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The practice of qigong/taiji involves three principles. Everything else about it is an outward flowing of the three. There is no hierarchy among them, they simply must be practiced together in order for each to function correctly. The principles are abstract ideals evoked by the body, therefore it is simply impossible to do them perfectly. The ideals are always things towards which we strive, and in doing so we come to understand them better, as though they were revealing themselves to us. Every person is different, so the course of ones personal experience with taiji is entirely unique. I seek only to give a functional idea of the principals through this manual, understanding them comes only through regular, patient practice.

 

Breathing

The breath is a wave of inhale and exhale. Do not hold your breath between inhalation and exhalation, or between exhalation and inhalation. As the inhalation reaches its peak, it will crest and fall like an ocean wave into the exhalation. When the exhalation reaches its lowest point, it will reverse its flow into inhalation, like a wave retreating from the beach before another breaks and flows up the sand. The yin yang symbol (taijitu – grand ultimate map) looks like two waves stuck together, think of it as a model for your breath. The little white circle is what connects the black wave (inhalation) to the white wave (exhalation), and vice versa. There is no stopping point between yin and yang, they simply flow into one another. The little circles inside the waves indicate that yin and yang are the basis for one another. When one reaches its zenith, the apex of its powers, it can instantly become the other. When one reaches its nadir, and seems to have completely vanished, it can likewise instantly become the other.

Use Daoist Breathing, or reverse breathing, while practicing. Contract the muscles of your lower torso (below the diaphragm) while your chest expands on inhalation. Expand the muscles of the lower torso while your chest contracts on exhalation.

 

Connection

Keep all parts of your body connected to one another at all times. This is accomplished through what can be termed muscle activation. Activated muscles are neither in full contraction nor full relaxation. They balance between the two depending on what position the body is in. As such the muscles always feel different when connected, but they always feel connected. Certain places in the body, such as the low back, pelvis, hips, and groin, are often too tight; they are too much in contraction. Other places, such as those weakened by injury or inactivity, will be too relaxed.

Muscles that work with each other (i.e. pull against each other) need to be balanced, so that the one contracting doesn’t over-pull on the one relaxing. Neither should a muscle become so relaxed that the one contracting falls into full contraction, like letting go of a rope upon which someone else is pulling mightily.

The shoulders need to activate all of their muscles, they do not just hang, or stay tightened up in a posture. Pull them together with the rhomboids; down with the lats; forward with the serratus; and up with the traps. No muscle should be all contracted, nor all relaxed, and they will change their ratios of contraction and relaxation depending on the body’s positioning.

The hips should be focused around the tailbone. As the tailbone moves, the spine elongates so as not to pinch any vertebrae. This elongation is very small in terms of actual distance, it should just feel like your back has plenty of space to move around. This ensures that the muscles of the hips are not too contracted nor too relaxed. Point your tailbone in the direction your hips are moving, very subtly, keeping the low back extending as much as possible. Never thrust your hips. The adductor muscles, which run from your groin down to the inside of your knees, should pull on the pelvis to rotate the tailbone in that direction. The pointing is very subtle, like a rudder turning a boat. No muscle is ever committed fully to contraction or relaxation, and is always changing the ratios based upon what the body is doing.

 

Rotate

Just rotate. How do I move my arms? Just rotate. How do I move my legs? Just rotate. How do I move my spine? Just rotate. The joints of the shoulders and hips are balls inside of sockets. Their optimal movement is one of rotation; it is what helps them heal and keeps them healthy. The more your shoulders and hips are connected, the more easily you will be able to rotate the joints. The vertebrae of the spine are connected by facet joints, which are like tiny balls and sockets that have a very limited range of movement. Activating the muscles keeps them from over-rotating the joints, as they are balancing their contraction and relaxation. The joints of the shoulders, hips, and each individual vertebrae (except for those that collectively comprise the sacrum, which are fused) are the primary joints.

To step, rotate from within the hip joint, and allow the connection of the body to translate that rotation into a step. Rotate your shoulders and let the rotation flow out through the body connection into an arm movement. Rotate your spine, which is done in very small degrees, to turn your hips or shoulders for directional changes.

The muscles of respiration (i.e. those above and below the diaphragm) should connect to the muscles of the shoulders and hips so that they may initiate rotation of the primary joints. It does not matter if they are on inhalation or exhalation, only that they are moving. As they never stop moving, no matter their speed, they are always the movement of the body in which the rotation of the primary joints is rooted. The muscles of the spine are similarly always engaged in the movement of breath, so it too always has the breath as the root of its movement.

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Chop an apple into cubes, removing the core. Place chopped apples into a saucepan with 1 cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes.

After simmering for 10 minutes, add oatmeal and additional water (1 cup oatmeal = 1-3 additional cups of water, to taste).

