Monday, 23 April 2012

Tai Chi and Arthritis

Recently, I had an enquiry from a lady who wanted to know if Tai Chi could help her arthritis.  It was a good question!  I wanted to give a true answer so I put my researcher hat on!  Whilst I am knowledgeable about Tai Chi, up to that point I knew little about arthritis and wanted to give a true answer as inaccuracies in this case could easily cause permanent injury.

The answer was a resounding YES – it can help.  There are certain things that you need to know before taking on Tai Chi lessons if you are an arthritis sufferer.  They are as follows:-

·         You should not strain your knees.  Gentle work will strengthen the knee and improve the strength, circulation and mobility but go slowly with it.

·         Stance is very important.  The Tai Chi stance should not be too low and the knee should be oriented correctly.

·         Protect your knees – if the training hurts your knee at all, then it is time to rest.  Do not try to “work through” the pain barrier.

·         Avoid any movement that causes you to twist your knee whilst you are carrying weight on it

·         Diet can help.  There is much information available about the effects of diet upon arthritis but here are a couple of good tips:-

o   Sugar, alcohol and caffeine are unlikely to help your arthritis.

o   Green tea has been shown in studies to help – especially if coupled with Tai Chi or other correct exercise.

·         Meditation and Chi Gung practices such as “Microcosmic Orbit” and others can increase the amount of energy and relaxation and be beneficial.

·         Treatments such as Shiatsu and acupuncture have helped people.

The comments above are a summary of a discussion that I have had with various doctors, Tai Chi masters and arthritis sufferers.  They are all very sensible guidelines for a person who is thinking of taking up Tai Chi as a part of their arthritis management strategy.

After completing the research, I realised that I actually have an excellent and real source of information about arthritis and Tai Chi.

On Tuesday afternoons, I teach a senior citizen Tai Chi group.  I asked them if they had any stories about arthritis and Tai Chi. 

Nearly all of them said that they did get arthritis but since they have started Tai Chi with me the impact of arthritis on their lives has reduced significantly.

Seeing the group’s faces as they told me how happy they were with the fact that they were more mobile and suffering less pain made me feel privileged to have helped them.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Your Shoulders and your Energy

“You are not carrying the world on your shoulders – the world is carrying you” - Vedanta

In many traditional approaches to health there is no separation between the body, mind and spirit.  Emotional tension can lead to physical tension and vice versa

Tension can also deplete our energy reserves.  Try clenching your fists for a moment.  It takes far more effort to clench your fists than it does to leave your hand relaxed.  If you are carrying tension – you are wasting Energy.

If you can relax your body more, you will feel more emotionally and mentally relaxed and have more Energy.

A good place to start is the shoulders.  Most people carry tension in the shoulders at some stage of their lives.  It is usually accompanied by the fact that they are trying to do too much.  We all need to “shoulder our loads” but many people take this too far and try to shoulder too much.

Is this you?  Do your shoulders ache?  If you do not think that it particularly applies to you, I bet that you can think of somebody you know who is always trying to do too much for other people.  Look at their shoulders.  Ask them how they feel.  It will not take long before you are finding tension.

Learning how to relax the shoulders will help you to look after the shoulder and neck muscles better.  This means that you will have less “stiff necks” or sore shoulders.  It will increase your sense of wellbeing by reducing the tension in your body.  Interestingly, it can also lower your centre of gravity and make you feel more balanced.

In Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Shiatsu and meditation there are many ways to reduce tension from anywhere that it manifests.  The following exercise is very simple – but also very effective.  Give it a try!

1.    Lift your shoulders as high as you can.  Really try to get them close to your ears.

2.    Take a BIG deep breath and hold it whilst you count to three.

3.    Release the shoulders and the breath in one go.
The release of breath is quite sudden and the shoulders will drop to a more relaxed position.  Try it a few times and see how it feels.

Ray Pawlett

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Five Elements

Have you noticed how the seasons affect your health?  If you have not, the supermarkets certainly have!  Just take a walk along the aisle for lotions and potions and see what is on offer.  It is a good way to see what ails people at the moment.

