if I wish to. This is a very acidic meal, even if I add a bit of lettuce or other vegetables, so I make sure that I compensate this acidity with a highly alkaline snack or meal later or earlier in the day (smoothie, vegetable soup, etc.). I may also drink my water with a squeeze of lemon to compensate the acidity. You can also complement a very acidic meal with a delicious home-made fruit salad for dessert.

This may sound simpler than it is. There are books with tables of alkaline and acidic foods. There are charts with levels of acidity and alkalinity in the food we eat. I have seen charts with different criteria for different foods, so it can be confusing. For example, blueberries can be slightly acidic, even though most fruits are alkaline, and brown rice is less acidic than white rice.

As a general rule, think that in an acidic-alkaline balanced dish, you would have 25% protein (meat), 25% carbohydrates (rice), and 50% fruit and vegetables. Last but not least, consider this very interesting point: because stress is acidic and relaxation is alkaline, do not worry too much about your diet, and smile at life. That may just do the trick.


Staying or leaving revisited

Last August, I was talking to one of my students in the annual tai chi in the park and picnic that we organized in Shaldon (Devon), and he made a comment about my previous post “Staying or leaving“. He said that he would like to hear about what happened after I left Ireland. My last words in the previous post were that I found happiness in Ireland and it had been with me ever since. I arrived to Devon in 2014, so he was wondering what happened those years. I will explain why I didn’t need to mention Devon.

Happiness is not a place: What I meant by happiness is also called “inner joy”. I happened to find inner joy in Ireland, but it could have happened in Spain, or in the UK. Inner joy has no place, but in your heart/body/gut. It means that you can be anywhere in the world and feel it. How? By staying present to what you are really feeling. By tuning into your body awareness and realise that deep inside you are and feel okay. I learnt how to do this in Ireland through my counselling journey and my tai chi and qigong practice.


Happiness is not a feeling: Inner joy is not a feeling, but it comes from staying present to your feelings. It means that you can be sad and still feel inner joy. How? By staying present to what you are really feeling. If you accept whatever it is that you are feeling, you will feel inner joy. I am not talking about changing your moods so that you are laughing even though you are feeling really down. I am talking about feeling really down if that is what you are feeling. I am talking about minding yourself when you have sad feelings and love who you are in those feelings. That brings instant inner joy.

So what I found in Ireland is inner joy, what I called “happiness” in my previous post. In Devon, I had sad moments, happy moments, fearful and anxious moments, and angry moments, but all in all, inner joy has never left me.



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Mental health and tai chi

Today, one of my first students ever sent me a lovely email from Canada, where she is now based. She shared a video with me in which the link between martial arts and mental health is discussed. I have been wanting to write a post about this link for a long time. This video has inspired me. Here are my reflections and the youtube video.


  • Tai chi helps reconnecting mind and body: The link between body and mind seems to have been lost after centuries of scientific discoveries. Nowadays, research is starting to make this link and scientists all over the world are embracing the fact that mind and body are connected. If you treat the body, the mind will improve. If you treat the mind, the body will improve.
  • Flowing energy with tai chi: In Chinese medicine such separation does not exist. Doctors talk about yin and yang balance or qi flow in the body. If the energies in the body are flowing normally and there are no blockages, a person is considered to be healthy. If there are blockages in the energy flow, a doctor will treat the patient to prevent illnesses, mental or physical. Tai chi can help unblock and balance a person’s energy, benefiting one’s physical and mental health.
  • Mindfulness and tai chi: Mindfulness seems to have become a very fashionable word that many mental health practitioners are adopting to treat depression and other mental conditions. Focusing on the now, being present. A full range of exercises has been adopted to help a person with mental health issues. Mindfulness and tai chi have a lot in common. Tai chi is a mindfulness practice because a tai chi teacher will help the student to focus on the present moment.
  • Learning from experience: A good tai chi teacher is able to stay present while teaching so that students can experience for themselves what this means, as opposed to learning it in a book or through exercises. Mindfulness doing tai chi is felt by the students, who leave the classes feeling much better, not knowing exactly how. If mindfulness can be beneficial in the treatment of mental health conditions, and I believe so, then tai chi can also be useful to improve one’s mental health. And also physical health. Remember there is no separation.

Now, I leave you with the video so that you can listen to it for yourselves.

“Martial art is not a sport. Martial art is a way of life.” Sia Alipour, Taekwondo Practitioner

“It is a lifelong practice of self-development.” Dr. Tamara Russell, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London

“What it helped me do is actually be present.” Athos Antoniades, Kenpo Taiji Association.

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The Six Healing Sounds Qigong Practice

The healing sounds have been taught and universally spread by Mantak Chia’s books and worldwide seminars. The healing sounds detox the internal organs by transforming negative emotions associated with each organ into positive ones. My belief is that there isn’t such a thing as positive and negative emotions. However, because of our social background, we tend to express what we believe are “positive” emotions and repress “negative” ones.

That is why so-called negative emotions are usually stuck in our bodies waiting for expression. If they are not let out, they can create internal distress, manifested in physical or mental illnesses. The emotions can be stored in each part of the body. The healing sounds practice focuses on the internal organs, detoxing these by giving a sound to each internal organ. I love the six healing sound practice because it allows us to explore our internal organs and release the emotions stored in them.

According to Chinese medicine, there are 5 major organs which are internal organs (yin). Each one of them is related to an external organ (yang). The 5 yin organs are lungs, kidneys, liver, heart and spleen. Their associated yang organs are large intestine, bladder, gall-bladder, small intestine and stomach respectively.

The negative and positive emotions stored in each organ are the following:Alchemy of Internal Organs

If you wish to have a more thorough explanation of the six healing sounds, including sounds, emotions, body movements, etc., please have a look at the following youtube link. The video was filmed during one of Mantak Chia’s seminars.

If you wish to learn this qigong practice, send me an email to be included in my mailing list or subscribe to this blog. I occasionally run workshops and teach the six healing sounds. Keep in touch.

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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.


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.


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

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.


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


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!