Smorgasbord Health Column – Ancient Therapies – #Tai Chi – Non-Combative Chinese Martial Art by Sally Cronin


I went to Tai Chi for a few classes when I was looking after my mother, but it became difficult to leave her on a regular schedule, but I did practice the moves at home to stay flexible and to help my breathing.

What is Tai Chi?

This is a non-combative martial art that combines breathing techniques with a series of slow movements often replicating the actions of birds and animals. It promotes the flow of vital energy (chi) throughout the body promoting health and calm.

It is also used to aid meditation and there is one technique that I found really demonstrates the gentle power of the art and is a great place to start to focus your mind and body.

Health Benefits of Tai Chi

There is some research into the various benefits of the technique, and certainly for those of us over 65 it has been found to reduce stress, improve posture as well as increasing muscle strength in the muscles in the legs. This may have an impact on balance, flexibility and mobility. This might also help prevent the elderly from falls and improve arthritic conditions. It is a gentle but weight bearing exercise to might also improve bone density.

Although most of the exercises are in the standing position there is also no reason why you cannot complete the arm movements and strengthen your core and shoulder muscles whilst sitting.

Suitable for all ages.If you were to drive through a Chinese city you would find the parks and empty spaces filled with groups of men, women and children attending a Tai Chi class. Perfect for the family to enjoy together. Great for children and in China the day often start with a 30 minute class.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jhZK0OKWkQ

Here are just two of the many exercises that are part of this technique and I hope you will explore this amazing form of exercise for yourselves.

Kong Jing  to relax and focus your mind.

  1. If you can sit on a mat on the floor with your legs crossed that is the most effective position. But if like me you have knee problems, sit on a straight- backed chair and cross you legs at the ankles.
  2. Rub your palms together rapidly to the count of 10 seconds ( there are a number of ways to time that… one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand or one Mississippi two Mississippi etc)
  3. Place one palm slightly cupped above the other 15cm apart.
  4. Keeping your eyes closed, imagine that you have a spongy ball between your palms and gently press them together until you feel some resistance (it is weird at first as you know there is no actual ball between your palms) Do not let your hands touch.
  5. The feeling is best described as magnetic. If you have ever held a magnet in each hand and moved them together you will begin to feel a slight repelling sensation the closer you get. You might also experience a feeling of warmth or tingling in your fingers.
  6. Hold that feeling of resistance for five minutes and in subsequent sessions increase until you are holding that position for 15 minutes.

You should find that after a few sessions that you are less stressed and also that you breathing has slowed and your heartbeat dropped slightly as the body relaxes.

I would like to share one more exercise with you which you can use as a warm up before a Tai Chi class or on its own to unwind at the end of the day and boost your energy. If you do have a dry, level spot in the garden on grass, where you can stand barefoot, then that is fantastic.

N.B. It is advisable not to do Tai Chi if you are suffering from any joint injuries especially shoulder and knee.. always check with your doctor or physiotherapist first. However, once you are healed this gentle exercise might prevent further injuries.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your knees slightly bent.
  2. Relax your shoulders and upper body and hold your head balanced as if someone had tied a ribbon to the hair on the crown of your head and was pulling it upwards.
  3. Your hands should be down by your sides, palms facing backwards and slightly apart from your body.
  4. Breathe naturally and allow you mind to empty.
  5. Shift all your weight onto your right foot and gently lift your arms up in front of you to shoulder height.
  6. Keep your palms facing downwards and your fingers pointing to the floor.
  7. Transfer all your weight to the left foot and in one easy flowing motion, lower your arms down to your sides.
  8. Bend your wrists to that your hands are parallel to the floor facing forwards.
  9. Transfer your weight to your right foot, raising your arms again to shoulder height and then transfer all your weight to the left and lower the arms again.
  10. Repeat this flowing motion in a rhythmic sequence until if becomes effortless and without you thinking about the process.
  11. Build up the repetitions until you are practicing this every day for 15 minutes.

You should find that after a week or two your muscles, particularly in the shoulders and legs are more toned and that breathing and your circulation are improved.

Here is a video with instructions in English from a Hong Kong teacher to show you the beginning moves.

Here is a directory for classes in the UK and wherever you live you should be able to find a similar directory: http://www.taoist.org/uk/locations/

And to show you that you are never too young to feel the benefits of the discipline…..so cute. Leeds Taekwondo

© Just Food for Health  Sally Cronin 1998 – 2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook fromhttp://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

And Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4: http://www.moyhill.com/html/just_food_for_health.html

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com. I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

Size Matters serialisation – Chapter 17 – Exercise


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I have mentioned walking as a form of exercise, in Chapter seven, but there are many other effective forms of exercise. This chapter will cover the most common examples. There are also several everyday activities that we take for granted but which do qualify as exercise.

chased by predators

We are designed to move fast if we need to. Predators had to be taken seriously in the past, whether multi-legged or two-legged. We have a strong skeleton, with muscles and tendons holding it together. Our joints are flexible and can withstand considerable pressure. In this day and age, however, we have come to rely on mechanical means of transport, not only when we reach adulthood but as children too.

