This is a continuation of my Integrative Pain Management series, based on content selected from my chapter of the book Integrative Pain Management: Massage, Movement, and Mindfulness Based Approaches.
For in-depth routines to deal with upper back pain, lower back pain, and other conditions, check out my video courses on Udemy!
Last week, we discussed how Tai Chi philosophy diagnosis pain, especially chronic pain, as an imbalance somewhere in the body. In particular, and imbalance that causes an irregular flow of our qi, or blocks our qi flow entirely. This week, we're diving into the methods by which Tai Chi treats pain inside of the category of integrative pain management.
Tai Chi's dual nature, the yin-yang balance, is often thought of as embodying both water and earth at the same time. Flowing, stable, strong, fluid, yielding, forceful, powerful, smooth. It is a lot to keep in mind while you are doing your exercises! No one masters all of these things all at once, of course. It takes years of practice to work on each facet of a well-rounded tai chi practice.
When you are able to control all these parts of your tai chi, your quality of life and function from day-to-day is highly regulated. It is consistent, balanced, and you are much more in touch with it.
The key elements of how tai chi helps treat chronic pain can be though of as the five regulations.
- Regulating the Body: Relaxation is the first thing that people notice when they begin a tai chi routine. Most experience deep relaxation on their first time doing tai chi. The flow of blood and qi is affected by our stress levels: higher stress means higher blood pressure and worse qi flow. The better we are at relaxing on command, the better for our health.
- Regulating the Breathing: I have talked extensively about breathing on this blog. It is the foundation of regulating every other element on this list. A deep breathing practice that develops the lungs will not only increase oxygen intake, but also strengthen the energetic pathway between the outside universe and the inside universe. The quality of the breath is what allows us to experience healthy qi flow, and also to focus our qi within our body. Both of these abilities are necessary to treat chronic pain.
- Regulating the Mind: Like I spoke about in the previous parts of this series, the mind and the body are linked, and tension or pain the mind can cause similar affects in the body. Developing the ability to calm the mind, and have "thoughts of no thoughts" as I like to say, is key to sustaining the relaxed and steady state that tai chi seeks.
- Regulating the Qi: Once the previous three pieces of these elements begin to develop, the qi will naturally return to a balanced flow. This redoubles the pain-fighitng and healing effects of the tai chi practice. Regulating the body, breath, and mind is like being able to run a full mile without stopping. It is a great foundation. Further regulating the qi on top of that is like improving your time when running that mile. There is always room to grow with qi flow.
- Regulating the Spirit: This step is how you connect your tai chi practice, and your being, to the wider world. It is very important to establish the connection to feel balanced in your life as a whole. A sense of place and belonging, a sense that you are attached to the world, will greatly improve your overall quality of life.
Next week, we will examine the scientific research that has recently shown tai chi and other ind-body practices to be effective as improving health and wellness.
Don't forget! This Sunday, June 26th, I am teaching a 3 hour class on Balance and Stability at YMAA in Andover, MA from 11am-2pm. Please register and join us! I hope to see you guys there.