One of the factors that influence out health is the environment and the seasons of the year are part of that environment.

In the Far East, they have five seasons instead of our four and each of them is named after an element in nature.  Each element then has different internal organs associated with it.  This is called the “Five Element Theory”.

A brief summary of it is shown below:-

<><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><> <><>


Time of year

Body Organs




Liver/gall bladder




Heart/small intestine



Late Summer





Lung/Large intestine






It is at the time of the transition between the elemental seasons that we are most at risk of becoming ill.  It is therefore recommended that something is done to support ourselves during these periods such as having a treatment, correct exercise or being careful with what we eat.

For example, if we are changing from the fire Energy of the Summer to the Earth Energy of the Autumn most people want to keep the Summer and put off the arrival of Autumn for as long as possible.  Just as King Canute could not hold back the tide, we cannot stop the clock of the seasons.  If our Energy is out of phase with the time of year then we run the risk of illness.  The illness could be some kind of vague unhappiness or it could manifest itself as a physical complaint.

Rather than grieving for the loss of summer and dreading the onset of autumn and winter try to think about the beauties and glories of those seasons.  Think about the colour of the leaf in the trees, the harvest and the glories of Nature and replace the negative feelings with positive ones.

The five elements work through our lives as well.  The creative Energy of conception is followed by settling in our mother’s womb until the metal Energy separates us from our mothers.  When our water energy is sufficient for us to start to support ourselves then wood energy urges us to go and explore.  After we have settled into an Earthy maturity the metal energy starts to take away and separate us from what we have known and love in our lives until finally the fruit drops from the tree and we pass into the watery world of spirit.

The Five Element cycle has an effect on what we are successful with. The fact that New Year resolutions never stick is not surprising when you think of it being in the water phase of Energy which is more to do with rest and conservation than new beginnings. It is far better to wait until springtime to make life changes. Use the water Energy in the winter to contemplate what changes YOU want to make in your life rather than be told them by someone else.
Ray Pawlett

Inner Smile

A Buddhist approach is to think about choice.  If for example, you have just been made redundant then you probably feel angry, disappointed and frightened to name just a few of the emotions.

We cannot choose our emotions but we can have choice about the effect of our emotions.  If you are feeling frightened and angry after being made redundant then it is easy to imagine getting into arguments or other negative actions.  This is a choice that YOU have made.

Awareness of the fact that you have made a choice empowers you to do something about it.  First, you need to acknowledge the fact that you feel angry, frightened or whatever it is that you are feeling.  Now you can make the choice. 

You can say OK, I feel angry but taking it out on others will not make me feel less angry.  Why not get a bit of fresh air to calm down a bit and then think about what I actually want to do with my life?

This mindful approach is excellent when you are trying to get through a difficult time.  Sometimes though, we get caught up in a spiral of sadness, anger or any other negative emotion.

A useful technique to break that cycle is called the “the inner smile”.  Think for a moment about when you meet somebody.  If they smile at you then it is difficult to not smile back at them.

Look at the picture of the Dali Lama.  His happy smile will probably cause a flicker of happiness in your own heart.  Try the following meditation to lift your spirits.
   1.       Sit down somewhere quiet and close your eyes and relax.

   2.       Think of something that makes you very happy

   3.       Smile!  This alone actually reduces tension.

   4.       Imagine your heart in the middle of your chest

   5.       Imagine that you are smiling at your heart

   6.       Imagine that your heart is smiling back at you.

   7.       Enjoy the sensation of the smile and let it radiate throughout your body

   8.       Finish whenever you are  ready

The mindful approach and the inner smile will not make your difficulties go away.  What they can do is reduce the negative impact of life’s difficulties and help you to become at peace with the changes in your life.

