Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tai Ji Chuan - Interview with Michael Blackburn

How would you describe Taiji?

Taijiquan ("tai chi," see Note below) is a Chinese internal martial art that is practiced for health and self-defense. The taijiquan solo form is a graceful sequence of smooth and continuous movements which is often described as meditation in motion. Taijiquan study also includes standing meditation, qigong, push hands (which describes a wide range of training done with a partner), and weapons study.

What style to do you teach?

I practice the traditional Yang and Chen styles. Most of my teaching is in the Yang style.

What interested you about Taiji initially?

I was originally drawn to taijiquan as a teenager through an interest in Eastern philosophy and culture, including daoism. I enjoy physical activity but have never been drawn to team sports, so the more introspective and non-competitive nature of taijiquan resonated for me.

How long have you been teaching for?

I have been practicing taijiquan for 22 years, and have been teaching for about half that time.

What are the benefits of a regular practice?

Before taijiquan's introduction to Western students, its health benefits were largely explained through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on a view of the body and healing mechanisms not always studied or supported by modern science. Today, taijiquan is in the process of being subjected to rigorous scientific studies in the West. Researchers have found that intensive taijiquan practice shows favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls, and has shown to help students who are recovering from chronic stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Taijiquan's gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill
skiing. There have also been indications that taijiquan might have an effect on noradrenaline and cortisol production, with a positive effect on mood and heart rate.

How frequently do people need to practice?

As with any activity, benefits increase with more regular practice. I strongly encourage my students to make a commitment to practice on a regular basis, at least a few times every week, and those that do so learn more quickly, take more satisfaction from lessons and enjoy much greater health benefits. Even doing a little taijiquan offers substantial benefits, and the more one practices the more they will enjoy it!

Are there any contraindications?

One of the special things about taijiquan is that it can easily be modified by a qualified teacher to suit students with various health challenges. Although there are high-level taijiquan practices which are contraindicated for certain conditions, a beginner student would not be exposed to such training until the teacher was confident it was safe for that individual.

Do you have any upcoming classes/workshops?

Regular classes are held Tuesday evenings at the Dunbar Community Centre (7- 9 pm) and Sunday mornings at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (9 - 11 am). A special tui shou ("push hands") intensive class will also be offered this summer on Tuesday evenings at the Dunbar Community Centre.


NOTE: There are many ways to write Chinese characters in roman script. A popular, older style is called Wade Giles. in Wade Giles, the capital of China is written "Peiking," internal energy is "c'hi," and the art I practice is "t'ai chi ch'uan." The international standard format for writing Chinese characters in roman script is called pinyin, and today most Chinese terms are written using this format. In pinyin, the capital city of China is "Beijing," internal energy is "qi," and the art I practice is "taijiquan." In other words, "taijiquan," "Tai chi," and "t'ai chi ch'uan" are all the exact same thing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tai Chi & Qi Gong

Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises balance the body and mind. Both work at regulating the body's Qi which according to traditional Chinese medicine is cornerstone to health. Therefore if Qi is stagnant, weak or excessive disease will ensue.

Studies have shown Tai chi and qigong provide many health benefits through balancing the body and mind. One study showed that falls were reduced in older adults along with a reduction in the fear of falling, improved balance and physical performance. Other trials have shown Tai Chi may benefit those with knee osteoarthritis through improved function, reduced pain and stiffness.

Qigong helps manage stress as one trial showed blood levels of the stress related hormone cortisol is lowered by short term practice, whereas Tai Chi has shown to help with hypertension by reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure along with serum cholesterol levels and anxiety. A recent study also showed that Tai Chi may help patients with heart failure sleep better.

With so many potential benefits why not check out a class. Next post will feature local instructor Michael Blackburn. Please check back for his interview and demo.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Healthy Lifestyle - Yoga Part II

To continue with the series on healthy living I interviewed local yoga teacher Tomas Hicks on his practice.

How would you describe Yoga?
Yoga is a way of living, a way of seeing the world, based on the first step of Classical Ashtanga Yoga, Ahimsa or non-violence in mind, body and spirit or breath. How we treat ourselves on the mat is a reflection of how we treat ourselves, others and the world in our every day life; where the real work is. Yoga means Union, we are all inter-connected, we are one, so the only way to be, to live harmoniously is to embrace Ahimsa, particularly in the golden moments when we dont practice Ahimsa, there is the magic.

