Health Tai Chi in Devon

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What is push hands or tui shou?

When I think of push hands, what comes to mind is that it is tai chi’s “fighting modality”, but fighting doesn’t really explain it properly, as push hands is much more than that. Fortunately, I found a wonderful definition in Wikipedia:

“Pushing hands, push hands or tuishou is a name for two-person training routines practiced in internal Chinese martial arts such as Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, Taijiquan (T’ai chi ch’uan), Liuhebafa, Yiquan.”

“Pushing hands is said to be the gateway for students to experientially understand the martial aspects of the internal martial arts: leverage, reflex, sensitivity, timing, coordination and positioning. Pushing hands works to undo a person’s natural instinct to resist force with force, teaching the body to yield to force and redirect it. Health oriented t’ai chi schools may teach push hands to complement the physical conditioning available from performing solo form routines. Push hands allows students to learn how to respond to external stimuli using techniques from their forms practice. Among other things, training with a partner allows a student to develop ting jing (listening power), the sensitivity to feel the direction and strength of a partner’s intention.”

 

The emphasis on “two-person training routines” is mine. I would like to emphasise this point, as in push hands we are helping each other to learn about our tai chi form, we are not necessarily fighting each other, but helping each other to become more aware of our errors while doing simple exercises. The movements are repetitive so that you can concentrate on what is happening in your body internally.

 

For example, if we overextend or lean forward while doing the form, we would be pushed forward by our partner in push hands and lose our balance. That teaches us to stay centred and balanced, finding the right position in our push hand session and applying that posture later on to our form. If we tense, we will be uprooted and lose balance very easily, but if we relax, we will feel more grounded and less easy to be moved by our partner.

 

During the movements, the wrists and some parts of the arms are in contact with the other person, and we both move rhythmically in unison, listening to each other and observing their structure, looking for mistakes: too much tension, arms too close or too high, legs not centred, hips not relaxed…We use these observations to push, pull and take our partner out of their space, which is great fun.

 

For those who think that tai chi is a solitary practice, please know that push hands is an essential part of tai chi in more advance stages, and offers a platform for further self-learning while having lots of fun with different partners.

 

This video shows some of the movements involved in push hands. Please excuse the bad quality of the image.

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5 ways of easily practising #tai chi

Driving.jpg

  • Queueing at the bank/supermarket/airport – Bend your knees and Pay Attention: Isn’t it boring to queue at the bank/supermarket/airport or many other places? An interesting and healthy way to use that time is by gently bending your knees (no one will notice) to help increase your blood circulation. Second, you can bring your attention inside. Notice areas of #tension in your body (shoulders, abdomen, back?) and try to release that tension. You don’t need to close your eyes. It might take a little bit of practise at first to notice what is going on inside while keeping your eyes open, but it is an amazing tool you can use at any time. Enjoy your holidays.

 

  • Walking – Pay attention to Your Feet: Again, it is all about paying attention. This time, bring your attention to your feet and how they connect to the ground. Notice how you shift the weight from one foot to the other. Notice whether you tense your legs as you do this, or any other muscle in your body. Notice the quality of the connection to the ground. Are you floating? Are you grabbing the ground? This is called #mindfulness. Try different postures and see how they feel, raise your body, release unnecessary tension, try to walk as comfortably as you can. Enjoy your walk!

 

  • Driving – #Relax Your Shoulders: If you drive long distances and, like me, you don’t particularly like the speed in the motorways, your shoulders might be tightening with the effort and concentration. You don’t really need to tighten your shoulders to concentrate on the road, but we often do it automatically. Lower backs are often also clenched while driving. Pay attention to your shoulders and try to release unnecessary tension, especially when the M5 is really clogged with traffic and you wish you had stayed at home for the weekend. Calm your shoulders, your lower back and you will feel better straight away. If you keep an eye on #relaxing your shoulders while driving, and practise it daily, you will notice that you don’t get those awful #headaches after a long drive. Enjoy the ride!

 

  • While making some tea – Standing/Cloud Hands/Silk Reeling: If you normally have a flavourless cup of tea because you haven’t got the patience to wait for it to brew for a few minutes, try to approach tea making from a tai chi perspective. 1) Put the kettle on. Practise some standing until water boils. 2) Pour the water over your tea cup with tea bag. During those 3-7 minutes that you need to wait, practise cloud hands or silk reeling. 3) Bring your cup of tea to your armchair. Enjoy your soap opera!

 

  • Showering – Sing your Heart Out: This is not a way to practise tai chi, but I bet you it will put you in the right mood for the day, right? Ok, there were only 4 ways of practising tai chi, but hey, singing and dancing should always be in your repertoire, wouldn’t you agree? You are the star. Enjoy the show!


