Friday, June 28, 2013

Cookie of Childhood

Cookie of Childhood
by Thich Nhat Hanh
from Peace Is Every Step

“When I was four years old, my mother used to bring me a cookie every time she came home from the market. I always went to the front yard and took my time eating it, sometimes half an hour or forty-five minutes for one cookie. I would take a small bite and look up at the sky. Then I would touch the dog with my feet and take another small bite. I just enjoyed being there, with the sky, the earth, the bamboo thickets, the cat, the dog, the flowers. I was able to do that because I did not have much to worry about. I did not think of the future, I did not regret the past. I was entirely in the present moment, with my cookie, the dog, the bamboo thickets, the cat, and everything.

It is possible to eat our meals as slowly and joyfully as I ate the cookie of my childhood. Maybe you have the impression that you have lost the cookie of your childhood, but I am sure it is still there somewhere in your heart. Everything is still there, and if you really want it, you can find it. Eating mindfully is a most important practice of meditation. W can eat in a way that we restore the cookie of our childhood. The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” 

 What has this to do with playing Tai Chi?  Everything!  Hope to see you in class.

 Sifu,  Gene


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Reasons to Study Qigong and Neigong

We practice Elemental Qigong, defined as "Essential" so we can connect to the advanced philosophy of internal development ..... Nei Gong. We gain strength and softness through Sung (tranquil) breathing directing relaxed, energetic and therapeutic movements. These movements incorporate all of the bodies joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles while energizing the spine and massaging all the internal organs. We effect the waste removal, immune and breathing functions of the body and ultimately regulate energy flow throughout the meridians of the body.

Using the Tai Chi movement Repulse the Monkey, as an example, we have the opportunity to take the connection, from Neigong training, and add the complexity of using all the rotational ability of the body, acute balance (walking backwards under complete control) while incorporating gross and small coordination, mindfulness, visualization, functional relaxation (not meeting force with force) and eventually having all guided by the pace of our tranquil breath (Sung Breathing). In addition we must accept what might seem as unnecessary minutia during training, as the essential exactness of Tai Chi. Simple things like where the eyes focus, expression, intent can effect postural awareness (alignment), which is a corner stone, the bed rock of all internal arts training.

By incorporating the internal principles and philosophy of Neigong (the Philosophical Art of Change) into our Qigong and Tai Chi practice, we can reach the highest levels of personal Internal Arts development.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tai Chi and Functional Relaxation

Functional relaxation, in my opinion, is one of the most immediate benefits a Tai Chi player can derive from their individual practice.  This benefit can be experienced by the end of their first class.  How it is routinely and instinctivly applied is another story. 

 Example:  You're getting ready to leave your home in the morning. A full day ahead of you.  You pick up your cell phone, wallet and keys ...oops, Where are my keys?  Ok, they must be on my desk ... not there.  Maybe the pants I wore yesterday ... nope.  Ok... they must have fallen behind the desk where I ALWAYS keep them ... not there!

 OK .. who took my   *&^@#%*#    keys?  Whys does this always happen when I'm in a rush,  *^$#*^$#!  damm it?  Why can't people leave my stuff alone? .... Ten minutes later after your heart rate has jumped to about 110 and your blood pressure is 150/100 .... Oh yeh,  I wore a different  jacket  yesterday.

 Example:  You're taking your first Tai Chi class and you're practicing the preparation at level 1.  S  l  o  w  l  y  separate your feet allowing your entire foot to be on the floor before you put weight on the foot ( the empty foot ), then balance yourself equally.  You've stepped to the side a million times in your life.  However this time when you're just about to put your foot down with no weight, your shoulders rise, knees lock, hands stiffen.  An inappropriate reaction to stress.  Just like when you couldn't find your keys  At this point your teacher is encouraging you " don't meet force with force ".  When you are in your most challenging position in a move or sequence, that is when you should try to be the most relaxed. 

 When studying Tai Chi you learn that proper body alignment, Sung breathing and mindful intent helps you to relax the body and mind so you can focus when doing challenging tasks (movements).  As you progress through a form, the movements become more challenging and the need to balance Yin & Yang becomes more apparent.  From this you learn to recognize triggers and to respond in a constructive manner.  "Never responding to force, with force".

