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Archive for the ‘Tai Chi Chuan’ Category

“All changes and motions are conceived and touched off in the stillness of absolute quietude. . .”  –A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements

A few weeks back, Josefina and I were at Suzie’s Studio for our Saturday morning Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong class. In the warm quiet of this lovely space the class participants had relaxed into what we would describe as ‘a state of healing peace.’ Then, into the stillness of the morning came the sound of a rolling, rackety skateboard.  The sound persisted.  The sound grew louder.  The skateboard and its rider were now in the parking lot and it appeared the rider had found the perfect place to practice—right in front of our studio door. . .

This experience brought home in a humorous way some of the more profound benefits one can realize from practicing the Internal Martial and Healing Arts, including: mental clarity, focus and stability, calmness, joy and peace of mind.

We live in an increasingly noisy world that competes for our attention with whispers and bangs, and everything in between. In addition to the sounds of life and activity all around us, our focus is often distracted by numerous technological ‘connections,’ and our minds are filled to the brim with thoughts and concerns of all kinds that continually intrude upon the precious moments of quiet we try to carve out for ourselves. Over time, this ‘noise’ can have a cumulative and sometimes damaging effect upon our nervous system, our general health and well-being.

In our Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong classes, we speak about the many benefits of cultivating an all-encompassing awareness—the ability to be deeply aware of what is happening in both your inner and outer environments, without being distracted away from whatever it is you are engaged in, be it the practices of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, or any life activity.  It is this gently-penetrating focus that allows the practitioner to deeply rest, relax, release—and quite literally—let go of stress, trauma or discomfort on all levels of body, mind, emotions and spirit.  Perhaps even more importantly, it allows one to find quietude, clarity and peace of mind amidst chaos, and that ability is no small thing.

It was inspiring to see how well the class participants maintained their gently-relaxed focus, despite the persistent, rolling racket just outside the door.  Towards the end of the class, the rider rolled away and continued on down the street.  I found it interesting that of all the places in the neighborhood the skateboard rider could have chosen to practice, he chose the place right outside our studio.  The timing of it all was interesting, too.  A few minutes later, we brought the class to conclusion and looking at one another, smiled in understanding.

“Thank you,” Josefina said, her palms covering her heart. “Thank you for helping support our meditations.”

Yes.  Thank you!

© 2012 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

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“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.” –Author unknown

When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 1993, I had been ill for six long years. During those six years, my husband and I had consulted with numerous doctors and I had undergone countless tests and several courses of therapy, but nothing proved conclusive or effective. Somehow, we knew there was an answer out there, we just hadn’t found it yet—and even after we received the diagnosis of Lyme disease, it would be several more years until our path led us to the healing modalities that would eventually restore my health.

My husband, Chris, and I have often been asked: how did you do it? How did you hang on through all that uncertainty? How did you survive?

The answer is simple: faith, hope and love, a positive outlook and laughter.

Though simple, the answer was not always easy. There came a point during that first year when the weight of inescapable illness, disorientation, fear and despair became overwhelming. In the face of the terrors that would one day in the distant future be categorized as Lyme disease, we came to realize that the only certainty and true freedom we possessed was our choice in how we would approach our lives, including the illness and all that came with it.

From the beginning, Chris focused as much as possible on the humor of things, one of his natural gifts. He would tell me silly jokes, sing silly songs, make ridiculous comments—just to keep us laughing.

During that first year, my mother-in-law, Charlotte, gave us a copy of Norman Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness. This life-affirming, triumphant book details Mr. Cousins’ courage and tenacity in the face of a mysterious, crippling disease from which he was not expected to survive.

Earlier in life, Norman Cousins had battled heart disease; he had fought back with massive doses of Vitamin C and, according to him, by training himself to laugh. Cousins served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he did research on the biochemistry of human emotions, which he long believed were key to human beings’ success in fighting illness.(1)  He wrote a series of successful books on illness and healing, and when he again faced the specter of life-threatening illness, he developed a recovery program that incorporated laughter induced by watching Marx Brothers films. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported. “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.” (2)

Inspired by Cousins’ words, Chris and I increased our watching of funny movies and television programs, including: Candid Camera, M.A.S.H., I Love Lucy, The Bill Cosby Show and Frasier. To this day, just thinking about our favorite Candid Camera episode, The Hungry Hand, sends us into peals of laughter.

