WHAT EXACTLY IS TAI CHI?

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First of all it’s not Tai Chi, there is no “Chi” in Taiji! Taijiquan (Tie-Jee-Chuan, translated as Supreme Ultimate Fighting) is a martial art from China that dates back to antiquity. It is said that it was first conceived by watching a crane and snake fight in the wild. The balance and upright fullness of the crane was well-matched by the softness, agility and speed of the snake. Many of the names given to the various movements speak of the crane and snake, but it does not stop there. Other animals, forces of nature, and even everyday activities are reflected in specific movements.

The practice of Taiji helps connect us with the very essence of nature and all it’s wonders as represented by Yin-Yang theory. In fact the symbol above representing the interplay and connectedness of Yin and Yang is actually the “Taiji” symbol.

At the extremity of one, begins the other.

It is the hope that the study of Taijiquan will help the student to overcome obstacles with grace rather than brute force as they cultivate an Internal Power (Qi / Chi) that turns adversity into opportunity transforming a negative / harmful energy into positive / supportive one.  More bang for your buck that way, and hopefully everyone wins.

The only way to defeat an enemy is to turn them into a friend.

The Taiji master controls without injuring their opponent.  They meet their opponent with softness, learning to “yield” to opposing energy rather than meet it with force.  Bruce Lee told us to, “be like water my friend.”  Practicing Taiji teaches your body and mind to be soft and yielding, like water.

Softness overcomes hardness.

Still, have you ever tried to move a bucket of water. Heavy!  The Taiji master is able to be yielding without giving up her roots.  Deep roots are reflected in one’s stance as well as one’s character wanting to cultivate love and uproot fear. Today we may not have many enemies aimed at doing us physical harm and it is true that advanced weapons have proved superior in battle. So why practice a martial art?

Practice is perfect

Success in the martial arts requires excellent fitness and focus that can only come from practice. Practice puts us on the path of mastery. Of things that one might aim to master, Taiji enables the student to protect their body and defend their rights. It does so in a harmonious way as the Taiji master is “full without tension”, needing nothing and able to give a lot!  Conflicts are avoided and otherwise more peacefully resolved.

It’s not what you do that matters, but how you do it.

Taijiquan has a very long and diverse history, leading to the many various forms and techniques, as well as unique ways of teaching and practicing found across the world today. All of them have their advantages and potential disadvantages. Finding one that you like and will practice is all that matters.

Taiji is known as an ‘Internal’ martial art, in that the focus is on the internal environment more than the external — that which lies outside of ourselves. It is believed that if you are so full and without tension (like an airbag) that no attacker or other harmful energy will be able to penetrate your defenses, nor would they even want to! Importantly, Taiji also teaches us to utilize our bodies better. Improved balance and coordination results in more efficiency of movement and less unnecessary strain. This is a very good thing as it leads us toward accomplishing more with less effort and down the path of giving more than we take.

To become a master, one must first be the fool!

Practice at least a little bit, everyday. If you are weak or injured practice in your mind and only moderately with your body. If you are strong and healthy, take advantage of the opportunity to learn rapidly. That said, maturation takes time. Be patient, be present, and have a sense of humor. The path of mastery is rarely a smooth one.

Please enjoy this video of one of the Grandmasters of the Chen style, Chen Zhenglei demonstrating the 18 movement short form that I practice and will teach you if you promise to practice…

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BLOOD, THE MOTHER OF Qi

bloodIn Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we say that Blood is a Yin substance relative to Qi, which is Yang. Blood is cooling, moistening, and nourishing whereas Qi is warming, drying and energetic. Qi moves Blood and Blood is the mother of Qi. This article will discuss the 3 Key Internal Organs and 3 Key Disharmonies with regards to Blood in terms of TCM. 

First a look at the three primary organs associated with Blood:
1. Spleen (Earth Element) – transformation and transportation of food and drink, controls the Blood, rules the Muscles, manifests on Lips and opens to the Mouth. The Spleen’s #1 job is to transform food and drink into pure Qi & Blood and transport it upwards to the Heart for circulating throughout the body. The Spleen is also primary in the control of blood, helping to keep it in the vessels. Easily bruising is a mild deficiency, whereas hemorrhaging is more serious failure to control the blood. Poor muscle tone and fatigue, along with pale or dry lips are signs of Spleen Blood disorders.2. Liver (Wood Element) – stores the Blood, regulates flow of Qi, rules Tendons, manifests in the Nails, opens to the Eyes. Qi moves Blood, therefore the Liver pays an important role in normalizing the movement and volume of Blood. This is especially true for women in regulating the menstrual cycle and reproductive activities. Tightness in tendons, brittle nails, and eye weaknesses are all indicative of Liver Blood disorders.

