The Major Up & Down Forces: Part 2Read More
Like the Yin-Yang, Eastern Martial Arts and Western medicine are two halves of a whole. My mission is to preserve the ancient mind-body tools, and pass them on to you.
The Up & Down Forces or The 3 Spheres: Part 1
Welcome back Mind-Body students!
I would like to start our 2019 journey for Health and Martial Arts with a Mind-Body series about the Major Up & Down Forces, or the 3 Spheres which I refer to in my Sunrise Tai Chi book on pages 18 to 21 and in my Sunset Tai Chi book on pages 30 to 35. This series will help you understand the 3 Up Forces, the lumbar, the thoracic Spine, and the head suspended and the 3 Down Forces, relaxing your abdominal muscles, dropping your shoulders, and dissolving your face. These Up and Down forces will help you understand and be able to practice some important principles from the philosophy of Tai Chi, Chi Kung and Yoga.
ALIGNING & LENGTHENING YOUR SPINE
The first goal in this series is to start to create proper alignment through your spine. As you can see from the illustration the spine is not really straight. When you hear “Sit up straight” it is because so many of us collapse our spine when we stand and even more when we sit. This figure of speech is a great motivator to help you reverse this lazy, collapsing behavior. But it is much easier said than done!
The truth is that it takes years of learning and practicing in order to achieve proper alignment in all 3 parts of the spine.
So let’s start! Straighten your spine, please.
In the Tai Chi philosophy to achieve optimal energy flow and martial power, Jing, correct alignment through the spine and the rest of the skeleton is key. When you can keep your spine aligned and not collapsed throughout your daily life and especially when fighting you have reached the level of a Tai Chi Master.
Maintaining correct alignment in the spine has many health and martial benefits such as reducing stress on the vertebrae and internal organs and promoting a strong, smooth flow of blood and energy and is essential for upgrading your energetic system and then transmitting power into your opponent.
Deep breathing and oxygenation are very important
When your spine is not lengthened and aligned properly, your lungs are compressed and you only utilize one third of their capacity.
Aligning your spine and utilizing your full lung capacity, breathing deep, gives you many health benefits such as reducing blood pressure, anxiety and stress.
Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to affect the heart, brain, digestive and immune system in positive ways and is beneficial for full oxygen exchange or trading incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide.
Correct spine alignment also allows optimal flow and function for your internal organs.
Challenge 1: The first 2 Major Up Forces - The lumbar & thoracic spine
I challenge you to sit, stand, and walk with a straight, lengthened and aligned spine as much as possible. Imagine lengthening up into the clouds.
You can practice sitting, standing or when walking or running. You can practice in the car, at your desk, when exercising at home or at work.
Sit on the edge of a chair, or, if possible, on the floor
Close your eyes
Lengthen your spine and take deep breaths
Calm and empty your mind
Remember to breathe in and out through your nose
Try to practice 3 times a day for 3 to 5 minutes
Sit on a chair or on the ground
Deep breathing will help you Empty your Mind
In Chi Kung philosophy the breath is one of the tools, or a banana, for capturing the Monkey mind, or emotional mind. Capturing the emotional mind is referred to as Seizing the Monkey (lecture at Dana Farber about the monkey and the horse mind, 6 minutes).
For some people, sitting, lengthening the spine, breathing deep and emptying the mind is easier than for others.
If you find you are having a hard time emptying your mind by using only your quiet breath, I suggest you use a trick in the beginning to help capture the Monkey Mind.
After a few weeks of practicing with one of the tricks (enjoy the links below) the next challenge is to sit still in total quiet with no external or internal distractions using only your quiet breath to empty the mind.
Sitting in silence with water breath is harder because the monkey mind is more active when it is quiet.
Methods for capturing the Monkey Mind
Engaging in prayer is another great tool for reaching the place of Thoughts with No Thoughts, an empty mind or meditation.
For those of you who want to try doing this exercise while using an external moving visualization, the flame of a candle is a great visualization. It is used for both health and martial arts.
Candle Watching Meditation
In the Chinese martial arts I have been learning and practicing over the last 40 years there is traditional meditation training for the purpose of predicting or reading your opponents’ movements. To achieve this skill you can watch the smoke rising from incense or you can look at the flickering flame of a candle. I invite you to do it together with me.