Laughter was a means for us of holding on and fighting back; those good, old-fashioned belly laughs made us both feel so much better! The pure, simple joy of laughing out loud not only eased the painful symptoms I was experiencing, it helped us to remember what it was to be truly alive and grateful for every moment.

Years passed and, ultimately, I was led to Osteopathy and then to the miracle of Traditional Chinese Medicine. All the while we continued to laugh. I began to grow stronger; I no longer had chronic flu-like symptoms, I could walk again, I had less pain, less pressure in my brain and spinal cord, my neurological system was calmer and not so prone to seizure activity. After three years of consistent improvement, I sensed there was still something more I could be doing to restore myself to full health. I asked in prayer to be guided to the next step in the healing process, and the words Tai Chi came to me.

At the conclusion of my very first Tai Chi Chuan lesson, I knew that this was what I was meant to do for the rest of my life. I had found a path and a renewed purpose for my life.

I had the opportunity to study the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Short Form at our local Junior College, and then a Dragon and Tiger Qigong class at our Community Center. One of my early teachers recommended that I apply for an upcoming Wu Style Tai Chi Retreat. I didn’t know if I would be able to manage a 5-day intensive, but I did well and loved every minute of it!

My brother, Tony, a life-long martial artist, recommended that I study with Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo of Rubbo Art of Energy. I met them at a World Tai Chi & Qigong Day event they were sponsoring and in the raffle I won a month of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong classes. I had found my teachers. After a few weeks, I asked about the Teacher Training program and within the space of twelve months I was on my way.

Throughout my years of study, laughter in our classes, workshops and training programs was emphasized over and over again. Sometimes, our teachers would do funny things just to make us laugh and lighten the ‘concentrated seriousness’ that can sometimes accompany the learning of new movements. I often heard them say that everyone—particularly the elderly and those suffering from illness—should have at least nine good belly laughs per day, and we would always end our Wellness classes with nine rounds of Laughing Qigong.

In addition to producing a general sense of joy and well-being, laughter has many health benefits, including:

  • Purifies the entire system and helps to flush toxins, similar to deep breathing
  • Massages the organs
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Engages and relaxes the diaphragm, increasing lung capacity and oxygenation of the blood
  • Increases healthy cell metabolism
  • Stimulates production of pain-suppressing hormones, endorphins (3)
  • Reduces certain stress hormones such as cortisol, dopac and epinephrine (4)
  • Activates the immune system by increasing the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells (5)
  • Improves alertness, creativity, and memory

The practice of Laughing Qigong is very simple and can be employed at any time, alone or in a group!

Laughing Qigong Practice:

  1. Sit or stand comfortably. Place the palms, left over right, over the lower belly, just beneath the navel.
  2. Smile inwardly, authentically and inhale deeply into your lower abdomen without strain or tension, feel the belly rise against your palms.
  3. Exhale as you make a jolly Ha, Ha, Ha, sound. Gently pressing the palms into the belly with each Ha sound. Exhale fully and allow the belly to be relaxed.
  4. Inhale and repeat a minimum of nine times. Do this every day and notice how you feel today, next month, next year!

***

Laughter as medicine has been recognized for centuries. The following paragraph is taken from one of my favorite books, Healthforce:

“Chinese Taoist physicians say that the liver churns and exercises when we laugh. The liver circulation is quickened, the respirations are deeper and more profound, and we feel warmer all over. Mirth promotes digestion, while gloom and depression of spirits will produce dyspepsia and indigestion. He or she who is habitually joyful, calm and happy will generally possess good health. A philosopher once said that he would always trust one who whistled while working. . .Of all man’s functions that affect the body and soul together, laughter is the healthiest. Laughter aids digestion, circulation, sweating, and has a refreshing effect on the strength of all organs. Cheerfulness and gladness are not only of value in preserving health, but they are of equal service as a remedy in disease. No one should visit a hospital who is gloomy or despondent; the patient will pick up the vibrations and feel more depressed and ill. A calm, happy and positive attitude lifts the soul and body, and inspires all who come in view of such a person. The longest lived and healthiest people throughout the world are always happy and full of inspiration and good cheer.” (6)

The intentional choice of living every aspect of our lives from a place of joy and love and hope is vital, particularly for those suffering from illness. Personal experience has shown me that illness never strikes a single person; it strikes everyone who cares for that one, unique person. All individuals suffering from life-threatening illness, and their loved ones, tend to live in a contracted environment that can impede hope and the free flow of life force energy (chi). The healing power of laughter helps us break free from the physical and emotional shackles of illness and stimulates the strength, flow and function of chi; laughter is an uplifting, expansive tide that floods the body, mind and soul with hope, and brings miraculous life and health-enhancing benefit to all.