Ray Pawlett

Winter Happiness

“Feeling only the cold

We cling on to the summer

And fear winters beauty”

Part of us knows that we cannot stop the flow of the seasons any more than King Canute stopped the flow of the tide and accept it but at the same time we would prefer to be sitting outside with a glass of wine in the evening rather than trying to keep warm indoors.
If we were perfect – and let’s face it, we are not; we would adapt with the seasons of the year and of life, accept their changes and move on.  In Eastern thought this would be called living with the flow of the Tao.
If our body, minds and spirits are in perfect health then we are living with the Tao.  Exercises and therapies such as Tai Chi, Chi Gung, macrobiotics, meditation and Shiatsu are ancient ways of helping to keep ourselves flowing with the Tao and having a happy and fulfilling lifetime.
Perhaps some of the following practices can help you to adapt to the winter season.
·      Our natural urge is to eat heavier foods as the cold sets in.  This is how it should be but as Westerners we tend to overdo this leading to excessive build-up of mucous and fats.  Try putting a few extra seasonal locally grown vegetables in the casserole and a little less meat. 
·       Onions, fresh ginger and mooli are good for breaking down excess fats and mucous.
·       Make sure that you get enough rest.  If the winter makes you want to hibernate then this is a sign that your body is trying to synchronise with the seasons – are you taking notice of the messages?
·       Winter is considered by most traditions to be a very spiritual time where we can explore our inner selves.  Take time to reflect on what your values are in life and how to be true to yourself.
·       Get out and feel the glories of Nature!  Even the “dark stormy nights” of the winter can be exhilarating.
We cannot change, stop or even slow down the seasons.  Learning to adapt with them can be a nourishing process.  Great benefits can be gained from relatively little effort.  Learn to enjoy the passage of the seasons and your whole wellbeing can be improved.

Ray Pawlett

Yin and Yang in Our Lives

The Yin Yang symbol shown below illustrates the dynamic interplay of our ever changing Energies.  It is a continuous swirl and flow from one opposite to the other – hot to cold, wet to dry, light to dark, positive to negative, expansion to contraction and back again.
The same interplay of actions and emotions is also constant within our body’s physical, emotional and spiritual processes.  For instance we have inhalation/exhalation, eating/excreting, love/hate, happiness/grief and ultimately life/death.
Everything that we do can be also is described as being more Yin or more Yang.  Running is more Yang than walking; walking is more Yang than standing as standing is more Yang than sitting and so on.
The food we eat has the Yin/Yang polarity.  Rare cooked red meat is about as Yang as it comes whilst sugar and alcohol are at the Yin end of the scale.  This is why wine goes so well with steak.  It feels good to those who enjoy steak and wine because it feels like some sort of balance is being made.
The balance however is very fragile.  Rather like putting two large weights on the opposite end of a sharp fulcrum.  For people who are looking to balance Yin and Yang within their diet we reduce the extremes so that it is easier to balance.  A good way to do this is to eat more vegetables and short grain brown rice because they are all very centring.
Our constitutions are also subject to the Yin and Yang polarities.  Physically active people are more Yang than those who live a more sedentary lifestyle.  For best health we need to learn how to balance Yin and Yang within our lives and to match our constitution.  What we eat, what we do, our exercise, our thoughts and meditations will all affect the Yin and Yang balance.
For example, if you were to take part in a meditation retreat which would be a quite Yin activity you would be ill advised to live on a diet of lasagne and sausages.  Conversely if you are just about to run a marathon fasting is not exactly the best preparation for the event.
The examples given here are deliberately very extreme so that the point is easy to understand.  The subtleties of Yin/Yang can be very deep and complex.  If our bodies become out of balance it affects us negatively.  If we can understand the theory behind Yin and Yang we can stop the imbalance before it happens.
Activities such as Tai Chi, Shiatsu, Chi Gung, acupuncture, meditation and Reiki are traditional Eastern approaches that help us to either maintain our inner balance or get it back again if we are starting to lose it.
If we can balance the Energies of Yin and Yang within our lives we feel more in tune with ourselves, our community and our environments.  We have little to lose and a lot to gain from learning this approach!

Ray Pawlett