Health Tai Chi in Devon

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The liver – Teachings from the Wood Element

In Chinese medicine, each organ in the body is associated with an element of nature. The liver is related to the wood element. When talking about wood, we necessarily think of the plants and trees that surround us. A strong tree grows from a very small seed. Equally, our strength is built by small, gentle movements in every qigong class.

 

The wood element teaches us about flexibility, reminding us that we need to yield when times are hard and remain grounded within ourselves to find strength and wave our personal struggles. A perfect balance of rootedness and lightness comes to mind when we talk about the wood element. This is the basis of Zhan Zhuang meditation, also known as the tree posture. We keep our feet deep in the ground while our upper body releases unnecessary weight, becoming lighter.

The liver meridian maintains the health of tendons and ligaments, which keep us resilient as they hold our skeletal structure together. When we focus on qigong movements that enhance our liver qi and meridian, we are working on our entire body.

The wood element teaches us about patience, gentleness and compliance. It is associated with the colour yellow-green of the first Spring buds. You can boost your wood element by enveloping your qigong movements with these colours, visualising your body filled with green as if a rebirth was taking place. You are becoming a new Spring bud of yourself each Spring and each time you practice qigong. You can also boost your wood element by eating green foods, full of chlorophyll: kale, lettuce, chard.

Anger

The liver meridian controls the smooth flow of qi in your whole body, as well as the circulation of blood. The liver is the planner, while the gall-bladder is the decision-maker. To help the planner, we need a tempered and balanced emotional life. This is friendly to the liver, while excessive emotions disrupt this meridian. At times, it may be difficult to avoid excessive anger, sadness, or frustration, especially if one lives with a chronic condition, but it is important to release these emotions to balance the health of the liver meridian.

 

There are different ways to release excessive emotions, but I guess the most important one is not being afraid of them and not keeping them inside: draw a few lines in a piece of paper, like a sort of art piece, talk to a trusted friend about your frustration or to a professional counsellor, write down your anger, sadness or even excessive joy, keep grounded and balanced, get to know yourself and your triggers, maybe those emotions would not be so overwhelming if you looked at them from a different perspective.

 

Let the liver teach you about patience while you continue your practice.

PS: This post is inspired in the information found in the book Women’s Qigong for Health and Longevity by Deborah Davis.

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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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Chen Style Tai Chi Links and DVDs

Since January 2018, Devon Tai Chi Centre and House of Movement have grown exponentially. We have now over 200 students between the two schools. We have also observed a growing number of recommendations from GPs, physiotherapists and other practitioners. Many of these new students are very enthusiastic about the new journey they are undertaking, and would like to know more, to watch videos at home, to start practising a little.

Here are some free links to youtube videos of all the forms that you can learn with Devon Tai Chi Centre and House of Movement and also some DVDs that you can buy from our Chinese master Liming Yue’s website:

Tai Chi Classes:

Click on the links to go to the youtube videos.

Click on the link to go to Grandmaster Liming Yue online shop.

If you haven’t joined a class, and are interested in doing so, please visit Find a class on my website or Nick’s website: www.devontaichicentre.com.

I hope you will find all the information you need. If not, please do contact us.

Alda: 07437 332032

Nick: 07968 174934

 


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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.

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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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Grandmaster Liming Yue’s teachings during his 2016 visit

A few lessons were learnt during Grandmaster Liming Yue visit to Devon, but here are some of them:

1) Do more standing and get strong legs: Grandmaster Liming encouraged us to do more standing to get stronger legs and being able to feel the energy flowing through our meridians and channels. After a lot of detailed postural work on Saturday, he explained the different hand positions for standing corresponding to the three main Dantians in the body.

masterliming

 

2) Relax as much as you can: Another point emphasized during the weekend was relaxing. In order to get strong legs and a correct posture, our bodies need to relax more and more. GM Liming showed different tips to improve our posture while gently encouraging us to relax all the time. 

Wall standing

3) Laughter is the best medicine: From the moment he arrived til he left, the whole group shared many laughs. We laughed over food, we laughed over simple explanations and jokes during our training, we laughed while we had our last cup of tea before going to bed. It was a laughter-full weekend. GM Liming showed us that being childlike brings health and laughter to our lives.