Laugh well, and laugh often!

Notes:

(1) Wikipedia article on Norman Cousins http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Cousins

(2) Ibid

(3) Findings based on the research conducted by Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California on the benefits of laughter. For additional information on their work, please consult this article on Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426113058.htm

(4) Ibid

(5) Ibid

(6) Healthforce, The Health Books’ Health Book, by Robert T. Lewanski and Robert A. Zuraw, p. 62, Taoist Publishers, Waterford, MI, 1982.

© 2011 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

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What’s in a name?

When Josefina and I were beginning to think about a name for our Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong school, we immediately turned to A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements for inspiration.  The Mnemonic is an ancient poetic treatise that speaks of the profound art of Tai Chi Chuan.  From the beginning of our studies, our teachers, Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo, had encouraged us to make a study of the Mnemonic, impressing upon us the importance of every syllable.  Their teacher, Sifu Kuo Lien-Ying, had recited it every morning before his own practice.  The Mnemonic continues to be a daily part of our ongoing investigations, and it is something that we share with each of our own students, as well.

Near the conclusion of A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements is the phrase:  “The end purpose of these exercises is to prolong life and endow it with the youth of eternal spring.”

The youth of eternal spring.  That phrase had always been pure magic for us.

Eternal Spring!  How about Eternal Spring Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong for the name of our school?

We looked the name up on Google, and learned with disappointment it was already being used by another school.

Back to the drawing board.

A few days later I was meeting with Cheryl Lynne, and she asked me how the search for a name was going.  I told her about our first thought and the outcome.  She nodded, paused for a moment, and then told me about a video memoir she had just seen created by their tai chi brother, Randy Fung.  This beautiful film is centered around Randy’s personal odyssey in the martial arts, and more specifically, his time at Portsmouth Square with their legendary teacher, Sifu Kuo Lien-Ying.

Cheryl Lynne described a particular section of the movie featuring archive footage from the 1970’s.  A local television host was interviewing Sifu Kuo and he was speaking about Tai Chi Chuan and the cultivation of internal strength.  Cheryl Lynne told me how later in this same footage Sifu Kuo describes The Universal Post Standing Practice, one of the pillars of our lineage, as the way to cultivating eternal strength.

“I think you should use the name Eternal Strength,” Cheryl Lynne said.

I thought about this conversation as I drove home from our meeting, remembering another quote from Sifu Kuo that our own beloved Sifu had often shared with us over the years:

“Before you can be of help to others, you must first be strong within yourself.”

Arriving home, I was immediately drawn to The Ancient Poem of the Universal Post that is contained in The Tai Chi Boxing Chronicle, compiled and edited by Kuo Lien-Ying, and translated by Guttman.

I had read this poem many times, but I was seeing it now with new eyes.

     “The universal post is a mystical form of martial arts
     We can never fully understand the way it is done 
     It seems like an embrace with a smiling face
     You use your strength from within
     You are relaxed and use no force
     It is like clouds floating in the wind from all directions
     You use forces from the universe to substantiate
          your strength
     Your strength comes from your breathing
     You do not hold fast, leaving a lot of room to move
     You do not bend to greater strength
     So smoothly you move and so naturally
     Your breathing and your limb movements should not
          be impeded
     It is like moving in space
     In and out of the highest peaks and clouds
     Gliding through air and clouds
     Floating along with the winds
     Graceful yet composed
     Always contain calmness and peace
     Head upheld high with pride
     You embrace the world below you
     As clear and pure as an underground brook
     Like lead turning into silver spinning to the moon
     Looking into an antique mirror to look deep into
         your soul 
     Your cup is filled to the brim
     Absolutely free of restraint and free of self
     You could fly as though you had wings
     Head towards the limitless horizon
     Like throwing a pebble into water
     The circles get larger and larger
     With your hands you push open the limits of the
          universe
     You embrace from within
     Heaven and earth and the ten thousand things
          capture your thoughts
     The eyes look outside with determination
     Up and down your strength flows
     You push and you embrace continuously
     Your thoughts should be pure
     This should clear your mind
     This should curb all illness
     You always return to the center
     You can attack or defend at will
     You must have a will of iron
     The principle of this is to strengthen
     To go for happiness and health
     Your body will benefit from this
     This has been handed down from the ancients
     This form of exercise can help you without limits” 
 
 
The words settled in my heart and condensed into my bones.
 