Thirty years ago, children walked to and from school every day, although they may have graduated to a bicycle as they got older. These days, children either use a school bus service or are driven to school in the family car. Physical education and team sports can still play a part in many children’s lives, but far too many take hardly any exercise at all. This, and unhealthy modern eating practices, means that obesity in children is on the increase in most western countries.

Exercise is not just about losing weight. There are many other benefits to us. The first is to our physical structure: the skeleton, joints, tendons and muscles. All these remain healthy if put to the purpose they were designed for. Without regular use, joints seize up, muscles waste away and fat accumulates, causing stress on the body. Without exercise, our skeleton is weakened and in later years this can lead to osteoporosis. Regular exercise improves the way the body functions generally. The immune system will work much more efficiently, making us less vulnerable to infection.

Progression of osteoporosis

                     Progression of osteoporosis

Aerobic exercise maintains the body’s capacity to utilise fuel and oxygen. This type of exercise not only burns fat, it can also lower blood-pressure and strengthen the heart, rendering it less susceptible to heart attacks or valve problems. The cardiovascular system needs exercise to keep it in good condition.

Combining aerobic work-outs with a stretching and toning program helps the joints to remain flexible and the muscles supple.

Weight-bearing activities such as walking, running and weight training ensure that the bones do not become thin as we grow older. They also tone the muscles and improve our posture, thus lessening our chances of suffering from age-related structural problems.

One of the major benefits of these forms of activity is the mental and emotional strength they foster. Most people experience a feeling of well-being about twenty minutes into a moderate work-out. This is a result of natural endorphins, which are mood-elevating substances, being released into the system. Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to go out on a wet, windy day, but, having done so; it is amazing how good you can feel half an hour later. People often comment on how a long, brisk walk reduces stress and tension.

Toning and exercising the body is a natural way to preserve and strengthen our entire system. We have only the one body, so we may as well get the best out of it. For years I was imprisoned in my body, with neither the knowledge nor the willpower to escape. I could barely walk for ten minutes before I started the program, yet today I have no problem walking two or three miles a day. I would be miserable without physical activity and I soon know when I have not done enough: my joints, which have been damaged by all the years of carrying the excess weight, stiffen and become more painful.

One fact that caught my attention recently is that, for every hour of moderate exercise, our life span can be increased by around two hours. I have made a decision to live to the age of a hundred and still be physically and mentally active. If I maintain my program of two hours a day of brisk walking in the winter months and three hours in the summer until I am ninety-five, I will have added five years to my life.

Some of the gentler forms of exercise such as Yoga and Tai Chi are great for those starting out but it is important to have a great teacher. Even these seemingly gentle movements can cause you joint problems if they have not been used for a long time!!

Aerobics

Aerobics are a good way to maintain fitness, but it is not a good idea to do such a strenuous work-out when you are severely overweight, because you can damage joints and muscles and put additional strain on the heart and other organs. Before joining an aerobics class, carry out some basic research. Begin with low-impact aerobics, guided by a qualified instructor, and watch the class for a session before participating yourself. Make sure there is an adequate warm-up and warm-down period and some stretching exercises are included in the program.

You may feel more confident if you work out at home first, perhaps using a video. I started by dancing to my favourite music in the kitchen. At the time I weighed over 250 lbs. (113 kg), but I took it slowly at first, a few minutes at a time, until I felt confident about joining a class. You will soon feel the benefits. Not only will you burn fat, but you will also improve your circulation and lung capacity; your muscles will be toned and your stamina will increase.

Do not be tempted to do aerobics every day. Two or three times a week, combined with other forms of exercise, will be more than adequate. Make sure that you wear the right footwear, providing adequate ankle support, and that your clothing is not too restrictive. Keep a bottle of water nearby and stop regularly to take a drink. For every hour of aerobic exercise, you will need an additional litre of water.

Aquarobics

Another popular form of aerobics takes place in the water. Aquarobics is ideal for someone who is still too heavy for the dry land equivalent. The water cushions the joints and offers resistance to the muscles to make them work harder. Provided you feel comfortable in a bathing suit, you can begin this as soon as you like. Again, you do not have to complete a whole hour. If you feel you are getting too tired, stop and swim or relax for a short time and then resume. You will find that, over a period of weeks, your stamina, and ability to perform the various exercises, will improve and you may then think about joining a more conventional aerobics class.