Here is a link of me doing candle watching meditation for 3 minutes.
If you are looking for more ways to stay motivated check out my online courses at Udemy.
Happy Stretching, Deep Breathing, Empty your Mind, Strengthen your Energetic System & Evoke your spirit!
Hello again, mind-body students!
Another year has come and gone. The blog continues to grow, and more and more people discover the benefits of a Tai Chi-based mind-body practice every day. For this blog, we are going to take a look back at just a few of the highlights of what happened this year.
Top 25 Tai Chi Blog!
We started the year off with a bang in 2018! At the very end of 2017, we were named one of the Top 25 Tai Chi blogs on the web by Feedspot. They identified ramelrones.com as a great blog to follow for high-quality Tai Chi content! It was truly an honor to be recognized along with the other great websites they listed.
Dana-Farber Lecture Series
Then, it was time for us to release a video blog series that was over a year in the making! Back in the fall of 2016, I gave an extended lecture at Dana-Farber as an introduction to Tai Chi and mind-body practices, which we released in seven parts here on the blog. The topics I covered ranged from posture and deep breathing to finding a qualified mind-body teacher! If you are just starting out on the blog, I highly recommend you check out these videos!
Tufts Covers Our 15 Years of Work
In the spring of this year, we announced that Tufts Medical Center had made a great video and publication featuring the integrative therapies research and treatment that my colleagues and I have been a part of for over 15 years now!
Zakim Story & Prayer
In the summer, I shared a three part blog series about the Music Heals the Soul event honoring Lenny Zakim. We got to talk about all of the amazing people involved in the Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, discuss my old family ties to the Zakim family, and even share a bunch of photos from the event. It was a wonderful night and I am so happy I got to share it with my blog readers!
Meditative Shaking and Pulsing
After that, we had a five part series on meditative shaking and pulsing that incorporated a lot of Tai Chi theory from my book Sunset Tai Chi: Simplified Tai Chi for Relaxation and Longevity. We covered the whole body, from the ankles all the way up to the neck!
The Complete Leg Workout For Health and Martial Arts
What a workout we made here! This workout series was a full 6 weeks of great leg stretching, strengthening, and focused meditating. Every week, we introduced one stretch, one strengthening exercise, and one meditation technique that built up the foundation of our body, our legs!
Introduction to My Online Courses
Finally, just last week we finished our series introducing all of my online courses on Udemy. This series gave an intro to each of my courses, what you can expect from them, and what kind of audience each one is targeted to: upper back pain sufferers, lower back pain sufferers, people with no time, people who want to improve their focus, and much more!
What a great year! There is plenty more that we covered this year on the blog; too much to summarize in this one post. I encourage all our readers (new and old!) to look back and read other highlights from 2018 and beyond.
That’s all for the blog for 2018! We wish you all a wonderful holiday season and New Year! As always, happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!
Note from Matthew, the editor: As 2018 comes to a close on the blog, it is time for me to say goodbye. It has been such an honor to work with Rami on the blog for the last five years! I will always treasure every interaction I had with the many blog readers that I met and spoke with along the way. From Dana-Farber classes, to martial arts training camps, to lectures and more, Rami and I heard endless support and encouragement for the blog. There truly is no group of people more dedicated to healing and mind-body practice than all of you!
Thank you, Rami (and the late Rick Abrams!) for making me a part of this wonderful community. Even though my career is taking me on a different path, I will always be around. I am a mind-body student for life!
Hello again blog readers and students! This week, I want to begin an introduction to the various Tai Chi and Qi Gong courses that I have available for purchase online.
These courses vary in length and intensity. Some are long-form courses that you will need to practice for a month or more before you are comfortable with each technique. Others are short-form courses that are highly focused on creating a particular health impact. I made these different courses so that as many people as possible could find a course that worked for them!
The platform that I use for my courses is called Udemy. It is a platform that allows students to make an account for free, and only pay for the courses they want to take. Once you buy one of my courses, you own it forever! You will be able to watch and review it as much or as little as you want.
Today, I want to do an introduction to my most popular course (which is also my longest online course): Improve Your Physical and Mental Success with Tai Chi.