By laughing more, standing more and relaxing more, we can improve our tai chi skill. What a wonderful weekend, full of fantastic learning opportunities for all levels. It was also lovely to catch up with other instructors from Tai Chi Nation, Exeter School of Tai Chi Chuan, and other schools all over the country. I can’t wait for next year to experience more of it.


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5 tips to make the most of your tai chi classes

I tend to shoot from my hip as I write, and I may leave some important themes behind (hope not), but here are some tips to fully enjoy your tai chi classes.

  • Leave your problems at the door: When you enter in a tai chi class, think of it as a sacred space for your body. Leave your problems at home, your health issues at the door, travel to class with no baggage.
  • Land into your body: Let yourself be guided by your body. Free your mind from other contemplations and focus your attention on your body movements. This will align you with the tai chi movements, creating a mindful state of mind which is highly beneficial for you.
  • Relax: There are two levels of relaxation: relaxing your body and relaxing your mind. Relaxing your body means that you try to let go of any physical tension or rigidity in your muscles. This will make your tai chi more fluid and enjoyable. Relaxing your mind means that you let go of the need to be perfect in the movements, relaxing the rigidity of your aspirations.

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  • Stay with your body: Pay attention to your instructor, but do not try to imitate him or her. Try to figure out the movements in your own body. Try to adapt them to your own unique characteristics. You might stand higher than your teacher, as he or she may have too low postures for your body. You might decide that you pass some of the warm-ups because they do not feel good to you, or you might sit on a chair at some point during the tai chi class if you feel that your body needs a rest. Everything is permitted, as long as you become more aware of what your body needs. In this way, you will slowly discover that tai chi will teach you as much as your teacher is teaching you.
  • Learn step by step with no goal in mind: A lot of students come to class with a goal of learning a particular form or set of movements. Do not get stuck in this frame of mind. Be open to learning more than that. The most important thing you will learn in a tai chi class is to stay in the moment, and learn what the moment brings. This is called mindfulness. You will also learn body awareness, relaxation skills and self-soothing techniques for times of stress or conflict. All of that can take the shape of a particular form or a set of independent exercises. Go with the flow and enjoy moving along.

If you feel better after your leave class than when you arrived, you have started your tai chi journey and you will achieve unimaginable things. Just keep on showing up in class.


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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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Free tai chi classes in Devon 2014

Here I am, based in Devon, living in beautiful Teignmouth and looking forward to start teaching in this amazing region. At the moment, I am actively promoting my qi gong classes in Exeter city centre starting next Monday at 12pm. Tomorrow, my classes will kick off as I’m starting to teach qi gong in Totnes at 11.30am. The list is practically full, and my excitement is growing as the day goes by. I will also teach tai chi in Totnes at 12.30pm. If you haven’t booked your place in one of my courses, please do so, as there are no many spaces left. 

My other tai chi courses will start next week: in Teignmouth and Dawlish. These courses will be very similar. Because Teignmouth and Dawlish are very close, I am offering free tai chi classes to anyone who wishes to train more than once a week. That means that if you join the paid Dawlish course for Tuesdays at 6pm, you can go to Teignmouth for free tai chi classes on Thursdays at 6pm. Or if you join the paid Teignmouth course, you can go to Dawlish for free tai chi classes on Tuesdays at 6pm. If you only want to do tai chi once a week, that is perfectly okay too.

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Having free classes to complement your paid classes can be useful if you are not too good at practicing at home and would like to make tai chi an important part of your healthy lifestyle. Some of the exercises that you will learn in my tai chi and qi gong classes, you will be able to incorporate in your daily lives, as you learn about body awareness and mindfulness. But if you wish to improve your movements, posture, or simply move more regularly, do come along to two days a week. The price will be the same.

So no excuses now. Time for tai chi classes. Time for qi gong classes. Time to come along and start moving. Remember that every movement counts. Call 07437 332032 and book your course.