Jogging and running

Jogging and running are classified as aerobics, with the additional benefit that you are out in the fresh air. Again this is an activity best done when you have reached a certain level of fitness. Do not push yourself too hard. Start by walking and then, when you can walk comfortably for an hour or more at a brisk pace, introduce some jogging. Walk a hundred paces and jog for the next fifty. After several days, increase the level of jogging until you are completing your usual distance in a shorter time. You must ensure that you are wearing the correct shoes. Normal walking shoes will not be suitable so investing in a pair of running shoes is essential. Make sure that your muscles are warmed up before you start to jog. Walk for the first fifteen minutes at a brisk pace and then change your stride.

Cycling

Cycling can be a great pleasure, although this depends on having access to pleasant places to ride. Mountain bikes have become popular in recent years, enabling us to ride on more varied terrain than the roads, which can be dangerous. As with all these activities, you should take things easy to begin with. Plan short trips of about half an hour. Save the day trips until you have the necessary power and stamina. Wear a helmet and elbow and knee protection if you are on the road, and the bicycle should have adequate lighting if you are cycling after dark. Most gyms have a static cycle and the home version can also be effective, but they can be boring unless you can watch the television or listen to music at the same time. Cycling in the fresh air, safely, is the best form of this exercise.

Swimming

Swimming can be monotonous unless you set yourself some realistic targets. You can be any weight when you start swimming. However, I found that embarrassment kept me out of the pool for a long time. I was self-conscious in a swimming suit, even when I was lucky enough to find one the right size. Usually the cup of the suit was huge and the bottom too tight. I will admit to being a coward on this one and it took me at least two years and a hundred pounds of weight loss before I ventured into the water. Once I did, however, I loved it. There is no stress on the body or the joints, and it tones everything.

Start with the objective of completing one lap without stopping and progress until you are completing as many as possible within a specific length of time. An hour is ideal.

Over the weeks you can either increase the number of laps to fill the time, or do the same number of laps in less time. No safety equipment is necessary, except for a swimming pool attendant – and strong shoulder straps!

Tennis

Tennis is a game I have loved since I was a child. It is competitive and can be fast-paced so, once again, wait until you have reached a comfortable fitness level before trying it. It is easy to damage the knees and leg muscles if you overdo it, so go gently.

I began by hitting a ball off the house wall for a few minutes every day, in time progressing to half an hour. This gave me an opportunity to get used to the twisting and turning that is involved. You get an excellent upper-body work-out with tennis, but you can strain shoulder and elbow joints and your muscles. It is a good idea to take lessons at first, to ensure that you are using the correct and least damaging strokes. If you are returning to tennis, then start with doubles, progressing to singles after a few weeks. You don’t have to make Wimbledon in your first season!

Weight training

Weight training tones the muscles and burns off fat. There are some simple routines to begin with, which require no weights at all. Moving the arms and legs slowly and firmly provides some exercise. Begin with arm extensions to the side and the front, clenching the fist and slowly bringing it up and down. I moved from this to lifting tins of beans and have now graduated to a multi-gym, which I use for just ten minutes a day.

I was always worried about being left with too much loose skin if I lost weight. The walking, drinking water and aerobic exercise have all played their part in toning my skin and forming firm muscle, but doing repetitions using light weights (two to five pounds each) has added the finishing touches. It is better from a fat-burning and toning perspective to develop a routine using light to moderate weights many times. Lifting heavy weights without proper supervision can damage the back and other parts of the body. Take advice from a qualified instructor. A book may not tell you all you need to know for your particular fitness level and body type.

Household chores

Finally, we should not forget housework and its benefits as a form of exercise. An hour of active house-cleaning, gardening or cleaning the car will use up around 200 to 250 calories. This, and running up and down the stairs in a normal day, can provide you with an opportunity to work out every day – and it also keeps the home looking good too!

Whatever form of activity you choose, you must enjoy it in order to feel all the benefits. Do have an occasional rest day, when you simply take a gentle stroll in the fresh air. Too much intensive working-out can be counter-productive, since the body can become tired and possibly strained. If you have a lot of weight to lose, this obviously is not going to happen overnight. Give your body a chance to get used to the new level of activity and vary your routine so that you and the body continue to find it stimulating and beneficial the whole time.

For me, there is no substitute for the way I feel when I finish my exercise. I am restricted, to a degree, by previous injuries caused by too much strain at my heaviest weight. However, I am delighted to be able to walk, swim and do weight training.

©sallygeorginacronin Size Matters 2001-2015

Image mammoth thinklink.com

Previous 16 Chapters of Size Matters can be found here.

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