Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tai Chi Breathing

Here is an interesting article by Dr. Paul Lam, creator of Tai Chi for Arthritis.

By Dr Paul Lam
© Tai Chi Productions. All rights reserved. You can copy this article for educational purpose but not for any commercial gain. For example you can give a copy of this article for your fee paying students and conference attendees provided you do not charge a fee for it.
"What about the breathing?" Numerous students have asked me this question. Some teachers believe that breathing patterns should be very specific. For example, in each and every part of a movement, there is a specific breathing pattern-in and out, slowly or quickly. These teachers feel that the breathing has to be just so for each movement. I find this method difficult and think it can impede improvement for some students. It often leads to too much focus on the breathing and distraction from focusing on other essential principles. No two people are the same. They have different lung capacities and different speeds in their movements so to coordinate in the same specific pattern with others would be difficult for many. In addition, this can lead to forced or contrived breathing which can be harmful.

Correct breathing is an important part of tai chi. Here's a guide based on essential tai chi principles. The key is the storing and delivering of energy because tai chi emphasises on internal energy. Every tai chi set are comprised of movements alternates between gathering, storing and then delivering energy. Often the classics describe it as opening and closing. When you open, it's storing energy like someone drawing an arrow in a bow; in closing, the energy is delivering so it's like shooting the arrow. Keep this image in your mind and the rest will be easy to follow.

When you're inhaling (storing energy), think of taking in the life energy-oxygen- into your body. When you deliver energy or force, you exhale. This can be applied to almost all tai chi movements since they are, in essence, alternating opening and closing movements.

When your hands pull apart, that's an opening movement. For example, in the Sun style opening and closing movement, when your hands are in front of your chest, opening up, you breathe in to store energy. When your hands come closer, you breathe out, delivering energy. Another example is Single Whip in Yang style. At the end of Single Whip, even though your hands are opened out, it's actually a closing movement because that's where you deliver the energy, so you breathe out. Using this rationale, you can see in Chen style's punching movements, when you're bringing your hands closer to store up energy, that's an in breath and when you punch out, that's the out breath.

And then there's up and down movements. When you move your hands up, you're storing your energy, and therefore you breathe in. When you bring your hands down, you're delivering energy – shooting the arrow – so you breathe out. Likewise, when you stand up and bend down.

Use this guide throughout your tai chi forms. Whenever you're in doubt, focus on practising the form correctly: Relax, loosen your joints and free your breathing, and then you'll find your breathing most likely to be correct. Don't force or hold your breath. Simply allow your body to breathe naturally when in doubt.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Finding Peace in My Own Life

I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson - to conserve my anger. Gandhi

What does it mean to have "peace" in our lives. I'm not really in a position to influence international events. I need to keep it on a more personal level. To me, peace means to maintain an emotional balance, without anger or frustration, but with plenty of love and compassion and joy.

Something interesting just happened to me. Two people that know me pretty well said that I have changed recently. They both said that I am calmer and don't get as upset about things as I used to. That's interesting because I have been trying to change, but 50+ years of habits are not easy to modify. I hadn't internalized yet that I was making much progress.

My dharma lessons teach how to substitute one emotion for another, less anxious, one to reduce anxiety and negative emotions. However, I don't think that is exactly what I have been doing. When I think back to specific examples of how I have been avoiding negative emotions, my thoughts weren't about substitutions. They were more like "I don't need to get angry about this. It's not worth it. I don't like to be angry."

For example, I was asked to help install a new cable modem on someone's computer. The installation software wouldn't install properly, the directions didn't match the screens that came up, and it was just a real mess. I spent some time online looking for help, but couldn't find anything useful. I calmly put the modem back in the box and said that just wasn't going to happen today.

In another example, I had a doctor appointment recently. The appointment was for 3:15 PM. When I arrived (on time), the receptionist told me that the doctor was "running a little behind." If they bother to say that, it means that the doctor is running really late. Two years ago, I would have been angry and I probably would have rescheduled the appointment so I wouldn't have to sit there too long. This time my thought was, "OK. That gives me some time to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet." I finally got to see the doctor at 4:50, more than an hour and a half late. I didn't have a minute of anger or anxiety.

I have been teaching meditation, blogging about meditation and tai chi, and encouraging everyone that I know to begin meditation. There are hundreds of studies over the last few years that show the benefits of meditation. And now I have started to see results in my own life. What great news!

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tips for Improving Stress Management

Our modern lives are filled with stress. Stress is always there and it is not going to go away. Stress can cause us to behave impulsively in ways that we do not desire. We need to find ways to deal with stress in ways that that we can be happy with. The following is a summary of an article from YMAA Newsletter #82. (

Using Daoist WisdomAn excerpt from Aihan Kuhn’s book Tai Chi for Depression.
by Aihan Kuhn

People live different life styles; have different cultures, different occupations, and different personalities. We are all different, but we can also be happy with who we are, what we have, and with whom we deal.

1. Avoid flying off the handle.When a person is upset or angry, seeking temporary distance can give this person time to quiet their mind.

2. Take time to think over your situation.Before you speak out, or blame others, ask yourself “what can I do to change this situation?”

3. The art of communicationYou need to speak in a peaceful way. Sometimes it makes miracles.

4. Try to appreciate the fact that people are different.Different perspectives and ways of reacting do not necessarily mean that one person is right and another is wrong.

5. Avoid being over sensitive.If someone is unfriendly one day, it does not mean he or she doesn’t like you any more. It only means he or she has some problems at that time.

6. Do recognize each person is responsible for her or his own behavior.You cannot change people unless they are willing to change themselves.

7. Good things take time.Don’t get discouraged if you fail several times as you try to put theory into practice.

8. Don’t always expect a positive response. Be prepared for a negative answer.Being prepared for the worst situation is always wise.

9. Focus on the present.We have too many distractions in our lives. It seems like the more you have, the more stress you have too.

10. Appreciate a good night’s sleep.A good night’s sleep can restore your energy and help you to let go of the things that happened yesterday.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Yoga for Stress Management

We feel better when we walk out of yoga class than when we walked in. So there’s a reasonable question to ask. Why do we feel so good after yoga practice? Like many things in modern life, it comes down to stress. When we are stressed, our body activates the “fight or flight” response. This is part of our sympathetic nervous system. Several involuntary responses follow, such as the release of stress hormones, increased heart rate and blood pressure, the activation of our immune system, etc.

The key to stress management is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of your nervous system that calms you down. It works to counteract your sympathetic nervous system and tells your muscles to relax, lowers your heart rate, and lowers your blood pressure.

The parasympathetic nervous system can be activated when you calm your mind and body. This happens with meditation and with yoga poses that encourage deep relaxation. These include forward bends; sitting, supine, and prone postures; and inversions. These poses should be held for a relatively long time to allow your body to relax and develop slow breathing. There are many other types of poses, like backbends, handstands, and arm balances that are very powerful and beneficial. However, these poses do not activate the parasympathetic nervous system as well.

In the end, it’s pretty simple. Yoga was designed to improve our health and balance. It’s no surprise that it does what it’s supposed to do.

© 2011 Eric Borreson