 

 


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The Tai Chi Sphere

By Sorcha Hegarty

Tai chi seems to be full of circles. We have already talked about the symbolic connection to the Taijitu symbol, but that seems rather an esoteric point for what is, fundamentally, a martial art. And yet, circular motions are at the heart of practicing tai chi. The circularity of the movements is there by design. Movements on a curved line are efficient, conserving energy, and if the curve is shortened suddenly, that energy is condensed into tremendous force. The ancient masters who developed tai chi knew what they were doing, and graceful as the form is, the martial application is never out of sight!

Tai chi symbol

Some tai chi teachers talk about the tai chi sphere. This is a way of visualizing your personal space, getting to grips with the way that qi extends beyond skin and bone, and understanding the underlying structure of the movements. When practicing tai chi, picture a sphere that extends down to the floor, resting on one spot, with its centre point at your centre of gravity (the dantian). This sphere moves with you, its outer surface is the reach of your arms, but it is symmetrical, extending above your head and behind your back where you can’t see.

Visualizing the sphere also draws you focus to which foot should carry the majority of your weight. In the form, aside from the opening and closing stances, there are few moments when the weight is evenly distributed on both legs. Usually, one leg bears at least a little bit more weight. A sphere only connects to the ground at one point, and so it’s ready to roll or bounce in any direction. Try to visualize the sphere moving with your weight, with the point that connect to the ground passing from left foot to right as you move through the form.

Sphere

Another property of a sphere is that the outside rotates, while the centre is still. When practicing tai chi, we know to try and let our movements flow from the dantian. A sphere also has a straight axis going right up through the middle. Let your spine become this straight axis. As you move your body through the tai chi form, it stays straight and relaxed, never bending or leaning, while the arms, legs and hips rotate around it. The centre is held straight while the movements in flow around it.

In combat between opponents, the tai chi sphere helps you to stay centred, and to find the best way to counter their movements: with the precision, balance, and “spring” of a sphere.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014


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Yin and Yang – Complementary Opposites

By Sorcha Hegarty

In Western culture, we’re used to thinking of opposites as being in conflict with one another. A lot of our stories are about Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark, Hero vs Villain. These opposite forces are in opposition (see, it’s right there in the language!), and each one has the goal of completely annihilating the other. They are framed in such a way that we understand that one is better and the other is worse, even if it isn’t immediately apparent which is which. We expect it to be so. Good, after all, is just better than evil!

 Good_vs_Evil

 We aren’t used to thinking about opposites as being in harmony, or needing one another to exist. And yet, without understanding their fundamental interconnectedness, the concept of Yin and Yang is difficult to grasp.

 

Yin and Yang are opposites, and they constantly consume one another. We can see this in the famous Taijitu symbol, which looks as if it’s in motion even when it’s still. Yin, the dark half, is still, passive; associated with night, the moon, and the feminine. But in its centre, Yin creates a little point of Yang. Yang is dynamic, active; associated with daytime, sun and the masculine; but in the heart of Yang, it activates a little seed of Yin. Neither one can exist without the other. Imagine if you had to choose between never being still or never resting: you couldn’t do it. And even if you could, whichever option you chose would quickly become unbearable. The two principles have to exist in harmony, in balance.

yin & yang

There is a regular progression in the world where Yin takes over from Yang and Yang from Yin. At this time of year, in Ireland, Yin’s deepest point, midwinter, has passed, and a little bit of Yang is coming back into the world. We can see it in that slight stretch in the evenings, a little bit more sunshine seeping into the wintry days. The cycle of the seasons; like the cycle of days; follows the pattern of Yin/Yang, in stately harmony. Yin and Yang goes beyond the subtle energy, or qi, that we discussed in previous posts; Yin and Yang is the interplay of all the opposite elements that make up existence (though of course, qi has a Yin/Yang aspect to it, too.)

 

Taichi can be seen as a way of applying the principles of yin and yang to the human body. It balances movement (Yang) and stillness (Yin); attack (Yang) and defence (Yin). The circular patterns of tai chi movements are said to be based on the Taijitu symbol itself; so that every motion made echoes the harmonious duality of the universe.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014