This course is a 10 week Tai Chi course which will not only introduce you to Tai Chi as a beginner, but also train you through the various movements and techniques of a longer Tai Chi form. Each movement is complemented by helpful stretches and practices that will improve both your flexibility and your strength, as well as build your skills with deep breathing and meditation.
None of my courses (so far) expect you to have any Tai Chi experience. This course is precisely designed to be most helpful for people who are new to Tai Chi. All that is required to succeed in this course is the following:
An interest in becoming more fit, more flexible and more relaxed
Willingness to invest 10-20 minutes a day in one’s wellbeing to enjoy life more
A small, comfortable space in your house, apartment or office where you can learn and practice
This course contains seven hours of Tai Chi content and teachings! There is a lot to learn and practice. Just a few of the things that you will experience in this course are:
Learn a simple, yet powerful Tai Chi form
Become much more flexible
Learn to meditate for stress reduction
Learn the benefits of deep breathing
Become stronger and more fit
Develop better balance
Reduce and prevent injuries
Even though this courses requires no Tai Chi experience, you might be wondering, “is this course, or Tai Chi in general, right for me?” Great question! My belief is that Tai Chi is great for everyone! In fact, this course is my most popular, and currently has over 2,100 students enrolled from all over the world! But if you still have doubts, the list below should give you an idea of the kinds of students that I had in mind while making the course:
People with little time or interest in going to the gym and taking classes
Stay at home moms (and dads)
Competitive (and not so competitive) athletes
People who travel frequently
Anyone who has wondered about the power of eastern health philosophy, but hasn’t known how to start exploring it
Anyone interested in becoming stronger and more flexible, while reducing stress
If any of those sound like you (or someone you know), I highly recommend setting up a free Udemy account and getting this course to Improve Your Physical and Mental Success with Tai Chi.
That’s all for this week! Happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!
Good to have you back, mind-body students!
Over the summer, I had a few people reach out to me about health issues they were having with their head, neck, and/or shoulders. This area of the body, which are the shoulder girdles and everything that sits above them, have a similar group of techniques that we use to restore and maintain health.
Issues that people frequently ask me about in this area include: headaches, migraines, sore neck and upper back, frozen shoulder, eustachian tube disfunction (“clogged ears”), tinnitus (constant noise or ringing in the ears), and a variety of other forms of chronic issues or pain. Many many people suffer from these issues, especially due to the toll that working at a desk over a computer for an extended time can have.
For people that have issues like these, I will often give them a “mind-body prescription” that looks something like this:
Mind-Body Prescription for Head, Neck and Shoulder Girdle Health
Before we begin, it is key to know my Rule of 80% Effort. Especially when it comes to the head and neck area, you are in danger of doing more harm than good if you push your body too much. The head and neck require very gentle movements to heal and increase the flow of energy. So do 80% effort with all these exercises!
First Stretch: Iron on the Wall
For most people, the muscles between the neck and the shoulders (the trapezius muscle is the easiest to feel here) are as hard as a rock! This is because modern people are constantly looking down at their desk or their phone, as so this muscle is always under tension while trying to stabilize the head and neck.
Iron on the Wall takes the tension out of this muscle group and allows it to relax. Many people find this exercise does wonders for not only their neck, but their back, shoulders, and head as well. All of those areas are interconnected by muscles! Do Iron on the Wall for 3 minutes, twice a day. You can even do it with your kids!
Second Stretch: Elbows Over Head and Behind the Back
Next, we want to give a good stretch to your shoulder muscles in all direction, so we want to do two complementary exercises: Elbows Over Head, and Elbows Behind the Back.
The over head part of this technique opens up the lungs (the sides of the lungs especially) and relaxes the arms and shoulders. The behind the back part of the technique allows you to relax the neck, deltoids, and lats especially well. Give yourself space to relax and breath deep while you stretch. You’ll want to spend two minutes in each of these postures, twice a day.
Third Stretch: Rotating the Neck Using the Wall and a Block
The next technique is for increasing our range of motion when rotating the neck. You would be surprised how many people have lost a lot of mobility of their neck! Are you someone who can rotate their neck more to one side than the other? That is a very common issue too.