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Chen Grandmasters Teaching Platform

Nick has put together a set of instructions to access:

Head of the Chen Family GRANDMASTER CHEN ZHENGLEI’s Online Teaching Platform

with GRANDMASTER LIMING YUE

Website for accessing Chen Style Tai Chi instructional support materials from Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei & Grandmaster Liming Yue. Please note that the site has dual language capability – English and Chinese. Included with £16.20/ year subscription (less than a DVD) are:-

Grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei:-

GM Chen Zheng Lei’s Tai Chi warm up exercises, Silk Reeling, Qigong exercises, 18 Short Form and instruction, Sword Form and instruction.

Grandmaster Liming Yue

GM Liming Yue’s 8 Short Form and instruction, Sword Form and instruction, Laojia Long Form and instruction. There are 7 other free video links to watch as well.

Go to www.chenzhenglei.co.uk and select Sign up & Log in. You will get to this page:

Membership

Select Sign up and click on Platform Member which is £18/year.

Select View Basket and apply Coupon code:- 049nick to get 10% discount (£16.20).

Coupon

Update your Basket, then proceed to Checkout and complete the rest of the payment and other info requirements.

If you have any doubts or questions, please ask in class.


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3 tips to start practising at home

If you would like to start doing some sort of exercise, or meditation daily at home (tai chi, qigong or other) please bear in mind these tips to start a home practice.

1. Pick a time, choose the duration and stick to it: The first thing you need to do is creating a habit of doing something healthy at home. Pick a time when you can be by yourself and relax. Try not to exercise in the first 30 minutes after you wake up and after you have eaten a good meal. Other than that, any time is good.

Try to be gentle with yourself, and free one or two days from your “daily” practice, if you feel the need for it. Also, keep in mind that 5 minutes every day for a month is better than 30 minutes and burning out in one week. Aim at doing it for a month or two and plan to re-assess. Remember that at this stage you are trying to create a habit. You can practise longer at a later stage.

2. Practise what you enjoy the most: If you force yourself to do the hardest movements that we do in class or those that you don’t remember, you are going to stop practising at home. You will feel defeated. Instead, try to do some easy breathing exercises, warm-ups, silk reeling, or just tai chi stance, anything that you enjoy doing and make you want to continue practising. Remember you are just creating a habit. You can do the whole form or practise the hardest movements at a later stage.

3. Find complementary materials: While books, DVDs and youtube videos can be distracting and keeping you seated in your sofa, they can also be helpful to start a home practice. You can listen to a guided meditation available in youtube, check GM Liming Yue’s free or subscribed videos, or study one of the Chinese health qigong books and instructional DVDs. All of these while you are moving or meditating.

Please respect your practice time, stick to it, do what you enjoy the most and use complementary materials, if they will help.

Best of luck!


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The Tai Chi Journey or the Silk Reeling Journey

When I first started my tai chi journey back in 2006, I just wanted to relax, but I was very eager to learn a full tai chi form. This may sound familiar to you. I was learning wu style tai chi and then yang style tai chi long forms. I spent 4 years doing these tai chi forms and despairing at not finishing any of them. My teacher was going too slowly for me, I used to think. 10 years have passed since then. Now, I do chen style tai chi, the most traditional one, and I train regularly with my husband Sifu Nick Taylor from Devon Tai Chi Centre and Grandmaster Liming Yue. I haven’t finished the long form (Laojia) and I am okay with it. What has changed? Tai chi has become a journey, not a destination.

I know that I am learning with every movement that I do, and how fast or how much I am learning has become irrelevant. I have learnt to follow my body, my female cycle, my personal desires. I rest when I need to rest, I train when I need to train, but most of all I repeat what I know once and again and again. Each time I move, my movements have a different feeling. Each time I move, I learn until I reach a plateau. This plateau is very annoying, and I get stuck and I am not sure what I need to learn next. I get bored. I decide to continue going to classes and workshops. This will happen to you too. At this stage, many of you leave or start a new endeavour. One day, in a class, you will see a new nuance, same words will have a different meaning, like it happens to me. You will finally understand what was hidden years ago. Your body understands and moves and relaxes in a different way. That has happened to me a few times. My soul starts soaring again. I smile. I take pleasure in my new learnt detail. And I go back to the basics, applying my new learning to the most basic movement: silk reeling.

Silk reeling has so much to teach me that I need to go back to it again and again. Silk reeling exercises prepare your body for the tai chi forms. Silk reeling helps you to experiment with the new details that you learn. As I go back to silk reeling, I practice the new details that I have learnt: relaxing my shoulders, my hips, my wrists; keeping my body straight, or my head; becoming more aware of my breath or my back muscles, or my lower back position; checking whether I am too focused on my front, or my back, my left or my right side; following my qi, feeling it, becoming a good friend to it.

 

So many things I need to learn from silk reeling exercises that my tai chi journey often feels like a silk reeling journey.


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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.

self-hug-love

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.