 So, the Tai Chi solution to where are my keys?  Deep breath and take your spare set.  By the time you have had your second cup of coffee you will remember where someone else put them

Friday, November 9, 2012

Burke Rehabilitation Hospital Receives National Certification for Tai Chi & Qigong Classes Taught by Empire Tai Chi

Press Release Issued by The Burke Rehabilitation Hospital:
WHITE PLAINS, NY – November 9, 2012 – In recognition of Burke Rehabilitation Hospital’s high quality and diversified community based Tai Chi and Qigong programs, as well as its reputation as a world-class Rehabilitation and Research Center, has been certified as an American Tai Chi and Qigong Association, Teaching Center.
Only organizations that meet the strict requirements set forth by ATCQA can receive this certification. The requirements are comprehensive, covering the teachers (being ATCQA certified), the details of programs offered, the physical facility, and a commitment to serving the diversified needs of a community.
All Tai Chi and Qigong classes at Burke are taught or directly supervised by Sifu, Gene Nelson, owner of The Empire Tai Chi Group.  Gene is a ATCQA level 3 certified teacher, the highest level of certification, and serves on the national advisory board of The ATCQA.
The Burke Rehabilitation Hospital offers between10 and 12 weekly Tai Chi and Qigong classes, available during the mornings, afternoons, evening and Saturday.  These classes include comprehensive instruction in traditional Tai Chi, Balance specific classes, programs for Special Populations including; those individuals with Parkinson's disease, recovering stroke patients and individuals with other neurological disorders, as well as those with acute balance challenges.  In addition there are regularly scheduled workshops designed to keep the community abreast of the continued empirical evidence being compiled on the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong.
According to Heather Massimo, director of community wellness at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, “The new certification reinforces Burke’s commitment to providing the highest quality fitness options for all community residents, even those with physical limitations or underlying health problems.” For additional Information pertaining to Tai Chi and Qigong classes and workshops offered through the Fitness Center at Burke contact, Heather Massimo at 914-597-2578.
The Burke Rehabilitation Hospital is a private, not-for-profit, acute rehabilitation hospital. Founded in 1915, it is the only hospital in Westchester County dedicated solely to rehabilitation medicine. Burke offers both inpatient and outpatient programs for those who have experienced a disabling illness, traumatic injury or joint replacement surgery. Burke is both an acute rehabilitation hospital and medical research center.  Burke’s world renowned doctors and therapists provide state-of-the-art ­treatment, while its research scientists explore the frontiers of neurological medicine. All share the Burke mission to ensure that every patient makes the fullest possible recovery from illness or injury.

Friday, July 20, 2012

When am I Going to Get it?

The majority of challenges a student might incur, when studying Tai Chi, can be avoided by following the suggestions offered in a previous posting on this Blog titled Doing vs. Practicing. However this is such an important topic I want to expand on my previous posting.

The single most frequently asked question by students is “When am I going to get it “. My standard answer is “ I’ll let you know, when I know “. The actual answer is … Never.  As long a you continue to study you will never Get It. Actually, the longer you study the more you will realize how little you Get It .... and how un-important that quest is. Tai Chi study is a trip, a journey. I know this is a very new age sounding response that is an over used bumper sticker, but in this case it’s 100% on the money.
Studying Tai Chi is an endless process of improving your body’s alignment, learning new moves and transitions, improving the quality of each component, conditioning your mind and body to meet force with lesser force (the connection to functional relaxation), and in the process addressing the many scourges of the 21st century such as; stress, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, depression etc. In addition you are positively addressing issues and conditions like; osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, neurological disorders, balance issues etc.
Here’s the best news. You don’t have to “Get it” to start getting all these benefits from your Tai Chi playing ( doing Tai Chi is called playing and those playing are called Tai Chi players). Every movement in Tai Chi has the ability to produce profound positive results. The more you practice, the more will transition into the doing part ( see Doing vs Practicing ) and the greater the benefit. You set your pace.
However, if you are always chasing “When am I going to get it”, you will be missing out on the benefit you can derive from every class and every time you actually play Tai Chi. Here’s another bumper sticker.
                    “Slow Down and Smell the Roses"

Sifu, Gene Nelson
Empire Tai Chi

Friday, June 22, 2012

What's next?