A pinch of salt, and several shakes of cinnamon (to taste). Stir in a half teaspoon of honey.

Simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, dependent upon on desired consistency.

Oatmeal is not a complete protein. Therefore, it is necessary to eat it with nuts (almonds, walnuts), sugar free yogurt, or have some meat or a couple eggs on the side (any style). An inadequate amount of protein in the morning will set us up for a sugar roller-coaster for the rest of the day, i.e. that ravenous feeling that strikes about an hour before lunch and then again in the middle of the afternoon, then again before dinner, and once more before bed. Craving sweets at these times of the day indicates an insufficient amount of protein for breakfast and lunch, not as is popularly erroneously believed, a sweet tooth.

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Despite the physiological discrepancy, no condition is closer to my heart than knee pain. I found Eastern medicine by shredding the cartilage of my knee. I had surgery to repair the damage, but the physical therapy didn’t work out so well, and within a few weeks my knee was the size of a basketball. Months of crutching about led to yet more months wielding a cane. Add in the strain to my low back and hip muscles from the compensation, and at 25 I was rocking out the full old-timer, complete with cloudy disposition and an impressive ratio of grumps per day. After half a year of this, I found myself relocated to San Diego from Connecticut. It didn’t take long for me to find tai chi, which enabled the miracle of miracles by unlocking my body’s innate healing ability that modern physiological science had been unable to reach.

Two years of tai chi later, I found myself in school for acupuncture & Eastern herbs. At this point my knee had regained full functionality (it actually worked a bit better than before the surgery), but I still had some shooting, stabbing pain when especially active. Then there was the meteorologist that had moved into my knee, alerting me to barometric changes with dull aches. Long mornings in the cold ocean waiting for waves got that meteorologist humming, too. It was the perfect home experiment!

Every night after school I pulled out my books and notes and set to work on my knee. I wasn’t very skilled in the beginning, in fact I was rather dreadful. But I stuck with it, and gradually my needle technique grew less painful. However, my knee started to feel better right away. By the second semester, I hardly needed any needles in my knee at all.

I like to say that I specialize in anything interesting, but my first project was my knee, and as such, the aspect of Eastern medicine with which I am most familiar, is knee pain. It is then with great delight that I can share this study on osteoarthritis of the knee from the People’s Hospital of Peking University in Beijing.

The points used in the study on all 73 participants are almost exactly the same ones that I used on my knee. Of the 49 people who completed the four week study, all had improvement in their knees, and that improvement was sustained after the four week followup visit. There was no control arm. The study assumes acupuncture works, and is testing a particular protocol. Admittedly, a study in which every participant improves is a bit suspect, which is a reason why some meta-analysis studies regard acupuncture’s success as inconclusive. [Commence digression] However, the studies then go on to conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work, which is as intellectually irresponsible as designing a study that allows for 100% improvement. The world of acupuncture research and research on acupuncture is still in its fledgling stages, and these are the growing pains–ones that acupuncture can treat! [Digression concluded]

I still use the bulk of these points for my knee pain treatments, but I change up the other points to customize the treatment to the individual. A scientific study by nature has to use the same points from person to person, but our bodies are all different, and as such, the pain of the knee and surrounding structures changes from person to person. Acupuncture works best when it is customized, but it can still work when homogenized. The knee is especially suited to homogenization of treatment, given that the reason for the problem is essentially the same from person to person, and the location of pain changes only slightly. The source of knee pain is almost always within the knee and surrounding muscles, so needling the points around the knee works very well. Something like carpal tunnel syndrome on the other hand can stem from the neck, shoulder, and elbow, so it is more difficult to design a standardized treatment that effectively treats it equally in all cases.

Furthermore, from a point function perspective, two of the points used in the study are very commonly used by acupuncturists to improve metabolism and boost energy. Though the source for knee pain is usually within the knee joint, poor posture of the whole body and sloppy ergonomics will put more strain on the knee to exacerbate the pain. With this increase in energy, it is easier to maintain proper posture and gait. Another of the knee points used in the study is used by many acupuncturists for almost every condition involving tendons, which are a major component of any joint. These dual purposes reflect the local and systemic nature of acupuncture points. All points will benefit local problems, i.e. the point in the middle of the wrist crease benefits carpal tunnel syndrome. Then there are the systemic actions of the points, wonderfully illustrated in this study using brain imaging. In essence, acupuncture points stimulate parts of the brain that are associated with many of the problems the points are traditionally purported to treat. The People’s Hospital of Peking University study uses points that are local (on the knee) which also positively affect health of the body in a way that supports recovery from osteoarthritis of the knee. This is a study of a treatment strategy that is incredibly simple and elegant. It is no wonder that it garnered positive results.

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