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 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!
Hello students! This week we start to introduce the moving exercises that you can use, in addition to the stationary Body Marker stretches we have been reviewing, to release the skeleton from undue soft tissue tension.
If you haven't seen the stationary stretches yet, take a look at last week's blog post.
Once you know your way around those traditional stretches, you can start using the following moving techniques as you see fit to truly release your skeleton from being a prisoner of the soft tissues. Keep in mind that some of these techniques are pretty advanced. There is nothing wrong with simply doing the regular body marker stretches. They will help you a lot, especially when combined with the other building blocks of our being (mind, breath, energy, and spirit).
Moving Technique to Complement Body Marker #1: Leg Rotations
The first technique can be done free standing to improve your balance, or you can hold onto a chair or table to simply focus on the freedom of movement it provides for your ankle.
Moving Technique to Complement Body Marker #2: Kick Backs
Freeing the quads with movement can look a lot like running, but rather than raising the leg forward with each step, you pull the foot backwards and to the butt. I call them "kick backs" and they can be done lightly, or even while running. Check it out!
Moving Technique to Complement Body Marker #3: Windmills/Tornadoes
This movement is the most advanced of the three we will review today. But if you can manage it, it is a wonderful way to release stress from the hamstrings, as well as the entire hip joint. If you want to test your stability, balance, and strength as well, you can try to do the challenge that I describe in the video.
That is it for this week! Check in again next Friday for more!
Happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!
P.S. I have a FREE demonstration called "Freedom from Pain & Stress" coming up at The Between Space dance studio in Norwood next Tuesday! Check out this Facebook event page for more details. This demonstration will just scratch the surface of the 12 week workshop that I will be leading starting in January. Please check out the event!
Hope to see you there!
Welcome back mind-body students! I hope you enjoyed the Greatest Hits Workout last week. This week, we have more of a mind lesson.
If you are like me, you like to get things done. You are very industrious. More likely than not you are zipping around every day with all kinds of plans on your to-do list. Many times, you catch yourself thinking about how you could be doing more stuff in the same amount of time.
People like this are often very successful, but they live in danger of burning out.
"Burnout" is when your mind is still trying to accomplish the tasks at hand, but your body is not rested enough to do so. From a medical standpoint, pushing yourself to the point of burnout can be dangerous. It might include high levels of stress hormones than increase your risk of heart attack, or very low blood sugar that could send your body into shock.
Working yourself to that extent may sound crazy, but people have done it.
Most people will just find that they feel "off their game" or really tired for several days, even a month or two. This isn't medically dangerous unless you begin abusing stimulants like caffeine to make up for the low energy. The worst result will probably be that your quality of work declines, perhaps for a significant amount of time.
So how do people who have busy schedules and high-stress careers avoid burnout, and even accomplish more than before?
Take regular breaks.
In Judaism, we have the ancient idea of the "shabbat" which is a practice of rest one day a week. One day each week may not be enough for a high-profile worker, however. Some people work up more stress than a single day can get rid of, so they need less frequent, but longer breaks. Maybe a 4-day weekend every month (assuming you work most weekends).
This resting phase allows your body and mind to heal and incorporate everything you have learned and exercised since your last break. By relaxing down to a healthy baseline regularly, your metabolic systems can reset and prepare for more work later.
And that's how you can do more work by working slight fewer days each month. Instead of working at 70% productivity every day for a month, you come back to work at 100% productivity (after your mini vacation) and that productivity slowly decreases until you take your next break. Each day that you are working at more than 70% productivity makes up for (and eventually more than compensates for) the few days you took off.
I know, for high-functioning professionals, taking four days off seems like a crazy move. But if you can get more work done, and have a nice vacation each month, and enjoy your life more, and spend more time with your family, the only crazy choice here would be not to try.
People ask me some variation of this question all the time: "Are there any tips you have for how to meditate? I just can't get my mind to sit still no matter what I try."
And the answer is "Of course I have tips for how to meditate!" I've written about them on the blog before. I've written about them so much, in fact, that I have a whole category of posts dedicated to meditation tips.
But all those tips are about how you meditate, or what you should do while meditating. What if I told you that you could do something before meditating that could improve your meditation practice? It might seem strange, but this really works.
Clean your room. Or even better, clean your whole house.
You might be thinking, "What? I close my eyes when I meditate. I can't even see if my house is messy or not." But that's not completely true. Your mind internalizes the area that you live in. Even if you aren't paying attention to the mess, when you are in a messy house your mind functions differently (and not in a good way).
In fact, there are several studies now showing that a cleaner home can lower your risk of heart disease, reduce stress hormone levels, and improve sleep. How interesting that all of these benefits are also benefits of regular meditation.
The reality is that your mind worries about the mess in your home. That mess makes you stressed and scatter-brained, which leads to an even messier house. It is a vicious cycle.
Luckily, most people find cleaning their living space to be very easy. A chore, yes, but an easy one. It isn't like meditation, which takes a while to become proficient in. Nearly everyone knows how to clean a space up.
As soon as your local landscape is more organized and orderly, you will find that your mind is more focused and relaxed. And one of the secrets to meditation is that relaxed and focused minds are better at it than messy and scattered ones. That's why many people find meditation so difficult at first. It's a lot like exercise in that way: it's difficult at first because you haven't done any, but the only way to improve is to keep practicing.
But hey, if you can get a boost just by cleaning up your house, that's good too.