When a student says I'm Bored? or what's next?.. what they are  saying is " ok, I've been on this one move for 2 weeks ... how about moving on? "   Moving on for Empire Tai Chi students is based upon the quality of movement not quantity. This is a traditional Tai Chi philosophy that can be challenging at first.  However, soon students start to get measurable and highly predictable, positive benefits from their Tai Chi and embrace the qualatative concept as a basis for learning new movements. 

Often, taking a step back equals a giant step forward. Sometimes we will spend more time on a move or transition because the student is really connected and they have a chance to maximize principles at a comfortable spot in a form.  Other times we will introduce a new move to a student who is stuck,  because we feel the next move will help them get un-stuck.  These are evaluations we make as we watch students review on their own. 

When we know that a student's primary goal is stress reduction and relaxation ... and they ask  " What's Next ", we take that as an indicator that the student will be best served by slowing down in order to go forward.  

Every movement in Tai Chi and Chi Kung has enormous positive health potential.  If a students is driving him/her self to learn x number of moves in x number of weeks,  real benefit can come from the traditional method of learning Tai Chi.  No goals.  There is no end, only the journey ...

Doing vs. Practicing - Not a contradiction

Doing - Select a single move or combination of moves that you feel completely comfortable with.  Maybe it's just one move like the preparation .. or any combination of connected moves.  These should be moves that you can do in an alpha state ... flowing, meditative and under relaxed control .. with realy good body alignment.  Do these for 5, 10, 15 minutes .. however long you want.

Practicing - First you have to select a sequence that is not particularly comfortable for you. A sequence where you have the gross memorization, but the sequence feels linear, disconnected, steps are not in control, you are feeling stress in your upper body when you raise one leg. You know the feeling! Like an Elephant on ice skates. Practice doing these few movements focusing on a different principle each time you do it. Stepping under control and moving from the center are biggies, keeping shoulders down and soft, incorporating the empty foot, hips front, staying round, maintaining one height and one pace and examine aspects of functional relaxation throughout all aspects of the moves.. If you keep "practicing this sequence" .. building more and more Principles into these moves it will start to feel different. The more you practice ... the more sequences come into the Doing fold ... and the more you will get out of the moves you were already connected to.

All practice is like always being on a diet. Its allot of work. You need to have a piece of cake once in a while. That's doing Tai Chi. New students ... students within their first 18 months of study should spend more time Doing .... The longer you have been playing Tai Chi ... the more Practice you should be doing because your practice will effect so much more ... At EVERY stage of your Tai Chi experiece try to maintain a schedule that allows for both Doing and Practice. The results will be a highly predictable balance of qualitative and quantitative personal Tai Chi develoment ...

Monday, April 23, 2012

How the hip moves: Important!

In an article written by Sam Masich:

Here is another possible reason that the legs are mentioned in the classics and not
the hips. The hips should always move as a natural consequence of actions initiated
in the legs (not the torso). Since they (hips) have no mechanism by which to move in and of themselves, it is an error to think that we move from our hips. Like a tree being swayed by the wind, the hips are caused to move. An ignorance of this critical concept has left somepractitioners struggling for decades, trying to find root, fluidity and true stickingability.

The hips must allow movement. They must acquiesce to pressure, letting force, movement and energy transfer up, down, forward, backward and side to side. While the pressure may come from the opposite leg¹s driving force or from a partner¹s pushing, the hips themselves must remain receptive, passive and clear. 

We do not try to move the hips in relation to force but, like the axle of a wheel, allow
them to rotate as a matter of course. This is often described as folding the hip or kua.

Note:  Sam Masich is a much respected Internal Martial Artist. I have had the very good fortune to attend workshops held by Sam at the Tai Chi Farm.   

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Correct Knee Alignment

Hips, Shoulders and Knees

While in Tai Chi class you are constantly being reminded to keep your hips to the front,  your shoulders down and relaxed and your knees aligned over you feet.

When talking about the hips being front .. we are actually talking about the Pelvic Girdle which is loosely referred to as the Hip Region.  In fact the hips are joints and are meant to rotate and flex… but not meant to rotate if the corresponding leg is weight bearing.