3. Heart (Fire Element) – dominates the Blood and Vessels, houses the Mind, manifests on the Face, and opens to the Tongue. The Heart Qi is the motive force for blood circulation throughout its network of vessels that nourish (arteries) and remove toxins (veins) from all the organs and tissues of the body. Cold, weak or numbness especially of the hands and feet, along with a pale complexion and pale tongue are signs of Heart Blood related disorders as is insomnia, anxiety, poor memory and concentration.

Now let’s look at three specific ailments:

1. Blood Deficiency – ie. not enough blood. Often originating in the Spleen’s failure to produce enough Blood d/t constitutional weakness in the Spleen Qi and/or poor quality food and drink (amongst other issues), but can come from a loss of blood or external pathogenic influence as well. Patients often present with symptoms of pale face and lips, blurred vision or floaters, dizzy-lightheaded, insomnia, palpitations, poor memory and concentration, cold extremities and the pulse is thin and tongue pale.

2. Blood Stagnation – ie. blood not moving. Blood will stagnate due to an obstruction in the vessels, a deficiency failing to fill the vessels, and/or sticky blood. Blood stagnation is marked by pain that is sharp, stabbing, in a fixed location, and tends to be worse at night (when the Qi moves less). Often visible signs are present including bruising or laceration in the event of an external trauma and varicose or spider veins through the course of prolonged but mild stagnation of blood. Women may experience painful menstruation and clotting. Blood stagnation can also lead to more serious and deadly ailments like thrombosis, stroke and heart attack. The tongue may be purple and pulse choppy.

3. Blood Heat – ie. overheating. Too much heat in the blood can come from internal sources such as extreme emotions like anger as well as external pathogenic factors like rheumatic fever. Symptoms include mental restlessness or even mania, red-raised skin rashes, and bleeding disorders including epistaxis, hemoptysis, hematuria, as well as profuse menstrual flow in women. The pulse is rapid and tongue red.

It is important to remember that our body is an inter-connected whole… imbalances in one area will affect others and may grow larger over time. Prolonged or severe Blood Deficiency is likely to result in Blood Stagnation as the weaker the flow of blood, the more likely it is to stagnate. Blood Stagnation tends to engender Blood Heat as the pressure and friction of accumulated blood leads to heat. In addition, prolonged Blood Deficiency leads to overheating as the cooling and nutritive effects of Blood (Yin) fail to balance the warming and moving effects of Qi (Yang). Prolonged Blood Heat leads to Stagnation and Deficiency as the body fluids are burned-off due to the excess heat and blood becomes sticky.

So what can you do to take better care of your blood? In addition to following simple dietary and lifestyle guidelines, a Licensed Acupuncturist (who is also trained in Chinese Herbs) can help to diagnose and treat blood related disorders with acupuncture, herbs or a combination of the two.

Prevention & Treatment of Common Cold & Flu

The Common Cold & Flu is Chapter 1 in many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) texts and has been successfully treated using acupuncture, cupping and herbs for thousands of years. In Chinese Medicine we speak of two distinct types known as Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat. Wind is what carries the external pathogen into the body via the nose, mouth and pores. Wind-Cold most often leads to sinus congestion, headache, upper back/neck stiffness, aversion to cold and low energy — typical symptoms of a catch-cold. Wind-Heat often presents with a pronounced sore throat, fever, sweating, nausea/vomiting, and diarrhea — typical symptoms of what we call the flu.

*All colds are viral and it’s not until the virus disrupts the immune system that a bacterial infection takes root. Therefore taking anti-biotics in the first few days is ineffective and may lead to a prolonged or more severe illness.

Each type as described above requires its own unique treatment to be effective and only proper diagnosis and treatment will prevent pathogenic factors from going deeper. Of course prevention is the best cure, so if you’re well, here’s how to minimize your risk of getting sick at all…

1. Reduce stress – Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system which is primarily about ‘fight or flight’ drawing nutrition out of the organs and into the limbs to either stand up and fight or make a break for it. Without adequate resources the immune system is weak and body vulnerable to attack. Non-competitive exercise, being outdoors, meditation, and adequate sleep are just a few ways to reduce your stress.

2. Eat right – Once again this is about providing the necessary resources for your immune system while avoiding foods and drinks that feed the bad guys. Eating right means whole foods and all natural ingredients, not prepared and sweetened foods and drinks with artificial ingredients.

3. Supplements and/or Herbs – When you can’t or won’t get proper nourishment from a healthy lifestyle supplementation can be the key. Also herbal formulas offer customized solutions for your unique chemistry and can be modified to add a little extra immune boosting, pathogen fighting power. To this last point, I have some excellent formulas available at the clinic.

4. Cover yourself – Wind carries external pathogens from one person to the next and we are more susceptible in colder weather. Be sure to keep yourself covered up especially around the upper back and neck.

5. Watch yourself – Wash your hands frequently and keep them (and those of your children) out of your mouth and nose! Also watch that your food and drink is not contaminated before making it to your mouth.

