Health Tai Chi in Devon

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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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The legend of a wise grandmaster

Written by Monse Razamonde and translated into English by Alda Gomez

The future chronicle of Grandmaster’s Chen Zhenglei’s seminar in Manchester in April 2017 could be as follows:

The legend tells that a wise Tai Chi Master from China arrived to the city of Manchester (United Kingdom) in April of Christian year 2017. His sweet wife Lili Lu and another Master called Kuang and his young apprentice arrived with him. The wise Grandmaster was not other than Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, a high authority in tai chi in those days.

To emphasize the power of new technologies, the Master organising the visit, Liming Yue, chose a small space for this visit so that the event could be shown to the world by 9 cameras. They were meant to broadcast the wise Master’s skill. Only 40 people had direct access to such significant event. Different countries were represented by disciples and indoor students of the wise Master, anxiously waiting for his words and his lifelong knowledge.

His greatness was soon appreciated, because a Grandmaster is a Grandmaster everywhere he goes and in any conditions presented. Their only requirement is being in front of empty souls looking forward to being filled with their insights.

The wise Master Chen only spoke Chinese, and Master Liming interpreted his words…into English, which was the only language used in the translation, even though this language equals the Spanish one in the world.

But tai chi is a very curious thing that can be learnt by osmosis and it becomes magic for those making efforts to understand its universal language, which goes beyond words. The 70-year-old wise Master transmitted more with his gestures and his movements than with any of the words in the world, having his words already been registered in many books and videos. These books and videos can only be fully assimilated when you see the wise Master moving in front of you in flesh and blood.

The legend tells that two Spaniards were among the attendants to the event: Master Mariano Uceda and his disciple Monse. Both barely understood the English language. But they decided to appeal to the tai chi magic, connect to their enlightened ancestors, who also connected to the enlightened ancestors of tai chi masters, and that is how they received the teachings that they were ready for at that time. The legend continues saying that the wise Master saw that the transmission of his teachings had been accomplished, even to those two conscientious Spaniards who admired the wise Master good skill. He rewarded them with his warmth and his smile, grateful that his teachings wouldn’t end up floating in the universe waiting for more prepared minds to receive them.

Being in front of a wise Master to be corrected and guided in your tai chi is the biggest thing that one can experience as a tai chi practitioner. Lucky are those who have found a Master who guides them with honesty and affection. Only those of us who have a Master like that can tell how valuable that is because you know that you are in the right track even when you may not know the destination. The legend tells that in those days many got lost because they couldn’t recognise this simple fact. This is so because the right way is not sumptuous or glamorous; it is only illuminated by Masters as wise as Master Chen. But it has a shorter length than the Master’s because they started later; it only takes knowing how to read the universe to see them and feel the potential they hold inside. The transmission of tai chi worldwide, no matter where you are, will never then be lost.

Thank you to MY MASTERS (MiM)

 

P.S.: If a Master recognizes that in certain occasions the qi circulation varies between men and women and that is a topic that could be spoken about for a while, then he must be elevated among the rest of human beings. Maybe a new era of a more balanced yin-yang has truly started.


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Health Qigong Sets

In the House of Movement, Alda teaches exercises from 4 main health qigong sets: Ba Duan Jin (eight treasures), Wu Qin Xi (five animal qi gong), Yi Jin Jing and Mawangdui.

What is Ba Duan Jin?

Also known as eight pieces of brocade or eight-section exercises, Ba Duan Jin is composed of eight movements, which have been proven to improve the respiratory system, limb strength, and joint flexibility. It fortifies the nerves, as well as enhancing balance. It can strengthen the immune system and delay the aging process, increasing life span. It can also improve one’s mental health. Ba Duan Jin exercises can be practised in standing and sitting positions. The first reference to Ba Duan Jin appeared in a book written by Hong Mai of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). (From Ba Duan Jin, Chinese Health Qigong, 2008)

What is Wu Qing Xi?

Also known as five animal qi gong or five animal frolics, Wu Qin Xi consists of ten exercises emulating the movements of five animals: tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird. This qi gong set was conceived by Hua Tuo, a doctor who lived in the first hundred years of our era. He based his system on traditional exercises, theories on internal organ and meridian function, and qi and blood circulation principles, as well as animal observation. He observed the five animals and arrived at the conclusion that they moved in a certain way to preserve their health. The movements are mainly based on three components: integration of external physical exercises, natural breath, and imitation of the animal mood. (From Wu Qin Xi, Chinese Health Qigong, 2008)

 

What is Yi Jin Jing?

