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