When we say shoulders down and relaxed, we are actually talking about the shoulder region and most specifically the trapezoid muscles.

An example of the pelvic girdle and a hip joint rotating at the same time and root leg being properly aligned would be during the transition from White Crain Spreads it's Wings into Brush Left Knee.  During the transition, while the right leg stays rooted and special attention is paid to the right knee alignment, the upper body and hips ( pelvic girdle ) turn to the front and the left leg ( empty) turns inward.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Diaphragmatic Breathing & Balance Drill

Before starting any new exercise regimen, you should first consult with your personal physician

Basic Rules for all exercises:

  • There should be no pain. Thighs will be getting a serious work out .. but there should not be any pain in the JOINTS. If there is …. STOP
  • Knees are ALWAYS slightly bent and aligned ( over ) the foot ..
  • Feet should be the width of your shoulders.
  • When turning upper body ... try to keep HIPS from turning
  • Never hold your breath
DRILL 1 - Diaphragmatic Breathing

1. While sitting upright in a chair, lying down with knees bent or standing up .... Place the palms of both hands, fingers down and side by side, over your belly button...
2.  Very gently pull your belly in ... a little bit
3.  Inhale through your nose and allow belly to expand
4.  Exhale and gentle pull belly back in .... Gently ... Gently
Allow each breath to role into the next. Expanding belly on the INHALE ..... Gently contracting belly on the exhale. After a while transition to doing this exercise without using your hands. This is a great exercise to do before going to sleep. Stop exercise if you get light headed ... try to do all breathing through your nose.

DRILL 2 - Breathing with Movement for Balance, Strength, Focus & Functional Relaxation.  The Preparation, Right & Left

1. Start with feet in a narrow stance ( starting position ) side by side about a fist width apart ( Starting position )
2.  SLOWLY turn you upper body only to the left and shift Left.
3.  While you slowly turn your upper body back to the center .. and WITHOUT SHIFTING YOUR WEIGHT .. Step to the right with the right foot. Visualize there is a small soft ball in the middle of your foot. Slowly compress the entire ball into the floor until the edges of your foot are on the floor …. then slowly shift your weight so you are balanced equally Right and Left.
3.  Slowly turn you upper body (only) to the left and shift left
4.  Slowly turn your upper body to the front and while you are making this turn …. Slowly bring your right foot back in, about a fist width from the left foot, You are now in back to the starting position. All movements, shifts and steps are made during and throughout the turn of the body ( center ).. Hips/ pelvic area remains to the front

  • Inhale and Shift
  • Exhale and step
  • Inhale and Shift
All movements take place during an inhale or exhale. Your breath dictates the pace. You are constantly breathing, turning and stepping slowly under control … without ever holding your breath. Your weight bearing leg is your root ( with bent knee ) … that leg does not move.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Funny Tai Chi Video

  A Funny Video

  Yes, Humor is welcome.

  Tai Chi is not rigid.

  It's like a cloud.

The Lower Dantian ( Your Center )

The lower Dantian is considered to be the foundation of rooted standing, breathing, and body awareness in Tai Chi, Chi Kung and the Internal Martial Arts. The Dantian has been described to be "like the root of the tree of life". It is said to be located 3 finger widths below the navel and 2 inches inside the body.

Taoist and Buddhist teachers often instruct their students to center the mind in the navel or lower Dantian. This is believed to aid control of thoughts and emotions. Acting from the Dantian is considered to be related to higher states of awareness.

compiled by Empire Tai Chi Inc.

Three Aspects of Studying Tai Chi

The study of Tai Chi' Chuan primarily involves three aspects:

  • Health: An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person may find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use Tai Chi as a martial art. Tai Chi's health training, therefore, concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. For those focused on Tai Chi's martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
  • Meditation: The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of Tai Chi is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in application of the Tai Chi forms as a soft style martial art.
  • Martial art: The ability to use Tai Chi as a form of self-defense in combat is the test of a student's understanding of the art. Tai Chi Chuan is the study of appropriate change in response to outside forces, the study of yielding and "sticking" to an incoming attack rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force. The use of Tai Chi as a martial art is quite challenging and requires a great deal of training.

compiled by Empire Tai Chi Inc.