Yi Jin Ying exercises are believed to have their origin in ancient shamanic practices. They are thought to have been developed by Bodhidharma, who was the creator of Zen Buddhism, according to legend, and founder of Shaolin martial arts in China. Because Buddhism required a lot of sitting meditation, yi jin jing exercises were used to stretch the body and keep it healthy. The exercises focus on tendon stretching and bone flexing, and combine softness with strength. Natural breath and a calm mind are also added to allow the free flow of vital energy (qi) through the body. (From Yi Jin Jing, Chinese Health Qi Gong, 2008)

What is Mawangdui?

The Mawangdui tombs are located in the Hunan Province in China. In 1973, a wooden chest was found with ancient medical documents. A silk painting was discovered and restored, depicting daoyin health preservation exercises. The Chinese Health Qigong Association compiled the Mawangdui Daoyin Shu exercises following meridian theory, so that each of the twelve movements focuses on one of the twelve body meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The exercises are based on rotating and stretching, alternating tension with relaxation, breathing naturally and keeping a clear mental focus on the movements. As each of the exercises is done, attention is paid to the corresponding meridian. (From Mawangdui Daoyin Exercises, Chinese Health Qi Gong Association, 2012)


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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.


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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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Classes in 2017

Devon Tai Chi Centre has a new website with all the classes taught by Alda Gomez of House of Movement and Nick Taylor of Devon Tai Chi Centre. You will also find a lot of information about tai chi and useful videos and interesting links. Click on the links that interest you to find more information about the classes.

Tai Chi

Qigong

Health Tai chi in Devon

Laugh lots, live longer, do tai chi! 

Call 07437 332032

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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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Staying or leaving

I learnt one important lesson in my journey. Staying or leaving is not going to solve anything. But searching for the root of the unhappiness will. I found happiness in Ireland, and it has been with me ever since.

On different occasions, staying or leaving has been the question I had to ask myself. “Should I stay or should I go?” like in The Clash song. I am going to share the song here and some thoughts I have about this important question.

When I was 20, my heart made me stay in France for 3 years, while many of my foreign friends left after one year. It was an enriching experience that allow me to be integrated in a different culture and become a little bit French. I welcomed my French self, and by doing so, I became more loving and caring towards my soul. Going beyond one’s nationality has sometimes that potential of bringing you closer to who you truly are inside.

My heart brought me then to Portugal where I had a decent job for a few months, but I got bored so I left it all and move to Ireland. After nearly three years there, I had a stable job at a bank. My position forced me to do things that went against my values and I was constantly suffering in that environment. My soul could not breathe. Once again, my heart asked me to leave my job and left my financial security in order to be at ease. I left with nothing.

Five weeks later, I started to work as a freelance translator for a company that would sustain me for many years after that. Because I could work remotely and my private life was in chaos, I decided to move back to Spain. Life was good. My finances could not be better. I was saving to buy a house, and I knew I could afford it. I was dressed in the latest fashion. I was travelling around and having fun. I was apparently successful and happy, but deep down, I was miserable. Once again, the question came. The Irish man in my life at that time wished to go back to Ireland, so I followed him.

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One day, I decided that it was time to stay put and not go anywhere. It was time to embark on an inner journey and eliminate the root of my distress. It was time to make the changes that would make me happy no matter where. Staying or leaving was no longer important. Solving my life became my priority. So many countries. So many faces. So many lives. One important lesson learnt. Staying or leaving is not going to solve anything. But searching for the root of the unhappiness will. I found happiness in Ireland, and it has been with me ever since.


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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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Do you listen to your heart or your mind?

A few days ago, I was walking by the seaside in Teignmouth after finishing a very good read: The Hearts’ Code, and my mind wandered towards the realms of the body and mind, heart and mind dichotomies. Although my brain has always been an important part of my life, I have also made very good decisions based on my heart. In The Hearts’ Code, Dr. Paul Pearsall literally leads us into a world of new discoveries.

heart's code

He explains the new research on the cellular memories installed in the heart, and the relationship between heart and mind. The book highlights the importance of listening to one’s heart. The heart stores important memories, including ancient collective memories that could be essential for our survival. The author tells us that he found healing by listening to his heart. But he is not naïve. He knows that the heart needs to “think” in combination with the mind. The mind can distort our reality, but it can also help us make sense of it. Both need to go hand in hand in the process of healing, discovering and asserting ourselves, expressing who we are.

 

I have seen many people following their infatuations and shallow desires and calling it “following my heart”. So it is satisfying to read a book that focuses on the heart from a scientific perspective without getting into the “happy-go-lucky” of some heart-oriented lovers.

 

The book is an interesting read for a spring or a summer holiday. It will help you connect to your heart, at least while you’re reading the book.

 

I wonder where the “gut” instinct fits in all the interesting research presented by the author though. I have come across authors who separate mind and gut instead of mind and heart. Whatever the dichotomy chosen, it is clear to me, and increasingly clear to the scientific world that body and mind are intrinsically connected. There is not one without the other. When you look after your body, you are also looking after your mind and vice versa.


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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.