Health Tai Chi in Devon

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8 tips to have a great summer

(To be read with a humorous tone)

Since the temperatures in the summer are becoming higher, we start wondering about how to make the most of it. Because both Nick and I will be on holidays for a number of weeks (2 in July and 1 mid-August), you will not have your classes to keep your tai chi up-to-date. So here are some tips to enjoy your summer, from the more general to the more specific about your tai chi practice.

  1. Get up early – If you get up early, you will find the it is still not that hot. You can go for a gentle (or a brisk) walk depending on your level of fitness and end your walk with a nice luke-warm shower (or cold if you are daring).
  2. Know when to open your windows – We are lucky in the Southwest because the temperatures go down during the evening. It would be a good idea to open your windows in the evening and during the night to give you some relaxing cooling time. But as the sun starts to shine in your horizon, close your windows to keep the freshness inside and draw your curtains so that the heat cannot reach the interior of your house. Depending on your house, you may find that you might need to open your windows again in the afternoon, if your house is modern and there is a breeze outside. Experiment with opening and closing windows and temperature levels in your house.
  3. Drink water regularly – It may sound obvious, but I often forget to drink enough water, both in winter and summer. If you are like me, you might want to start drinking herbal teas (let them cool a bit) and water throughout the day.
  4. Use sunblock – Do not underestimate the power of the sun. Use sunblock in your face and in the body parts exposed to the sun to protect yourself against the ultraviolet rays.
  5. Check your sunglasses – Use sunglasses to protect your eyes during the hot days. If your sunglasses have the symbol “CE”, they would protect you against the ultraviolet radiation.
  6. Practise tai chi in the evening – The best time to practise tai chi may be in the evening. In the morning, you will need to wait at least 30 minutes to 1 hour for your spine to become “awake” and be able to exercise at ease. In the evening, you will feel the gentle breeze, especially if you practise tai chi in your garden, and you will be able to enjoy the movements without exerting yourself under the heat.popcorn
  7. Watch tai chi videos (or qigong videos) – Because of the mirror neurons in your brain, if you dedicate some time watching an activity, your body reacts as if you were doing that activity. So while we are away on holidays, it can be a good idea to watch some tai chi videos (or qigong videos) while sitting comfortably in your sofa with the windows closed and your curtains drawn, 😊 keeping the natural coolness of our old good Victorian (or other) houses.
  8. Treat yourself – After all of those efforts walking in the morning with sunblock and sunglasses, having checked your windows are closed and curtains drawn, and keeping yourself fit by practising tai chi in the evening or watching videos from your sofa, it is time to treat yourself with a lovely cake, an ice-cream, a forbidden fruit or a savoury meal.

I’m sure that you already know some of these tips, but I hope that I reminded you some of them, or I made you discover something new. At the very least, I hope I brought a smile to your face, as this post is written with a humorously tone in mind. Enjoy your summer!


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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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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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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 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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Are you in the right class?

As our house of movement grows, new qi gong and tai chi classes are added, so please read carefully to make sure that you are in the class that brings most benefits to you. At the moment, I run 3 different types of classes: tai chi 11 form, health qigong Mawangdui, and qi gong & meditation.

You want to go to a tai chi class, but…. have you considered qi gong? Read more…

TAI CHI versus QI GONG

Most of you start coming to tai chi classes to improve your general well-being. Some of you have done a martial art in the past (karate, taekwondo…) and are looking for something similar. Some of you do not really mind about fighting or martial applications. You just saw the movements, loved them and wish to move in such a gentle way. Some of you have an illness or physical/psychical condition that you suffer in silence, and you hope to be helped by these ancient practices.

11form

To the first group, I’d recommend my tai chi classes and attending Master Liming Yue regular tai chi workshops in Dublin. To the second group, I’d advice to check both tai chi and health qi gong classes. Both tai chi and qi gong exercises are gentle and beautiful, but while tai chi is based on martial applications, qi gong is based on animal movements and other aspects of nature and it has a strong link to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

 Bird

To the third group I’d say to check out qi gong classes before making up your minds, and choose according to what you love. At times, illness is the way that our bodies has to communicate with our minds. Any of my classes is good to practice “listening to our bodies”. Some qi gong exercises can be particularly beneficial for certain conditions, but they need to be practised regularly, so qi gong classes may be the best for this group, depending on the condition.