Some things are difficult to avoid (like your sick child spreading contagion all over the place) so it’s a good idea to be prepared to fight off a bug and avoid the late-night trip to the drug store for fever and cough medicines that work poorly and can be dangerous, or to the doctor for antibiotics that are often unnecessary and come with many potential side-effects. Some common TCM herbal prescriptions that I stock at home are as follows:

– Gan Mao Ling – for common cold without a strong distinction between Wind-Heat or Wind-Cold

– Yin Qiao San – for early stage catch cold with sore throat and possible fever (Wind-Heat).

– Jing Fang Bai Du Wan – for early-mid stage catch cold with sinus congestion, headache, cough (Wind-Cold). *May replace with Ren Shen Bai Du Wan for children, elderly or otherwise depleted individuals.

– Bi Yan Pian – for mid-late stage sinus congestion with yellow-green mucous… also good for preventing and treating ear infections.

– Bai Hu Tang – for severe Wind-Heat with high fever, sweating and thirst. *May replace with Zhong Gan Ling for chest congestion and cough.

Quotation worth sharing –
“The accomplished ones of ancient times advised people to guard themselves against disease-causing factors. On the mental level, one should remain calm and avoid excessive desires and fantasies, recognizing and maintaining the natural purity and clarity of the mind. When internal energies are able to circulate smoothly and freely, and the energy of the mind is not scattered, illness and disease can be avoided.”
– Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic”)IMG_0048.JPG

THE YIN AND YANG OF POLITICS, OCT. 2008

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 Striving to be inspiring – and timely – I’d like to present The Yin and Yang of Politics!  As a follow-up to our prior more academic discussion, this posting demonstrates the dynamics of Yin and Yang at work on a broad scale that we are all engaged in, the Presidential Election.
In Chinese medicine, health is found by balancing and correcting any disharmony between Yin and Yang. Yin-Yang theory is universal, not limited to medical applications, and politics are no exception. The fact that there are 2 major parties with such opposing views fits right into Yin and Yang. Republican vs. Democrat; Conservative vs. Liberal; Trickle-down vs. Bottom-up; Corporations vs. Labor; Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life; Militarism vs. Pacifism; Spend and Borrow vs. Tax and Spend.We the people have become polarized and strongly believe that we are right and they are wrong. This is not good for anybody. We are not right and they are not wrong. We must learn to see and hear both sides of the issue before we make a decision that may or may not turn out to be right or wrong.In Yin-Yang theory, we know that no issue is as simple as black or white; they are shades of gray that mix and blend into each other with great complexity and variability. We the people need to listen and try to understand each other. We will find that we want the same things, but have opposing views on how to best accomplish it. Where there are disagreements, there are compromises. We can all do a better job compromising for the better of humanity versus any one human. Yet, we do not want to compromise our core values. There is a balance that brings harmony rather than conflict.

Yeah, yeah, that’s all fine and good, but do we the people actually have any say in our government? This question concerns me very much. These are elected officials, people not machine, that have been offered a great power over their constituents. As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (aka Spiderman), “with great power comes great responsibility”. It is the responsibility of the elected officials to vote and act in accordance with the people they represent. This is where the trouble lies… there is a preceding factor to most, if not all, the votes that are cast for any elected official. Yes you guessed it, money. It is not likely that anyone seeking office can do so without adequate financial resources. The bigger the office, the more substantial the financial requirement.

So is it ‘the people’ they represent or is it ‘the source’ of the money that attracted the people whom they represent? This presents a severe obstruction to the smooth flow of people, resources, ideas, and actions through our government. We have a saying in Chinese medicine that goes like this, “where there is obstruction, there is pain; remove the obstruction, remove the pain.” Money is obstructing the Yin (resources and people) and Yang (ideas and actions) of government and we are in pain.

Republicans are Red, Democrats Blue, and Money is Green. Politics in America has lost its balance in duality and opposition… both sides are seeing Green. Green is good in a free-market with equal opportunity for all. While equal opportunity is the domain of the government, free-markets are not. Now one party, the ‘Green’ party is dominant. Balance has been lost. Washington looks more like Wall Street. Elections are like Quarterly Earnings; Foreign Policy like some Sketchy Accounting; and our rising Deficit like our sinking Stock Market.

In Chinese medical terms, money is the external pathogenic factor that has caused disease within the organism. It needs to be expelled and our ‘Righteous Qi’ restored. Health of any system in the universe means balance, aiming for the middle, and long-term moderation with the occasional short-term burst. Once found it is not static or fixed in time and space. To maintain a state of health requires constant observation and correction. Money in government has gone too long without proper observation and correction.