Rotating the Neck with the Wall and a Block is a great way to regain your lost mobility in the neck, as well as increase the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain, and reduce muscle stress.
The neck doesn’t require stretching for a long period of time. Instead, do one version of this stretch five times a day, but for only 1 minute to each side.
Fourth Stretch: Neck and Upper Back “Emergency Posture”
This technique, the upper neck stretch on a table (also called the Emergency Upper Back posture) is great for when you are in your office and your neck and upper back are really bothering you. However, it is also a classic posture for releasing tension from your head, neck, upper back, and shoulders.
Sit in this posture twice a day for 3 minutes each time.
Final Technique: Face Meditation
Finally, you want to conclude our mind-body prescription each day with a nice meditation. In this case, you should probably be doing the Face Meditation, which focuses the mind on relaxing every layer of the face until you have the sensation of being just a skull with no soft tissues pulling on it.
Many people who suffer from chronic tension, pain, or stress in or around the face and head don’t realize how much tension they hold in their face.
You can sit in this meditation for as long as you like, but I suggest doing it for 10-15 minutes at first, and then sit longer in it as you get better at relaxing and focusing the mind on each part of the face.
As always, happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!
Welcome back mind-body students! The leaves are changing and fall is here. Today we are going to summarize the 7-part Leg Workout we have been doing on the blog. And if you stick around until the end of the blog, you’ll get to see something cool about my online courses!
The Complete Leg Workout Series for Health and Martial Arts
Remembering my "Rule of 80%," begin this workout with your choice of a hamstring stretch from the video. Do each stretch (to each side, if applicable) for 3 minutes. Begin incorporating deep breathing now, so that when we reach the meditation you will already be in the mindset of breathing deep!
Finally, the meditation for this workout is Water Breath! This is a tough meditation, but that is okay! It is good to try difficult meditations every once in a while, especially because it pairs well with the hamstring stretch.
The hip extension stretch is very simple to do, all you need is a wall, a chair, and perhaps some yoga blocks or books depending on how flexible you are to begin with. Stretch each hip for two to three minutes each time.
The stretch for this workout is the leg rotations. Do a session of leg rotations every other day, 20-30 repetitions in each direction (clockwise and counter clockwise) for each leg. That comes out to between 80 and 120 repetitions, 40-60 on each leg, half in one direction an half in the other.
And finally, we are going to be practicing our grounding and rooting! Once you have an idea of the Light and Heavy Forces, you can move into the techniques of grounding and rooting by standing on two blocks and putting your mind below you, into the ground.
Our stretch for this week is a standing foot and calf stretch using a special tool. You can get these for cheap online, or you can use the lowest step in your house, or do this with your foot up against a wall instead. Your choice! This stretch is one of my 12 Body Markers, and it has an exact angle of flexibility that you will see in the video.
Next we will be standing on one leg to improve our stability and balance. This is such a great exercise, because it requires that you focus your mind and "capture the monkey", or you will lose your balance! Doing this for 1 minute on each side means you are in good shape!
Lastly, our meditation for this workout is… taking a foot bath for health! As you sit and enjoy the relaxing foot soak, you can practice your deep breathing and achieve a very high level of mental stillness, "thoughts of no thoughts."
To begin this workout, we’re going to stretch the outer hips on a chair. Do this stretch for 2-3 minutes on each side (each leg). The goal is to have your stretching leg rotated such that your lower leg is parallel to the floor.
Now that our hips are stretched, we are going to give the whole legs a workout with a movement called Tompu from side to side. This technique can be done at many different levels of difficulty, depending on how low you want to go on each side. Start with the heigh that fits your “80% effort” rule, and then work to deepen the movement from there. Begin with 10 to each side, and then work your way up to 20, 30, and even 50.
Last but not least, we will do one of my favorite breathing techniques as our meditation. This breathing technique is called Diving for Pearls, and it is very simple, but everyone has lots of room for improvement. All you need to do is find your pulse, inhale, and hold your breath for ten heartbeats. Then exhale, inhale, and repeat.
Practice doing this for 5 inhalations in a row. Eventually, you should work your way up to 10, 20, and even 30 heartbeats in a row. 30 in a row is very difficult, but if you can do it, you will feel totally focused and relaxed by the end of it.