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How to choose the right qi gong class?

Classes at House of Movement

 

As our house of movement grows, new tai chi and qi gong classes are added to the main ones, so please read carefully to make sure that you are in the class that brings most benefits to you. At the moment, 3 different types of classes are run: tai chi 11 form, health qigong Mawangdui, and qi gong & meditation.

 

You want to go to a qi gong class, but….

What QIGONG class?

At the moment, there are two options: Mawangdui qi gong and qi gong & meditation classes.

Drawing a bow

The Mawangdui qi gong set is a beautiful sequence of 12 qigong movements, each one of them focusing on a particular meridian in the body. Each movement is beneficial for that meridian, but is also linked to other meridians and acupoints. Some of the benefits will be explained in both qi gong class. Some of the movements need some time to be learnt, and may be challenging as we are often prone to push ourselves too hard. It may take time to relax and only move as our body feels comfortable moving. In time, we’ll get less explanations and more practice and it will be easier to relax. Mawangdui qigong movements are so special and delicate that they are worth waiting for.

450px-A_Buddha_Toy

If you like simple, easy-to-learn qi gong movements, based mainly on the breath, and wish to enter into a meditative state most of the class, the qi gong & meditation classes may be what you’re looking for. The easiest qi gong exercises from different health qigong sets are selected to enter into a meditative state while moving, sort of a moving meditation, and then we’ll explore still meditation. If you went to meditation classes in the past, and would like to meditate but find it difficult to sit still for a long time, starting a practice of simple qi gong exercises may be a gentle way to get into it.

 

House of movement allows you to move in different ways, from the warrior mind set of the tai chi classes to the calm meditator mind set, and exploring some qi gong exercises based on animals and nature.


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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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The best way to practice tai chi

Alda Gomez summarizes Grand Master Chen Zheng Lei post in Facebook

Grand Master Chen Zheng Lei posted a very interesting Facebook explanation about the best way to practice tai chi. GM Chen focuses on four major points for an appropriate tai chi practice. Here I detail my understanding of what Grand Master Chen Zheng Lei is saying.

Grand Master Chen Zhen Lei

1st point – Practice the principles, don’t focus on strength

Tai chi is based on the theory of yin and yang and, as such, on alternating yin and yang movements. By focusing the mind on a specific movement, qi is being carried to the whole body because in tai chi, when one part of the body moves, the whole body moves. GM Chen is talking about integrating body movements.

2nd point – Cultivate internal qi, don’t worry about the external

GM Chen tells us to bring attention to the “ancestral qi” (inherited from our ancestors) stored in the kidneys. The kidneys are the body’s source of qi, so if there is enough qi stored in the kidneys, the five main internal organs (lungs, heart, spleen, liver and kidneys) will function well. To the ancestral qi, we can add qi to our bodies by breathing qi into the Dantian area or the Yong-quan points in the sole of our feet, keeping a relaxed body. By cultivating internal qi, a person will feel energetic, with power and body coordination. The external, on the other hand, focuses on exercising hardness and power in different parts of the body. Tai chi aims at fostering the internal qi, enhancing the roots to let the branches flourish, having a steady lower body, an active centre of the body, and a light upper body.

3rd point – Focus on your skills, not on your form

GM Chen is explaining that our focus needs to be on improving the basics, our tai chi skills, and not being so concerned about knowing the exact movements and applications of the forms, as this may create rigidity. He encourages us to work on alternating yin and yang, hard and soft, in our movements and moving our body in a relaxed, coordinated way.

4th point – Build the five hearts:

  • Respect – respect for your teachers, masters and friends.
  • Confidence – with two aspects: self-confidence in the way you practice tai chi and good faith, which manifests in how you relate to others.
  • Determination – setting your mind to practice tai chi is the best way to practice tai chi.
  • Perseverance – to practice without stop, to keep on practicing no matter what.
  • Patience – it makes you understand that tai chi requires soft, slow and relaxed movements. Being too eager to achieve results is impossible because tai chi needs a lot of practice.

GM Chen ends his reflection by saying that when conditions are ripe, success will come. I will add that if you trust, you will get what you need to get there, be it a new teacher or master, a new skill, or a new approach to the same teacher, class and knowledge. Trust and you will have fun in the process of learning tai chi.