Every illness has both an external pathogenic factor and internal weakness that makes one susceptible. We have been lazy voters and poor participants in our government. It is easy to get lazy when we have it so good. Whether a teacher, lawyer, CEO, lobbyist or politician, it is we the people that make the decisions. It is up to each and every one of us to act morally and ethically with humanity’s long-term survival and prosperity in mind. Moral behavior and good deeds are contagious. Whether you believe in trickle-down or bottom-up, do good for yourself by doing good for others. We are all connected. All of humanity. All living things. It is only good for us if it is also good for others and the Earth. What is good for others and the Earth is also good for us.

Yin-Yang theory states that Yin and Yang are infinitely divisible and at the root of one lies the other. They are mutually dependent opposites that dwell in relativity not absolutes. Simply said, you cannot have good without bad; sweet without sour; or the Left without the Right. Those on the other side of the aisle help balance you. The more that you take a side and define your position, the further your opponents seem. You see yourself as ‘good’ and them as ‘bad’. They see the opposite. This is a separation of Yin and Yang and a sign of ill health. The voting citizens of America are all in this together as there is very likely a third party in the political process that does not have our best interests in mind. Only by working together can we rid our government of this pernicious influence and restore balance to our great country’s leadership.

Thanks for listening. Now get out and vote!

THE FOUR AGREEMENTS BY DON MIGUEL RUIZ

The following ‘agreements’ are adapted from a book that celebrates the esoteric wisdom of an ancient Toltec civilization applied to today’s modern world. By improving in the following four ways, your most important relationships (including the one with yourself) can be repaired, grow stronger, and be more supportive in your personal growth and well-being.

1.    Be Impeccable With Your Word.  Speak with integrity and communicate clearly your intentions.  Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or others.  Use the power of word in the direction of truth and love.

2.    Don’t Take It Personal.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality and may have little to nothing to do with you.  When you immune yourself from the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.  What others think about you is none of your business!

3.    Avoid Assumptions.  Find the courage to ask for clarity and direction, as well as to express what you truly want and need.  Clear communication prevents misunderstandings, sadness and disappointment.  If you are going to make an assumption, it’s best to give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ or otherwise positive and compassionate perspective.

4.    Always Do Your Best.  No matter how hard we try, success is not guaranteed.  By always doing our best we position ourselves for success and eliminate self-judgment and regret.  Ultimately success is in the effort and experience more so than the end result.

ABOUT THAT YIN / YANG THING…

yinyangYin-Yang theory developed many thousands of years ago in China and has been a mainstay of Chinese thought and culture ever since. In a nutshell, Yin-Yang represents the duality of all things in the natural world. The theory can be used to describe and philosophize on everything since the Big Bang. To clarify further, there are 5 basic tenets to Yin-Yang theory:


  1. Opposition – This is the idea that something cannot exist without it’s opposite or counterpart existing as well. For example, you cannot have good without bad; day without night; left without right; up without down; in without out.
  2. Relativity – Einstein’s theory of relativity was uncovered in Yin-Yang theory thousands of years prior – and without all that math! While I am big relative to my 5-year old son, I am small relative to Michael Jordan. My 3-year old daughter is small relative to my son, and big relative to her favorite doll. Get my point? It is all relative.
  3. Infinitely divisible – Depending on the specific topic, one can break down the Yin-Yang nature of things infinitely. Someone or something will always be bigger or smaller, higher or lower, further in or further out than the next. Science continues to unveil smaller and smaller particles that make the foundation of all things in the universe and at the same time the universe continues to expand and grow beyond our imaginations.
  4. Mutual consumption – The two aspects of Yin and Yang are never fixed or static, instead they are continuously transforming and consuming one-another. For example, day does not suddenly become night. It constantly moves toward the night from it’s brightest point at high noon. And night gradually becomes the day from it’s darkest point at midnight.
  5. Transformation – At the extremity of one begins the other. So the end of Yin marks the beginning of Yang and so on. For example, at the end of the day (dusk) begins the night and at the end of the night (dawn) begins the day.


So here’s a quick list of what would qualify as Yin vs. Yang. Remember that all things in nature can be separated into Yin-Yang pairs!

YIN ——— YANG
Feminine — Masculine
Curved/Round – Straight/Square

Dark/Night/Moon — Bright/Day/Sun
Material — Immaterial

Emotional — Logical
Nourishing — Energetic

Yin-Yang theory is at the basis of Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment. We say that health is balancing or harmonizing Yin and Yang. One can suffer from excess Yang energy, deficient Yin energy; excess Yin energy and/or deficient Yang energy. Treatment plans aim to supplement deficiencies while sedating excesses. It sounds simple, but can be very complex as the practitioner factors in all aspects of one’s health. However, if you cannot break it down into Yin-Yang pairs, diagnosis and subsequent treatment will fail.

Any questions?

 Here’s one: How would you describe a career woman vs. a stay-at-home dad in terms of Yin and Yang?