The stretch for this workout is the groin stretch. The groin is the complementary group of muscles to the hip muscles that we stretched in the last workout. Both of these groups of muscles are of the utmost importance for health and martial arts. Groin injuries can prevent you from performing for several weeks, so stretch stretch stretch!
Once you have stretched your groin, you can move on to the technique I call “The Windmill Challenge.” It is mostly for the “young and restless” I like to say, but it is very good for increasing the flexibility and range of motion of your groin and hips. The goal is to practice until you can do ten in a row on each leg, without the spinning leg touching the ground. If you have issues with stability, definitely consider replacing this technique with a different one, such as “Walk Like a Warrior.”
Lastly, the meditation this workout is the Face Dissolving Relaxation. This meditation can be done with any of the breathing techniques we’ve reviewed so far. Relax the face, layer by layer, for five to ten minutes to start. As you practice this meditation more and more, you should be able to do it for even longer. If you can do it for 15 minutes, that is usually how long it takes to fully “dissolve” the layers of the face.
Our stretch for this workout is a quad stretch called the “heron” stretch. This was one of the very first videos I posted on the blog! Stretching the quads is incredibly important for improving mobility and performance, in both your daily life as well as sports and martial arts. In the video, I show you how to do the stretch with a chair and a wall, or on the floor in “seza”, a sitting position. Sit for 2-3 minutes at first, and then see if you can stretch comfortably for 4-5 minutes.
Next, we have “kick-backs", which is a great way to further stretch the quads and increase flexibility, but with a little more intensity than the heron stretch. You can get a good cardio exercise going as you practice this technique by doing it while running. See if you can do 15, 30, or 50 kick-backs on each leg.
And finally, we have the dissolving relaxation for this week’s finale. This exercise, which I show here on two blocks, is a follow-up to the light and heavy forces, and the grounding and rooting technique. After you are in an aligned and comfortable position, you focus on scanning the various “plateaus” of your body. When you reach a place of negative sensation or energy in your body, you dissolve it by using the metaphor or meditative mantra “Sold to liquid, liquid to gas.”
I have spent very long periods of time doing this meditation, and you should try to build up to 15, 30, or even 45 minutes if you really want to explore the depths of this technique. But to start off, just try to scan the whole body in 5 or 10 minutes.
We’ll begin this workout with an advanced version of the outer hip stretch. You can still use some kind of object you did on the chair, like a pillow or blankets, to support your knees and stay between 60% and 80% effort. Once you get comfortable and your body feels safe relaxing in these very tense muscles, you can gradually remove the supports that you use so that your legs can lie parallel to the floor.
Instead of a technique for this workout, we’ve got my video about common walking issues. You should use this video to examine your own walking and see if you have any of the common issues I demonstrate. These include walking with one or both feet flaring outward, collapsed arches, lack of smooth rolling from heel to toe, etc. Once you have seen the ways that your walking might be causing misalignment and pain, you can begin working to correct them!
Finally, our last meditation is meditation the taoist way. In this video I review the way that taoist meditation uses visualizations of the energetic system to have purposeful effects on the body. The first step to building up the energetic system is to focus on the lower energy center. The easiest way to help you practice this visualization is to hold a small object in the front of the lower energy center (two inches below the navel). Once you can hold your focus on the energy center, and then visualize the energy center, you should be working toward “residing” in the energy center. Over time, as you’re able to reside in the energy center longer, and the visualization grows, you can replace the small object with a larger one, and an even larger one. Good luck!
Here is the bonus for all of you who kept up with this blog to the end. Recently, I got some very cool statistics from my online course provider, Udemy.
I have 9 courses on Udemy, which teach mind-body prescriptions to over 3,687 students in 113 different countries!
If you visit my instructor page on Udemy, you will be able to see all of my courses, which range from the best-selling long tai chi course to the highest rated (4.6 stars out of 5!) Tai Chi for a Focused Mind and Alleviate Upper Back Pain, to the newest course Martial Meditations: Reduce Stress and Make Better Decisions.
There are always discounts going on at Udemy, so be sure to check out my courses today for what you might be able to get for a great price! Remember, the Udemy account is free, so you only ever pay for the courses you purchase one time, and you have access to them online forever.
Happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!