Josefina and I later agreed that the name Eternal Strength conveyed the very essence of what we wished to impart to our students:
 
Eternal Strength signifies for us the everlasting depth and breadth of spirit that resides in each of us–that which connects the limitless potential of our authentic nature to the Divine.  It is through cultivating the eternal strength within that we can fully awaken to the present moment and be in harmony with the matrix of the universe; it is here that we can be truly at home, comfortable, joyful and fulfilled; it is here that we can truly inhabit life.”
 
And so, with deepest gratitude to our teachers and to the lineage, the name of our school, Eternal Strength Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, came into being.
 
And the bamboo designs that appear on both our website and weblog?  We chose bamboo because it signifies strength and resiliency.  In the storms of life, the bamboo bends, but does not break; when the storms pass, the bamboo resumes its upright posture.  Always resilient.
 

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved. Links are appreciated, but copying or distributing any portion of this article without written consent is prohibited.

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“Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, for those fighting cancer, can be of great benefit, because your mind is engaged in the movement, and directing the energy. Exercise – which oxygenates the blood – combined with Intention-Driven-Action will boost mood, immune system and fighting spirit!”  –from Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo’s Facebook Page

At Eternal Strength Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, we teach a variety of practices that are of great benefit to those battling and recovering from cancer and other acute and chronic illnesses.

One of these practices is:  Balancing the Five Elements Qigong

Balancing the Five Elements Qigong is a powerful system that quickly brings body/mind/spirit into harmony.  Practicing this method of healing daily will positively transform your health and your life.

The philosophy of the Five Elements comes to us from the Taoist traditions of ancient China.  More than 5,000 years ago, Taoist sages recognized that the elemental forces of wood, fire, earth, metal and water were present both in nature and in human beings.

This philosophy became the foundation for Traditional Chinese medicine and the health systems of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong.

The Five Elements reflect the very rhythms of nature; each element has a corresponding direction and season of the year, a representative color, sound and organs in the body, and both positive and negative emotions associated with them.

We are all made of the same radiant stuff as the stars, and while we share this common bond, we are each of us irreplaceable individuals with unique experiences that shape our lives and the way we move through the world.  In order for us to be happy, healthy and fulfilled, the Five Elements must be in balance.

An excess or lack of a particular element will result in an imbalance in the other elements.  We see this in nature—if there is too much rain, for instance, it can result in flood or mud slides that have the potential to create great upheaval and disharmony.

We human beings are the same, if one of our organs is out of balance through excess or lack, it throws the others out of balance as well and our inner world falls into disharmony.  The presence of disharmony can lead to disease and emotional instability, whereas a harmonious communication between the organs leads to resilient health and well-being.

Please look for the following article from CNN Online in the Blogroll at right:  Cancer?  More exercise, not less, may be best.

And please visit our website at www.EternalStrengthTaiChi.com for more information.

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To be physically resilient, powerful, peaceful and radiant with health are a few of the many benefits that accrue to practitioners of the internal martial and healing arts.  However, our conventional understanding of ‘strength’ can also connote a kind of internal tension, holding, efforting or attachment to ego that is not conducive to the pure cultivation of chi or qi (life force energy) and the realization of accomplishment in Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong.  Rather, it is by mastering the landscape of our inner world and releasing the internal tensions, attachments and discomforts of body, mind and spirit that we can open up, expand and liberate the space within.

Eternal Strength signifies for us the everlasting depth and breadth of spirit that resides in each of us–that which connects the limitless potential of our authentic nature to the Divine.  It is through cultivating the eternal strength within that we can fully awaken to the present moment and be in harmony with the matrix of the universe; it is here that we can be truly at home, comfortable, joyful and fulfilled; it is here that we can truly inhabit life.

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As students of the internal arts, we spend years—lifetimes—perfecting the purity and integrity of the forms we practice. This is part of the ongoing investigative process of Tai Chi, and because the intention we bring to this process is also pure and rooted in love and compassion and truth, the result is a polished jewel of a vessel that can and does hold limitless amounts of healing elixir. To explore further, one must also engage the creative process. We must not stagnate, we must not become habitual. In this way, we truly honor the lineage of our teachers.

My own Sifu, Master Donald Rubbo, has said:

“The engagement of the creative process sets us on the path to ‘evolving into’ our own unique, authentic nature . . . this is the way of joy, the way of freedom. This is the true alchemy!”

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