What style to do teach?

My main method or style of teaching is Ahimsa, which I employ when I teach Hatha, Flow/Vinyasa/Power, Yin, Restorative or Meditation. Ahimsa is the most profound practice of life.

What interested you about yoga initially?

I was initially drawn to the Spiritual side of Yoga due to the death of my Mother and to the Asana or postures of Yoga to increase my physical flexibility.

How long have you been teaching for?

I taught my first year as an apprentice and just completed my first year as a 320 Hour Certified Yoga teacher. It has been an amazing journey.

What are the benefits of a regular practice?

The benefits of a regular and varied Yoga practice, particularly broadening the Yoga practice to more than Asana, are limitless. I have experienced physical, emotional and spiritual well-being I never felt could be possible. I have a deep sense of support from the world and have become a much more open, brave and loving person.

How frequently do people need to practice?

It is good to start of slow and steady and practice once a week on the same day and time and increase over time to once a day with at least one day of a week from Asana. Resting is Yoga as well. We live in a very driven and busy society so we wish to have Yoga reflect a calmer way of life, rather than reflect the hectic society. The peace cultivated from within during Yoga will then flow naturally outwards and calm the world. It is also essential to keep Ahimsa at the front of the mind as much as possbile throughout the day. All beings want Love, even those that annoy you! Be brave and love. As MLK said, "Hate is too great a burden to bear." When your mind calms and becomes peaceful, so will your body and your Asana practice will change profoundly.

Are there any contraindications?

A very important mantra is the Sikh mantra Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, which simply means listen to your inner teacher, your body, your wisdom. There are many contraindications for people with health concerns such as blood pressure issues, back pain and also during menstruation. Please consult a well-trained Yoga teacher before starting your Asana practice. Always err on the side of caution.

Upcoming classes/workshops?

Please visit UrbanAshram.ca for my schedule of classes. I am involved in two Summer Retreats, July 16 - 18 through Yogacara.ca and August 1 - 6 with ShantiHouse.ca on Denman Island. I also teach in various studios around Vancouver and take on individuals for personal Yoga Life Coaching.

To Sit comfortably one has to follow these recommendations:
1. Start with a strong foundation in the feet and ankles. To ensure a strong and well protected ankle and consequently a well protected knee, engage the ankle by flexing the ankle and foot such that the toes point straight up to the knee (dorsal flexion) or point straight away from the knee (plantar flexion). Check the inside of the heel on both feet, which should be smooth and free of wrinkles, to guarantee that there is no sickling of the ankle. 2. The knees need to be lower then the hips to maintain a strong and tall spine free of rounding and collapse. Do this by sitting on enough height underneath the buttocks. 3. Check your low back for its inward curvature. If you do not have enough height under the buttocks or the knees are higher than the hips the low back will 'bubble' outwards, resulting in back pain Place your hand on the low back and notice small ridges of muscles on each side of the inwardly curving spine. 4. Slightly hug the belly-button up and in towards your heart. 5. Move the head slightly backwards and bow the chin towards the heart without moving your head forward. 5. Eh voila!

Healthy Lifestyle - Yoga Part I

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle as is has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure, reduce osteoporosis, increase energy, reduce depression plus much more, but does the type of exercise matter? According to TCM it does. Since TCM involves bringing balance to the body mind and spirit is important to think of exercise as a medicine to achieve equilibrium in the body. Yoga is the focus of this week's activity as it affects the body and mind by incorporating physical postures, breath work and meditation .

There are many health benefits to yoga with studies on low back pain, depression, insomnia, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome showing there are a wide range of benefits and effects yoga can have on the body.

On more of a personal note I have found yoga has improved my ability to deal with stress through releasing tension and calming my mind. Over the last few years in particular yoga helped me focus through the preparation and writing of my licencing exams as well as adapt to the ups and downs of starting my own business.

Please check back for more posts on yoga and health this week. Tomorrow features yoga instructor Tomas Hicks